Just northwest of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, you’ll find the lovely country atmosphere of Lincoln County, with eastern parts of the county bordering manmade Lake Norman.
The county was formed in 1779 from the eastern part of Tryon County, which had been settled by Europeans in the mid-18th Century. The county was named for Benjamin Lincoln, a general in the American Revolutionary War. During the American Revolution, the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill occurred near a grist mill in Lincolnton. And you’ll see the mill commemorated in a beautiful town mural near Lincolnton’s center (to the left of the county courthouse).
In 1782, the southeastern part of Burke County was annexed to Lincoln County. In 1841, parts of Lincoln and Rutherford Counties were combined to form Cleveland County. In 1842, the northern third of Lincoln County became Catawba County. And in 1846, the southern half of what was left of Lincoln County became Gaston County.
The day begins with a leisurely ride along the shores of Lake Norman. Then we head to Denver, NC — know as the Denver of the East and formerly known as Dry Pond. In 1873, in an attempt to attract a railroad spur and thinking that the moniker “Dry Pond” didn’t present a nice enough image for the railroad planners, headmaster of the local Rock Springs Academy, D. Matt Thompson, led the effort to have Dry Pond renamed for the capital of Colorado, which was just then petitioning for statehood.
For a brief period during the 1890s–1910s, Denver was home to small-scale gold prospecting, particularly in the area near the former Triangle School and the community now known as Westport. Having failed to elect a local government for many years, Denver lost its official incorporated status in 1971 by vote of the state legislature.
Good Karma Ranch Alpacas
Iron Station, near Lincolnton, was named for its history as an iron mining town with a train station. Here, you’ll find a quiet community that includes an alpaca farm Good Karma Ranch (1041 Brevard Place Rd, Iron Station, NC) offering school and farm tours and a variety of events: group and private Alpaca Yoga classes and barn quilt classes plus an on-site gift shop full of apparel and other items made from ultra-soft alpaca fiber.
You may be asking yourself, What’s the difference between a llama and an alpaca. They get asked that a lot. The short story is that both are part of the same animal family. However, llamas are used more as a work animal (able to transport heavier loads) while alpacas are bred for their soooo soft fur, which is way softer than sheep’s wool.
At the center of Lincoln County is the county seat of Lincolnton, the only legally incorporated municipality wholly within the rural county. Lincolnton consists of the Lincoln County Courthouse surrounded by a circular road and several businesses, retail shops, and restaurants. It’s a quaint area to spend an afternoon perusing through quaint downtown area, local antiquity and craft shops and stopping for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat at one of the area restaurants (like The Meating Place, known for its meats).
As the county seat and center of the textile industry, city residents prospered on the returns from cotton cultivation for many years. The city has numerous properties, including churches, which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the late 20th century. It has three recognized historic districts: Lincolnton Commercial Historic District, South Aspen Street Historic District, and West Main Street Historic District. These were centers of the earliest businesses and retail activities. There was much activity around the Lincoln County Courthouse on court days, when farmers typically came to town to trade and sell their goods.
Residences, churches, and other notable buildings marked the development of the city, including residential areas expanding outward from the city’s center. In 1986, Lincolnton expanded by annexing the nearby town of Boger City.
***Be sure to stop by for the Apple Festival always held the third Saturday every September in Downtown Lincolnton. It’s free–and fun–to attend.
South Fork Trail
While visiting Lincolnton, be sure to trek down the South Fork Trail (2648 Laboratory Rd). Not too far down the trail, you’ll come upon a large waterfall on the right. (You’ll hear it before you see it.) And this waterfall comes with a bonus… a very short trail to the right will lead you to the top of the falls for a super close-up experience.
The South Fork Rail Trail is a combination of natural surface and crushed gravel trail, providing nice terraced views of the South Fork of the Catawba River. Enjoy biking or hiking along the 2 miles of trail located on the the 324-acre Rhyne Preserve and protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy.
Visitors to the trail can experience one of Lincoln County’s finest natural areas, including mature floodplain forests along the South Fork Catawba River, a bald cypress swamp, rock outcrops, and lovely wildflowers. The preserve also provides important habitat for migratory songbirds and other wildlife species.
