- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) - Drive to the end of West New York Avenue and turn left on Eastman Road.

A church, The Worship Center, is on the right. A few hundred yards away, the scenery changes.

The road - though still paved - becomes narrower and ragged with encroaching land on the edges.

Only two residences are occupied in the stretch of property a couple of thousand feet long and several hundred feet wide. Other houses are clearly deserted, some overgrown to the point of barely visible through the underbrush. The burned out remains of a park, unseen from the road, is next to a lake.

The road takes a sharp turn to the right, then ends at the remnants of a path with scant signs of use.

Welcome to Lost City.

Completely encircled by Southern Pines, it is not part of the town - an island unto itself taking on the character of its name over time. Its origin dates back three-quarters of a century or more, to the days of prohibition and Jim Crow.

Town Manager Reagan Parsons said existing state law makes it almost impossible for the town to annex the area. Even before the state made annexation difficult for cities and towns, the area didn’t have enough people to qualify.

Lost City, its name long before virtual abandonment, once bustled with activity.

People lived in the now overgrown houses. A restaurant served fried chicken people went out of their way to get, and families and friends grilled out at a park next to the lake where kids would swim.

It could have taken its name because of the difficult access to the area, or because people were discouraged to visit by unseemly activity.

Or it could have developed because it was left out of Southern Pines when West Southern Pines, one of the first incorporated African-American towns in the state, became part of Southern Pines in 1931. The omission might have had something to do with the restaurant, which served alcohol, and wouldn’t have been welcome in a dry town.

Over time, just about everything in Lost City dried up. And the isolated location has made it a dumping ground.

“That’s what it’s used for now, because there’s no life here,” said Oliver Hines, the founder and chairman of West Southern Pines Citizens for Change.

Delarry Mclean and Rita Vample, who live in one of the only inhabited houses in Lost City, say they’d call authorities when they saw trucks full of junk coming into the area.

“By the time the cops got here, they’d be gone,” Vample said.

Their home and one next to it, which are renovated Army barracks, have been annexed into Southern Pines so they could have town services.

Last month, Moore County, Southern Pines, Keep Moore County Beautiful, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Transportation joined forces to clean up the area.

“It was a collaborative effort,” said Chad Beane, manager of the county’s Solid Waste Division. “It was a major undertaking, but we felt like we accomplished a lot.”

Hines is appreciative.

“There’s no telling what all has been dumped out here,” he said. “I hope they did it to encourage somebody to do something with it.”

He doesn’t think a lot of houses need to be put on the land.

“I would love to see this developed, but I don’t want them to come in and put up gates,” he said. “It’s too pretty for that.”

Dorothy Brower, who lives nearby, said Lost City was once a flourishing community. She hopes developers will see it as a viable project, especially since it is separated from several upscale neighborhoods by only a fence.

Karen Reese-May, a real estate agent who represents several landowners in the area, said she has talked to a few potential developers, but has not had any serious discussions.

“It’s a great opportunity,” she said.

Reese-May said she sold a 1.75-acre lot with a dilapidated house recently, but doesn’t know what the buyer plans to do with the property. She also is trying to sell an 8-acre tract where the restaurant stood before it burned years ago.

The Rev. Roy McKoy, pastor of The Worship Center, said the church has been located on the edge of Lost City since 1990. He said he’s heard development talk as well.

Southern Pines Mayor David McNeill said development has sprung up all around Lost City. The land will be difficult to sell, he thinks, because some owners live elsewhere, and some properties have been passed down to children into joint ownership.

“Somebody’s going to have to do a lot of work to put together tracts that can be developed,” McNeill said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property.”

Mclean and Vample, who have planted a garden in their front yard and like fishing the lake in Lost City, already know the value of the area.

“It’s a nice, quiet area,” Vample said. “I really enjoy it.”

“I like it back here,” Mclean said.

If developers find the Lost City, others might, too.

___

Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, https://www.fayobserver.com

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