Wow! Catawba County was chockful of little discoveries! This county is well worth the trip.
Catawba County, name after the Catawba River, was formed in 1842 from Lincoln County. The word “catawba” is rooted in the Choctaw sound kat’a pa, loosely translated as “to divide or separate, to break.” However, scholars are fairly certain that this word was imposed from outside. The Native Americans known as the Catawba people, a tribe of indigenous people who once inhabited the region, were considered one of the most powerful Southeastern Siouan-speaking tribes in the Carolina Piedmont. They now live along the border of North Carolina near the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. German and Scots-Irish colonial immigrants first settled in the Catawba River valley in the mid-18th century. The town of Maiden is home to the Apple iCloud data center and is the largest privately owned solar farm in the United States (operated by Apple).
P.S. If you’re a fan, you might want to check out the Catawba Valley Ale Trail.
Lookout Shoals Dam
We started our day at Lookout Shoals Dam on Lookout Shoals Rd. The story’s been told that during construction of the Lookout Shoals Dam in 1914, single young ladies from the area would stop at the site to check out the men working on the crews. One such worker, Walter Sipes, met his future bride when she visited, which began four generations of Sipes family members with connections to the now 107-year-old dam. Today, Lookout Shoals has three generating units with a capacity of 26 megawatts. It is one of 13 hydroelectric plants and 11 reservoirs operated by Duke Energy along the Catawba-Wateree River in the Carolinas.
Bunker Hill Covered Bridge – Claremont, NC
Located at 4180 E US Hwy 70, the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge at Connor Park is just a short walk from the parking lot along the Lyle’s Creek stream bed. One of a few covered bridges left in North Carolina, it is the only remaining wooden bridges in the United States with Haupt truss construction–and one of only two original covered bridges left in North Carolina. (See the future Randolph County blog for the Pisgah Covered Bridge and Lee County Blog for another covered bridge, though not original.) This covered bridge was built in 1895 by Andrew Loretz Ramsour in Claremont, North Carolina, and crosses Lyle Creek. The bridge is a National Civil Engineering Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge was constructed as an open span and was covered in 1900 by a 91-foot wood shingle roof, later replaced in 1921 with a tin roof. The bridge was then repaired in 1994. In a historical note, 531 British prisoners of war crossed at the Bunker Hill Ford on Lyle’s Creek following the Battle of Cowpens in 1781 during the Revolutionary War.
Claremont, itself, was originally known as Charlotte Crossing, and later as Setzer Depot. Claremont began using its current name in 1892, after Clare Sigmon, the daughter of an early settler, and was incorporated in 1893. Rock Barn Farm is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Settlers came to the part of Catawba County known now as Claremont in the early 1800s. It has been reported that land sold for fifty cents an acre. The Settlement was first called “Charlotte Crossing”. The Federal Post Office Department did not approve of the similarity with the Town of Charlotte, so the villages name was shortened to just “Crossing”. Some people called the village “Setzer’s Depot.” The Southern Railroad urged the people of the village to give their village a name.
So, the men agreed and took the name of “Clare” and added, “mount” to it. The “mount” was added because the village from the old Catawba Road side looked high as a mountain. On August 8, 1892, the town was officially called Claremont and listed this way by the United States Post Office Department and also by Southern Railroad.
Newton, named for Isaac Newton Wilson, a state legislator who had introduced the bill creating Catawba County, was established in 1845 and incorporated in 1855.
Cherie Berry (of Maiden?) Dennis Setzer, former NASCAR driver, Paulette Washington, Actress and wife of Denzel Washington are from here. (Some longtime North Carolinians may recall Cherie Berry’s name from being posted in every inspection form in every elevator in the state.)
INC Magazine has twice named the region as one of the top entrepreneurial areas in America in both traditional and high-tech industries. Business North Carolina magazine also ranked the region as having the second-best business environment of the state’s 50th largest communities. Newton is also home to the annual Soldiers Reunion, featuring almost a week of patriotic and entertaining activities for area residents, including a parade in downtown. The event is the oldest patriotic celebration in the nation that is not based on a holiday. (P.S. The oldest Fourth of July parade in the country takes place in Bristol, RI. Instead of solid yellow lines, the center lines along the parade route are painted red, white, and blue.)
Despite stopping here on two separate days (weekend and weekday), the Harper House (310 N. Center Street) was not open for guests, so I was only able to take photos outside. Although, I was told be the owner of the Hart Square Village that each room has different wallpaper and it’s really quite a beautiful period home to tour. You may want to call in advance to try to schedule a tour.
