From an old western town to a luxury lake community, you’ll find it all in Iredell County. Nestled in the foothills between the mountains and the Piedmont, somewhat north of Charlotte, this county has a lot to offer. The NC state legislature divided Rowan County in 1788, and the new resulting county was named Iredell after James Iredell, associate justice of the first Supreme Court during George Washington’s presidency.
The day’s travels began with a quick ride through Houstonville, named for Captain Christopher Houston (1744-1837), an American Revolutionary War veteran, who was instrumental in establishing Iredell County in 1788 as well as the county seat of Statesville in 1789. Houston did move to Tennessee in 1815.
Next stop is Union Grove, an area that was a favorite spot for American Indians before the early settlers arrived. Many Indian artifacts have been found in the area, especially at a site known as Indian Hill near the Jennings Mill. Several mills were build in the area, and today’s itinerary includes a stop at Linney’s Mill. Severe flooding in the area in 1848 left only three mills in operation in northern Iredell County. Ebenezer Academy, the oldest schoolhouse still standing in Iredell County, was first on my list for the day but was unable to find it. So, I’m keeping it on my list for my next ride through. If you know the best way to find this treasure, let me know.
Union Grove General Store
If you’re passing through Union Grove, you have to stop at the quaint general store (1932 W. Memorial Highway). They are know for their extensive selection of knives, and they have numerous local crafters’ items for sale as well as local jarred goods, including jam from the Dutch Kettle. (See Yadkin County blog.) But even better than that, this building originated as a one-room school house back in 1903. The building was moved across the street to its current location in 1973. You can see where the old blackboard used to be as well as where the original floors meet the new flooring when the building was expanded to its current size. Incidentally, the shop owners discovered some old school papers in the attic; but unfortunately didn’t get a photo before touching the papers, which virtually disintegrated on contact. I just love digging up these old stories as I travel throughout a county. And while you’re there, be sure to take your picture with the big, carved wood bear outside.
Love Valley, NC
Slip back in time at Love Valley (inc. 1963), known as the Cowboy Capital of NC, has been on my list of NC treasures to visit since I started PortableNC! I couldn’t wait to get there, and the day had finally arrived. Love Valley is quite possibly one of the only–if not THE only–old authentic western town left in NC. No joke! This little town is straight out of a western movie, and I planned for the full experience. My friends and I reserved our horses (Sugar, and Puddin’) from Brushy Mountain Horseback Adventures (Call Amanda at 704-914-7401). You’ll find them on Phil’s Pass off of Fox Mountain Road.
In 1954, Love Valley founder Andy Barker (1924-2011) and his wife Ellenora sought a place outside the hustle and bustle of Charlotte for a quieter, simpler way of life. The entire established town, founded in 1954 and located in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains, only 0.62 square miles including water! Walk among the rustic buildings and wooden walkways–just like in an old western movie–constructed by Andy Barker’s construction crew: the Presbyterian church, arena, post office, and the rest of the buildings. As of the 2010 census, there were 90 people, 17 households, and 9 families residing in the town.
We saddled up and rode our horses into town–Yessiree! Tied them up and sallied through town dressed in jeans and boots–as western as we could get. It was a chilly and windy fall November day on top of the mountain, but we didn’t mind one bit. The old western part of the town is just one street… what you see is what you get. But it’s truly as western as it gets. The owner of Shelby’s Saloon was kind enough to let us in for a peak even though he wasn’t open yet. We found out that they filmed a Mountain Dew commercial in town as well as a few country music videos too! Who knew? And in 1970, the Allman Brothers headlined here for a rock festival. More than 100,000 people came for the event. Can you imagine??
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there’s not a ton to do there, but absolutely go for the experience. However, you can get some great pictures and just enjoy the look and feel of the area. We went on Frontier Days, which had a light turnout. They were cooking beef and chicken chili and rice in dutch kettles over the fire, plus corn bread and peach cobbler–the perfect grub for a chilly, windy day.
Heads up–you’ll want to call ahead to reserve your horses–and plan to come on an event day, which sometimes include a rodeo. Sometimes the shops aren’t open at all on off weekends. It’s a tiny town run by just a few folks. If you’re not into horseback riding, you can park in the lot just outside of town. No cars are allowed on Main Street, the old dirt road in town. So, park and walk just a few hundred feet and you’ll be there!
P.S. You can donate to the preservation of this town through Go Fund Me.
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site
On our way to Statesville, we stopped at the Fort Dobbs Historic Site (438 Fort Dobbs Road), which is a completely historic reconstruction of the original fort built in the fall of 1755 and completed in 1756 by the soldiers of the Royal Governor of North Carolina, Arthur Dobbs. As the state’s only French and Indian War fort site, it accommodated a company of at least 50 men, including living, cooking, and eating space for officers, and also served as a supply depot and negotiations center with Native Americans. Hostilities between the Indians and settlers took place for more than two years, including an attack on the fort by more than 60 Cherokee Indians.
After peace was instilled in 1761, the fort was closed and was soon in ruins by 1766 and the area became farmland. The Daughters of the American Revolution acquired the land in 1909 and eventually donated it to the state. Archaeological excavations began in 1967, recovering nearly 6,000 artifacts, some of which can be seen at the site’s visitor center and museum. The site has been completely reconstructed according to the original plans. You can tour the building (donation suggested), and the site holds several re-enactments each year. Six events are planned for 2020. You’ll also find a convenient parking lot and bathrooms on site.
