The name Bear Grass, a type of yucca prolific in the area, has been in use at least since 1761 when it was given to the area’s major swamp in a land grant. The early settlers were farmers, with many engaged in the production of turpentine, tar and shingles from the area’s abundant forests.
Though the congregation of the Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church organized in 1828, the Bear Grass community did not emerge until after the Civil War. A public school started by the late 1860s, and Reuben H. Rogerson opened a general mercantile store in 1880. The community’s development was hindered by it not being located along a navigable stream or on either of the railroad lines traversing Martin County. A post office was established in 1885, although it was closed less than two years later.
Records are limited, complicated by the fact that Bear Grass businesses were listed in directories with Williamston addresses because that was the nearest post office. But by the turn of the century, the community consisted of several legal distilleries, cotton gins, sawmills, grist mills and blacksmith shops. Reuben H. Rogerson’s two story steam-powered sawmill and cotton gin was one of the area’s largest before being destroyed by fire in November 1908.
The first decade of the 20th Century witnessed considerable growth in the community. The town was officially incorporated on Feb. 16, 1909.
An unusual physical feature of the town is that, when incorporated, the boundary was a circle with a radius of 500 yards from a white oak “near a well at the stores of Rogers Brothers and Cowing [sic] Brothers.” These limits remain today, making Bear Grass one of the few towns in the state laid out in this manner.
Because residents had more pressing concerns during the Great Depression, town government became dormant in 1934 and was not reactivated until June 21, 1961.
Today, you can still see the circa 1925 Bear Grass School, the 1830s-1840s Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church, the circa 1935 Yucca House (former Bear Grass Teacherage) which sits across the road from the school, the Bear Grass Presbyterian Church. Three frame stores built between 1895 and 1915 comprise Bear Grass’s small but historic commercial district.