You can see the historic Laboratory Mill across the South Fork River which is now an event venue. This site was known as Lincolnton Cotton Factory 1819-1863.
South Fork Rail Trail is a part of the Butterfly Highway. The Butterfly Highway is a statewide conservation restoration initiative that aims to restore native pollinator habitats to areas impacted by urbanization, land use change, and agriculture across North Carolina. From backyard Pollinator Pitstops to large-scale roadside habitat restoration, the project is creating a network of native flowering plants to support butterflies, bees, birds and other pollen and nectar dependent wildlife.
Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail
Lincolnton boasts its own rail-trail conversion. This 1.6 mile-long trail converts an old rail line into a walking and biking path meandering through downtown Lincolnton. The paved trail is lined with trees, flowers, and benches (from East Pine St to Motz Ave) and includes several public art murals paying homage to the former rail line. The former rail station has been converted into a grassy play area and public bathrooms.
The Marcia H. Cloninger Rail-Trail, known locally as the Lincolnton Rail-Trail, is a 1.6-mile paved trail, is especially popular with walkers, joggers, bikers, and parents pushing baby strollers. Benches line the route, inviting you to pause and take in this enchanting town and trail.
The trail offers a chance to search the heart of this small Southern town, highlighted by a stately courthouse, model Main Street, thriving arts scene, and nearby lakes and mountains. Once an eyesore covered in kudzu and debris, the former Norfolk Southern Railroad corridor is now the pride and joy of “Lovable Lincolnton.”
Marcia H. Cloninger was influential in the early Lincolnton Rail to Trail movement. Mrs. Cloninger served on the Lincolnton City Council and worked tirelessly to make the rail trail a reality. In 1999, it was recommended that the rail trail officially be named the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail.
Burton Farms General Store
Burton Farms General Store (317 W Main St) is a must-stop in Lincolnton. They are a family-owned business. While providing fresh and local produce, they also offer many locally sourced items, including jams/jellies, honey, meats, cheese, and artisan/craft items. We were there in early fall, so the outside area was filled with tons of pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks, hay bales, Indian corn, yard decor, and more.
While downtown, be sure to also stop at Rising Sun Pottery (209 South Academy St), Southern Charm Winery (235-D East Main St), and the Lincoln County Museum of History/ Lincoln Cultural Center (403 E Main St), which was still closed at the time due to COVID.
The Lincoln Cultural Center is the center of arts and history in Lincoln County. The former Baptist Church, built in 1923, now provides a performance venue for theatrical productions by the resident Lincoln Theatre Guild, concerts presented by the Lincoln Community Concert Association. and other local and national acts.
The Cultural Center is also home to the Arts Council of Lincoln County, featuring rotating visual art exhibits and public community art classes. The Lincoln County Historical Association operates the Lincoln County Museum of History, housed in the center along with its archival libraries, donated collections, research areas, and offices.
NanBrook Farm Primitives & Antiques
If you like crafty, country goods, NanBrook Farm Primitives & Antiques (1580 Andy Logan Rd) is your place. It’s just slightly outside of Lincolnton, and is chockful of gift items and home decor.
P.S. They close down around Thanksgiving for about a week every year to transform the entire store for Christmas.
Vale was the destination of 50 African American families during the Great Migration. Most migrated from Half Acre Township in Putnam County, Georgia. They established three migration churches and three black elementary schools. They moved out of Vale by 1978 and were replaced by Mexican laborers.
Vale is now home to the annual Cat Square Christmas Parade, started in 1974, known as the “Best Little Christmas Parade in the Country.” The parade festivities included electing the Mayor of Cat Square. (The mayor is strictly a figurehead, with his or her only duty being to ride in the parade.)
The Reinhardt-Craig House, Kiln and Pottery Shop was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
While visiting Vale, stop by Woodmill Winery (1350 Woodmill Winery Lane) for a wine tasting and wine slushies. Relax indoors, on the wrap-around porch outside or peruse the grounds with your glass of wine. You can watch the process of muscadine wine being made from the five acres of vines to the bottling area and wine cellar in the winery’s basement.
Next stop—Surry County!