Statesville, NC, is Where It All Comes Together! In 1753, Scots-Irish and Germans from Pennsylvania began settling the area to plant crops in fertile soil where game and water were both plentiful. In 1800, the town’s name was listed as States Ville with 95 inhabitants, including 68 free white persons and 27 slaves. In 1833, Statesville began laying railroad tracks to connect the Piedmont to the rest of the U.S. territory. Statesville soon became leaders in NC for tobacco and tobacco products, whiskey, and roots and herbs. On August 27, 1891, a passenger train derailed on a 300-foot-long bridge. Seven cars fell and about 30 people died in the accident.
You’ll find many popular events here throughout the year, including the large Carolina Balloon Fest (You can take a hot air balloon ride, full or tethered to the ground.), Pumpkin Fest, and Full Bloom Film Festival. We made stops at the Heritage Museum (1335 Museum Road), Iredell Museums (134 Court Street), and several shops downtown. Of note is the town’s clocktower and the gorgeous architecture of City Hall; several items of public art; Southern Distilling; Rescue Ranch, (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit started by NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and his wife Krissie; and the 3,600-square-foot Sculpture Garden at the corner of East Water Street and North Center Street (which we found on our return trip at night after a great dinner at 220 Cafe). Art selections are a combination of permanent and revolving specimens, and some are for sale. You will also find the Governor Zebulon Vance House and Museum (located in a highly sketchy neighborhood–501 West Sharpe Street) and the ruins of what must’ve been an incredibly beautiful and large church destroyed by fire. Also stop by the Statesville Civic Center to see the amazing fresco painted by world-renowned and local, native Statesville artist Ben Long.
Troutman, NC — Daveste Vineyards
Enjoy a wine tasting at the bar or a table, then stroll around the property of Daveste Vineyards, the county’s first winery/vineyard (155 Lytton Farm Road). The timber-framed tasting room and outdoor veranda overlooks the vineyard, stream, and pond, and features works of art both inside and out. They hold several events throughout the year, including live music on Thursday evenings and weekends. Families may also want to visit the nearby Zootastic Park (385 Ostwalt Amity Road), a walk-through zoo with a wagon ride. Up-close animal encounters (15-60 minutes) are extra.
Lazy 5 Ranch
Before heading into Mooresville proper, we make a stop at Lazy 5 Ranch (15100 Highway 150 East). This is another must-do in Iredell County. This unique destination is a drive-through (either your vehicle or a park wagon ride) wild animal park that houses more than 700 animals from six continents, including several giraffes. Pick up some feed buckets at the gate, and you can feed the animals from your vehicle. You’ll have a blast at this up-close-and-personal experience. Buy the program if you want to identify the animals as you drive through. You’ll also find several petting areas and walk-through exhibits, a playground, picnic area, gift shop, and snacks.
Note, there are strict instructions not to exit your vehicle at any time. Don’t ride with your minivan doors open. And don’t feed the zebras, buffalo, or cows with the long horns. Otherwise feel free to feed, and hold onto your buckets tight! Some animals are likely to knock the bucket out of your hands–or take off with it altogether. You may want to purchase more than one bucket per person, as the ride-through is longer than you think, and you’ll run out of food quickly (or possibly lose a bucket, as previously mentioned). Be prepared for some slobber on your vehicle and some possible gnawing of your side view mirror. (It could happen.) Also no honking or headlights, no hand feeding, and no littering (except for stolen feed buckets… leave those behind). And please be gentle driving throughout at only 5 mph, practicing patience as animals cross and linger in front of and around you.
Otherwise, prepare for a great experience. The park is open year round from 9:00 a.m. and closes for the last patrons one hour before dusk.
We ended the day in Mooresville, nicknamed Race City USA, has grown up around NC’s largest man-made lake, Lake Norman, and is probably best know as the home of more than 60 NASCAR racing teams and racing-related businesses, and drivers as well as an IndyCar team. You’ll find the NASCAR walk of fame (215 N. Main Street) in the quaint downtown shopping district as well as the NC Auto Racing Hall of Fame and Memory Lane Motorsports and Historical Automotive Museum (769 River Highway).
The town was incorporated in 1873 and once had a Class D NC State League baseball team from 1937-1942 called the Mooresville Moors. John Franklin Moore, for whom the town was named, helped establish the town’s first brick factory and built some of the town’s brick buildings on Main Street. He died in 1877, and his wife, Rachel Summrow Moore, continued the town’s development.
In 1833, the town saw railroad lines and a new depot, which brought growth to the area, including the first water plant in the early 1890s, a phone company in 1893, a library in 1899, and the first of many textile mills in 1900. In 1938, artist Alicia Weinick painted the mural North Carolina Cotton Industry in the town’s post office. (You’ll find cotton fields in the area.) Also, prominent local sculptor Selma Burke, born and raised in Mooresville, was commissioned to create a bust of President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Four Freedoms plaque on the Recorder of Deeds building in Washington, D.C. The bust would later be used for the image on the U.S. dime! A nice little claim to fame for Mooresville and Iredell County!
In town, you will also find the Welcome Home Veterans’ Living Military Museum (165 N. Main Street), several antique shops, an arts gallery, many NASCAR race shops that you can tour, and more. Opt for a daytime (11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.) boat tour of Lake Norman on the Queen’s Landing Lake Norman Tours (1459 River Highway). You can also make reservations for a dinner cruise aboard on of the two boats available.