Circa 1936 (photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston; note: image is flipped)
The origins of Hardscrabble seem a bit muddled, but the story I'm going to go with is that the original section of the Georgian style house was built in 1775 by/for William and Elizabeth Clenny on a hillside adjacent to the Trading Path
. In 1779 they sold the house and 227 acres to James Cain and his son John, who had migrated to North Carolina from Maryland. The Cains commissioned Hillsborough builders Martin Palmer and Samuel Hopkins to build a second, Federal-style house approximately 10 feet away from the original house in 1792. The Cains called the estate "Pleasant Grove." The estate was soon passed to John's brother William, who was a Justice of the Peace for Orange County. William Cain also served as a representative in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1785 and in the Senate in 1794 to 1796 and 1802.
Cain oversaw a large plantation at Pleasant Grove; in 1800, he owned 4,417 acres of land (the largest landowner in Orange County at the time) and kept 30 people enslaved - a number which he increased to 95 by 1830. The plantation grew wheat, oats, corn, tobacco, and cotton.
Upon his death in 1834, he left the plantation to his son William Cain, II.
William II built Sans Souci
in Hillsborough and married the sister of Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin. William II lived at Pleasant Grove from 1837 to 1857 and served as postmaster of Hillsborough; upon his death in 1857, he gave the plantation to his son, Dr. James Cain. James Cain supposedly renamed the plantation "Hardscrabble" in contrast to the translated name of Sans Souci ("carefree"). James Cain's family built St. Mary's Episcopal chapel
nearby during the 1850s. The name "Hardscrabble" may have been derived from conditions at the plantation during the Civil War. During the war, James Cain served as Assistant Surgeon to the Medical Department in the Confederate army.
By 1878, about 1,675 acres of the plantation were sold for $2.20 an acre. By 1888, Dr. Cain's finances had deteriorated to the point that he declared bankruptcy, although his son William Cain, IV "a mathematician, engineer, educator, and author" was able to purchase Hardscrabble at the auction. In the late 1880s, the two original houses were joined together.
The house and remaining land passed through several subsequent owners, and the house evidently deteriorated over time. Roscoe Strickland and his wife, Lucy, purchased the house in the 1940s, while Roscoe was a student at Duke University.
In 1972, it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
In 1976, Strickland engaged architect George Watts Carr, Sr.
and designer Jack Pruden for a restoration/remodel of the structure. The restoration won an AIANC
Merit Award in 1981. The Stricklands sold the property and house in 1991 to the Southland Development Corporation, who subsequently sold the undeveloped portion of the property to the Chatham Development Corporation in 1995. The house was sold to Warren and Carol Strittmatter (the current owners) in 2003.
02.12.09 (image via Endangered Durham)