History Museum of Catawba County
This museum (30 N. College Avenue) is located inside of the courthouse, but due to COVID, they didn’t have enough staff for operation. So, sadly, no pictures to show here as well.
Hickory Motor Speedway
Hickory Motor Speedway is one of stock car racing’s most storied venues, and it’s often referred to as the “World’s Most Famous Short Track” and the “Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars.”
The track first opened in 1951 as a 1⁄2-mile dirt track. Gwyn Staley won the first race at the speedway and later became the first track champion. Drivers such as Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett (Dale Jarret’s father), and Ralph Earnhardt (Dale Earnhardt Senior’s father) also became track champions in the 1950s, with Earnhardt winning five of them.
In 1953, NASCAR’s Grand National Series (later the NASCAR Cup Series) visited the track for the first time. Tim Flock won the first race at the speedway, which became a regular part of the Grand National schedule. After winning his track championship in 1952, Junior Johnson became the most successful Grand National driver at Hickory, winning there seven times.
The track has been re-configured three times in its history. The track became a 0.4-mile dirt track in 1955, which was paved for the first time during the 1967 season. In 1970, the Hickory track was shortened to a length of 0.363 miles.
Hickory was dropped from the Grand National schedule after the 1971 season when R. J. Reynolds began sponsoring the newly christened NASCAR Winston Cup Series and dropped all races under 250 miles from the schedule. It remained in use as a popular NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series venue. As more tracks began hosting Busch Series races, Hickory’s involvement was progressively reduced to two races a year by 1987, and then just the Easter weekend by 1995. By 1998, the Busch Grand National Series began adding more races at Winston Cup Series tracks, and Hickory was dropped from the schedule after 17 years.
Hickory is still used as a venue for NASCAR’s club racing division, the Whelen All-American Series, Pro All Stars Series South Super Late Models and the CARS Tour featuring late model and super late model touring series cars.
So, if you want a taste of something with real Southern roots, stop by the Hickory Motor Speedway for a good old-fashioned, short track car race. You can hear the cars burning around the track when you’re passing by, and the sound of the cars seems to call you in. So, grab your seat cushion, get a ticket, and head into the stands for a few hours of racin’ and snackin’.
Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum
If you’re train lover–and even if you’re not–make a stop at the Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum (1123 North Main Ave.) that was restored from 1997-2005. You’ll discover indoor and outdoor attractions, including historic railroad artifacts and a museum gift shop. And be sure to stop at the Railroad Center at the building next door (same parking lot) while you’re there to see nine operating model railroads–fun for adults and kids alike.
The Vineyard & Winery at Catawba Farms
This vineyard/winery/brewery/B&B/market and animal farm (Yes!) is a must-see in Catawba County–definitely a destination here (1670 Southwest Blvd.). Grab your glass of wine and head outside to stroll among the horses, goats, peacocks, pigs, and more. On the weekends, you’re likely to find a food truck and musical entertainment in the barn venue outdoors. You may even want to stay at the attached The Peacock Inn at Catawba Farms during your Catawba County visit/ they boast superlative B&B accommodations. Savor the charm of the farm!
The City of Conover began to develop in the mid-1800s as a “Y” intersection of the railroad traversing North Carolina. Although originally called Wye Town, legend says the name “Canova” was adopted, but transposed to Conover over several years. The City of Conover was chartered in 1876 and incorporated in 1877. The Bolick Historic District and George Huffman Farm here are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conover is also home to NASCAR’s Morgan Shepherd and the Jarrett (Ned and Dale) family.
Hickory is a city located primarily in Catawba County, with formal boundaries extending into Burke and Caldwell counties.
The origins of Hickory’s name stems from a tavern made of logs beneath a hickory tree during the 1850s. The spot was known as “Hickory Tavern.” In 1870, Hickory Tavern was established as a town. Three years later in 1873, the name was changed to the Town of Hickory, and in 1889 to the City of Hickory.
The first train operated in the area of Hickory Tavern in 1859, and the first lot was sold to Henry Link for $45 in 1858. His house is now known as “The 1859 Cafe,” a restaurant (closed in 2011). Hickory was one of the first towns to install electric lights in 1888 and a complete sewerage system in 1904. And in 1891, Lenoir–Rhyne University (then Highland Academy) was founded by four Lutheran pastors with 12 initial students.
Hickory is home to one of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the United States, still located and operated on the original site. Hickory White, formerly known as Hickory Manufacturing Company, was built in 1902 and has been in continuous operation ever since. During World War II, the factory made ammunition boxes for the U.S. military instead of furniture.
