Ancient Verona isn’t the only place where stories of star-crossed lovers can be found, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day we thought we’d share two pretty incredible stories of forbidden love from North Carolina’s past.
The first story begins with the occupation of Chapel Hill by Union forces on Easter Sunday 1865. Shortly after troops arrived in the small Orange County town, one among them, Brigadier General Smith D. Atkins, was sent to the house of UNC president and former governor David Lowry Swain to arrange for the quartering of troops. Atkins quickly fell in love with Swain’s daughter, Ellie, and immediately began trying to win her and her family over, much to the chagrin of both Chapel Hill residents and the occupying troops.
Shortly after his arrival in Chapel Hill, Atkins was reassigned to western North Carolina. At his departure Ellie announced that she would marry him despite her family’s objections. Though concerned with the health of the university and the larger community, Swain ultimately consented to the wedding after investigating Atkins’ background.
The wedding was reviled by the community and ultimately had disastrous consequences for the university, which saw declining enrollment and was forced to close shortly after Swain’s death a few years later. Gov. Swain’s papers are still held by the State Archives today.
The second tale concerns the noted architect A.G. Bauer, who worked on a number of important public buildings including the Executive Mansion, Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill and the Western North Carolina Hospital for the Insane in Morganton. While working on the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, he fell deeply in love with Rachel Blythe, the beautiful young daughter of a Cherokee mother and a white father. Because of a state law forbidding marriage between whites and Indians, the two married in a secret ceremony in 1894.
The couple was eventually able to live openly, but only for a short time. Rachel died in 1897, leaving Bauer totally heartbroken. To honor her life, Bauer constructed a small Grecian Temple of Diana at her grave in Historic Oakwood Cemetery.