The story of Fearrington is the story of a historic farm, the families that maintained it, and one couple who redefined it.
The story of Fearrington is the story of an historic farm, the families who lived on it, and one couple who reimagined it. This couple, R.B. and Jenny Fitch, created a village that offers warm personality and a new definition of hospitality, lifestyle and beauty set in the countryside just south of Chapel Hill, NC.
The community was named to honor the stewardship of Jesse Fearrington and his family. R.B. and Jenny Fitch wanted to create a “coming together place” that incorporated the farm structures and the pastoral feel of the Chatham County countryside. A place to live where one could visit with friends, pick up daily necessities, and enjoy a tranquil setting. Together they renovated the Fearrington family homestead to become the Fearrington House Restaurant along with the shops and eateries that continue to bring visitors together today.
Jenny discussed the atmosphere they wanted to foster at Fearrington in a 1992 interview.
Records of the Fearrington farm in Chatham County date to the 1770s, when land grants issued by North Carolina Governor Ritchie Caswell first conveyed the title to this farm. In 1786, William Cole, Sr. purchased 640 acres of land that eventually became Fearrington Village for $80. It was said that he was able to purchase the land for a pittance because the seller did not believe there was enough water on the property to run a gristmill or whiskey mill. The land passed through the generations and acquired the Fearrington name when it was inherited by Cole’s great-granddaughter and her husband, Edwin M. Fearrington, in 1915.
A fire destroyed the original homestead in 1925, and in 1927 Edwin’s son, John Bunyan Fearrington, built a homestead in a location close to US 15-501, where it stands today as The Fearrington House Restaurant. He turned the Fearrington property into a dairy farm in the 1930s, and the land continued to be used for that purpose until its sale. By the late 1960s, facing retirement, John’s son Jesse began looking for a buyer for the farm who would preserve the historic and aesthetic qualities which had made it an important part of the area for so long.
Avid travelers, R.B. and his late wife, Jenny, admired the smaller villages of England. They wanted to create a “coming together place” where someone could pick up daily necessities or have lunch with friends, all enjoyed in a garden setting. From other travels they picked up an interest in the Italian game of Bocce – lawn bowling – and croquet, eventually bringing those pastimes to Fearrington residents as well. Thus the term Fearrington Village was created, representing the Village Center and the neighborhoods he constructed.
Over the last 40 years the Fearrington community has grown to include 2000 residents, an award-winning inn, a spa, several restaurants, acres of beautiful gardens, an independent bookstore, boutiques, and much more.
As the Village Center evolved to fit the needs of Fearrington residents and guests, R.B. placed a focus in preserving Fearrington’s history. Farm structures have been renovated and brought back to life throughout the Village Center. For example, the farm’s granary is now home to our coffee shop The Belted Goat and the milking barn is home to our clothing boutique Dovecote Style. As the real estate developer, R.B. is also careful to preserve as much natural land as possible while constructing new homes.
Today the farm continues to be an important part of our business. Hay from our fields feeds our farm animals and the pastures provide a home for them. An herb and vegetable garden managed by our chefs and gardeners provide fresh herbs, vegetables and garnishes for dishes at The Fearrington House Restaurant. We supplement our gardens with fresh bounty from local farmers and farmer’s markets.
R.B. Fitch was born and raised in Chapel Hill, just a few miles north of Fearrington; both his father and grandfather were in the retail lumber and building material business. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill in 1955, he spent three years flying F-100’s in the Air Force, and while stationed in England, R.B. came to love the look and feel of the English countryside.
Back stateside, R.B. founded Fitch Creations, Inc. in 1960 to work on small remodeling jobs. Business grew to build a home “on your lot for $12,500,” and then to develop a couple of small subdivisions.
In 1974, R.B. began Fearrington, a nearly 50 year adventure which would combine his small-town, know-your-neighbor upbringing with the style and charm of the English villages he had come to love. He and his late wife, Jenny, purchased the dairy farm that had been in the Fearrington family for generations and started the conversion of the farm area and its surrounding land into a country village. The original farm house and outbuildings now house the shops and restaurants of the Village Center, while over 1,200 families own homes nestled in the surrounding woodlands.
Well before Fearrington existed, Greg worked for his father part time after school starting in the 1970s. After Fearrington began (and he could drive), he started working at the former farm, busing tables and mowing lawns. He went off to college, worked in the White House under President George H.W. Bush, and earned an MBA from Northwestern University. He then spent a decade working in New York, most recently for Random House, Inc. Greg Fitch rejoined the family business in 2006. He recently served as president of the Botanical Garden Foundation, a not for profit which supports the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Keebe has been a part of the family business since the early 1980s. In 1989, Keebe opened McIntyre’s Books, one of the South’s most celebrated independent bookstores, and continues to manage the store. In addition to earning a B.A. in History from UNC, she received an MBA from UNC’s Kenan Flagler Business School in 2003.
Following a gap year in France, Kelley attended UNC Chapel Hill for her Bachelor’s degree in French. She worked for French sculptor Bernar Venet in New York City before opening Watermarks art gallery at Fearrington. Kelley married an artist, and studied art and design in Florence, Italy after the birth of their first son, returning to work at Fearrington as an interior decorator. Wanting a new challenge, she started a children’s clothing importing business, and her family of 5 lived in Falmouth, Maine for the next decade. Then they traded their house for a 1967 Airstream, and traveled around the States working on farms with WWOOF for a year. Landing back home in 2015, Kelley works with the marketing team at Fearrington.