Dr. William Rainey Holt of Davidson County was among North Carolina’s most versatile men of the nineteenth century. Born in Alamance County at the Holt homeplace (today the site is the Alamance County Historical Museum), William R. Holt was the brother of textile pioneer E. M. Holt and the uncle of Gov. Thomas Holt. Graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1817, Holt studied medicine in Philadelphia and soon after his marriage in 1822 set up practice in newly created Davidson County. Dr. Holt was among Lexington’s first and leading citizens and purchased his home lot at an early courthouse sale. On that lot he constructed “The Homestead,” a large Greek Revival house, in 1834, soon after his second marriage. That residence today is the oldest remaining home in the town. Holt, a Democrat and secessionist who lost three sons in the Civil War, had his house occupied by Union troops in 1865.
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Dr. Holt’s plantation “Linwood” southwest of town was a model scientific farm. As time progressed he directed more of his energies toward its care. In 1860 Holt had 1,600 acres in cultivation, large livestock herds, and ninety-nine slaves. Along with Thomas Ruffin, he was among the state’s leading proponents of scientific agriculture, advocating improved methods such as fertilizing, ditching, deep plowing, and use of new implements, to the point that his neighbors suspected him of being demented. “He set the pace in the State not merely of superior cultivation, but in the development of improved herds of cattle and sheep,” according to W. S. Pearson. He was among the first to introduce to the state purebred varieties of livestock. Agriculturists from Baltimore and Richmond visited “Linwood” as did historian George Bancroft. Ruffin and Holt were charter members in 1852 of the North Carolina Agricultural Society, the sponsor of the State Fair. From 1859 to his death in 1868, Holt was the president of the Society.
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, VII, 172-180–sketch by W. S. Pearson
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 191-192–sketch by M. Jewell Sink
M. Jewell Sink and Mary Green Matthews, Pathfinders Past and Present: A History of Davidson County, North Carolina (1972)
Cornelius Oliver Cathey, Agricultural Development in North Carolina, 1783-1860 (1956)
William Rainey Holt House