DAWSONTo a passing motorist from out of town, the point where Poole Road crosses Institute Road to become Dawson Station Road might look like just any other backroad intersection.
And the area certainly sees its share of passing motorists. On any given day, a steady stream of cars, trucks and busses make their way through this well traveled section of Northern Lenoir County.
The rumble of the trucks has long since replaced the whistle of smoking locomotives that once stopped here in the heart of the Dawson community, hauling logs on the rail between Kinston and Snow Hill.
The area had a school up and running as early as 1793, and was named for a local landowner. Farming, then as well as now, dominated the area, but for a short time in the early 20th century, the sounds of the logging train momentarily interrupted studies at the nearby Industrial Christian College.
The men on that long-gone train no doubt stopped on many a hot summer afternoon for a drink and some local news at the B.L. Nethercutt store, a wooden building now 80 years old - more reminiscent of a saloon than a convenience store.
The store still stands, now abandoned, its walls covered with lime green vinyl siding. In many ways the store, later known as Twins Grocery and then Crossroads Pool Room, is a lot like the neighborhood itself, much unchanged through the years but for a few cosmetic touches.
A metal pole, reddened with rust and leaning like the Tower of Pisa, invites customers outside the old store to come on in and enjoy some "Carolina Milk and Ice Cream." Next door, kitchen equipment sits unused and tables wait for customers who aren't entering the locked doors of an old county grill.
Mimosa trees still peek from behind the oak and pine, which line the crossroads like century-old sentinels, while the dirty windows of old and empty country homes reflect the sun that warms their bare hardwood floors.
Four aging lawn chairs collect dust in front of one house, waiting for someone to come and sit once more and enjoy a warm evening, waving at passersby from the shade of the porch.
At another house across the intersection, a sign warns trespassers about a dog that hasn't been seen in years.
But despite first appearances, Dawson is far from a ghost town. That becomes obvious when school lets out and dozens of children file from a half dozen school busses, breaking the silence of early afternoon with the sounds of play and laughter.
A little further down the road, past a stop sign pole riddled with the staples and tacks of decades of yard sales and lost dogs, a group of family and friends gather in the shade of their own front porch to enjoy another day in Dawson.
Alice and Johnny Croom moved to Dawson 20 years ago, long after the last train left. But for years, Johnny said, people found railroad spikes in the woods across from his house.
"It's not much different out here," Alice said. "It's nice and quiet."
The Crooms' friends, Lewis Grey and Rose Sutton, agree. When there's a break in traffic, their laughter as they tell each other stories is the only noticeable sound.
A field of soybeans fills the field next to the Croom house, but the entire area used to be farmland.
"This used to be all tobacco," said Alice, "Right here where we're sitting."
When the Crooms had the opportunity to buy a little of the land for themselves, they jumped at the chance to make a home in Dawson.
Except for the increase in traffic and the occasional bad wreck, Johnny said, the place looks much the same as it did when he moved in.
Johnny said there's talk of someone maybe trying to reopen the old store, opening up a place for neighbors to meet and greet once more.
But until then, there's still the porch at the Croom house, where Johnny and his friends can take it easy.
"Don't worry," he said with a laugh. "We will do that."