Our Farm's History
The Story of Cates Farm
While Cates Farm became a wedding venue relatively recently, the connection between this land and the Cates family stretches all the way back to the 1750s. That’s when six Cates brothers and their wives settled in North Carolina on the Cane Creek. Records from the Cane Creek Baptist Church reveal evidence that the Cates families were founders of the church in 1789. These are John’s relatives. One of them, Richard Cates, had a son named Thomas. Thomas married Sarah and built a house across the road from where our farm is. They had eleven children, the eldest of whom was Nerius, John’s great grandfather.
Nerius and Decie
When Nerius married Decie Dowd in 1895, he moved just across the street from his parents and built their home on our land. They raised three sons, Carl, Chandler, and Carey in this house. Life on the farm was hard work and the boys were eager to leave it behind. Carl (who would become John’s grandfather) wanted to be a railroad engineer. Chandler went off to fight in WWI. He was wounded in France and died in England of a head wound. For his heroism in battle, he was awarded the Bronze star. Carey, the youngest brother, died in the flu epidemic of 1925.
The flu had also sadly claimed the life of Nerius in 1919. Shattered by the death of two of her sons and her husband, Decie left Cates Farm and moved to the town of Spencer to live with Carl, her one remaining son, his wife, Alda, and their three boys. This period was surely a terribly sad time for Decie but perhaps she found some joy in being with her grandsons, Ed, Jack (who would become John’s father) and Glen. The question that needed to be answered was “ Who would take care of Cates Farm?”
Carl and Alda, the Eubanks and the Kirks
That answer came from Alda. Before she married Carl, Alda was Alda Hogan. The Hogans were farmers who ran a dairy in Calvander, a small community about 10 miles from Cane Creek. Alda recommended to Decie that her cousin Jake Eubanks and his wife, Nora, would be good managers of the land and the dairy business. The Eubanks, therefore moved into Nerius and Decie’s old home. Sometime in the 1940s the Eubanks suggested that building a new barn would help business and so, Carl and Alda paid for the construction of that new barn. The Eubanks continued to manage the diary business until they retired twenty years later.
Even though he had not wanted to run the dairy business, Carl maintained some hope that his sons would want to. But, Ed and Glen didn’t want to be farmers and Jack said he’d rather remain in the Navy than milk cows. Years passed with none of the “Cates boys” being involved in the day to day life on the farm or with the farm business. When Carl died in 1959, Alda and her sons had to answer the question: “Who would take care of Cates Farm?” The obvious answer to that question was to lease the land to the neighbor farmers, the Kirks. The Kirks have been good stewards of our land ever since but the barn went into a sad state of disrepair.
Jack and Frances
With the death of John’s grandmother, Alda in 1974, ownership of the farm passed to Jack who was now retired from the navy and his wife, Frances. John’s parents lived in Chapel Hill and enjoyed going to the farm for quiet weekends. John’s dad also found that he enjoyed helping the Kirks with mechanical odds and ends and fixing things around their farm. Ironically and tragically on February 23, 1988, Jack was killed in a horrible farming accident doing just that. John considers that day the saddest in his life and telling his mother that awful news, one of the worst things he has ever had to do.
John and Jennifer
It was John’s desire to honor his father’s legacy of being a handy and helpful man that spurred him to restore Carl’s and Alda’s barn. Although Jack never wanted to run the farm, he always told John to “leave a place better than you found it.” With the blessing of his mother and brother David, John began work on the barn in the 1990s. He often took his own kids out to the farm for camping trips and they had grown to love the land.
When John and Jennifer got married in 2010, they pooled their resources and - with the help of a great crew and some hard-working friends and family - made John’s dream come true. John turned the ugly, run-down silver barn into a beautiful, sturdy new red one. He transformed the old milking parlor into a cozy, heated cabin with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living area. Although Nerius and Decie’s old house was too far gone to save, John and Jennifer turned that area into a circular-shaped garden area with four gates: the north one facing the barn, the south one facing the road, the east, the pond, and the west, the wheat fields and the setting sun.
The first weddings at Cates Farm were family affairs. John’s three children, Tyler, Megan, and Jackson were all married or engaged at the farm between 2013 and 2018. Jennifer’s children, Charles and Sarah Holt grew to love Cates Farm, too and it was the beauty and joy of these occasions that affirmed John and Jennifer’s belief that other people might also enjoy weddings at Cates Farm.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, suddenly the demand for outdoor weddings increased, and John and Jennifer found themselves busier than ever as wedding venue operators. John says his ancestors would probably laugh at the idea of anybody wanting to get married in a barn.