.Hckory was known in the years after World War II for the “Miracle of Hickory”. In 1944, the area around Hickory (the Catawba Valley) became the center of one of the worst outbreaks of polio ever recorded. Residents who were then children recall summers of not being allowed to play outside or visit friends for fear of contracting the disease. Since local facilities were inadequate to treat the victims, the citizens of Hickory and the March of Dimes decided to build a hospital to care for the children of the region. From the time the decision was made until equipment, doctors, and patients were in a new facility, took less than 54 hours. Several more buildings were quickly added. A Red Cross official on the scene praised the project “as the most outstanding example of cooperative effort he has ever seen.”
Hickory has one sister city: Germany Altenburger Land, Germany. Notable people from Hickory include Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook; Eric Church, country music singer and songwriter; and Dale Jarrett, former NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Hickory has been named an “All-America City” three times. The All-America City Award is given annually to ten cities in the United States. It is an award that represents a community’s ability to work together and achieve critical local issues. Hickory won this award in 2007, as well as 1967 and 1987. The Hickory metro area has been named the 10th best place to live and raise a family in the United States. In 2014, Smart Growth America identified the Hickory MSA as being the country’s most sprawling metro area.
Early industries such as wagon-making know-how, proximity to expansive forests, and excellent transportation via two intersecting railroads provided fertile ground for the emergence of the furniture industry. Today, 40% of the world’s fiber optic cable is made in the Hickory area. And it is estimated that 60% of the nation’s furniture used to be produced within a 200-mile radius of Hickory.
Hickory Museum of Art
Browse through three floors of open art galleries, including pottery, modern sculpture, paintings, statement and children’s exhibits, and more. Established in 1944, the Hickory Art Museum (243 3rd Ave NE) has been creating artistic visions in Catawba County for more than 75 years. Founding director Paul Whitener vowed to make Hickory and art center in NC. The museum’s focus is on American art, celebrating artists across NC and the US. Membership here is reciprocal in 250 museum nationwide (ROA) plus 150 museums in the Southeast (SERM).
Catawba County Firefighter’s Museum
Sadly, this was another missed opportunity as the museum was closed early on the day of our visit due to a funeral. But we did get some photos outside and one at the front door. (3957 Herman Sipe Rd.)
Long View, NC
Originally known as “Penelope,” Long View incorporated in 1907. The legend is that the Town of Long View was thought to have been named by Sam D. Campbell a prominent contractor and real estate dealer who helped build the old Piedmont Wagon Company factory building in Hickory. The story goes that one day while standing at his former home where the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company building is today, Mr. Campbell gazed down the Southern Railway track toward Hickory and remarked, “It’s a long view.” The name stuck.
There has been some confusion as to whether Long View is one or two words. “Longview” one word, is commonly used today in connection with the town. However, as of March 8, 1907, Section 1 of Chapter 430 of the original charter ratified by the North Carolina General Assembly in an act to incorporate the Town of Long View in Catawba County states: “That the Town of Long View, in Catawba County, is hereby incorporated by the name of Long View, and said town shall be subject to all the provisions of law now existing in reference to incorporated towns.” According to original charter, Long View when dealing with the town name is two words.
Hart Square Village
Hart Square Village (5055 Hope Rd) boasts the world’s largest collection of historic log structures–surrounding a large, picturesque pond complete with a very large community of geese, that seem to be year-round residents. Hart Square Foundation preserves the log structures, trades, and culture housed at Hart Square Village. Through preservation and sharing, the foundation inspires the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and resilience of our pioneer ancestors.
There is so much amazing history on this property–and every building has a story to tell. From the old Post Office with a hidden space under the house for the family to hide, as the property was frequently robbed to the jail, or “calaboose,” with an actual whipping post (found about 2 miles from its current location) to an actual cotton gin (invented by Eli Whitney) to St. Mark Chapel with a stained glass window and working organ (which the owner will gladly play for you) to a doggie treadmill/butter churner–Yes, I gave that one away.
Peruse through this landscape of historic log buildings all picked up from their original locations throughout the state then moved here and reconstructed. The property’s owner was an avid pilot, so he maintained a landing strip on the backside of the property for landings and takeoffs. In fact, during his many flights, he would keep an eye out for log structures from the air, make a note of where they were, then seek out the owners to purchase the buildings and bring them here to Vale. In all, Hart Square Village has XX structures on property. (The landing strip is used today for large event parking.)
English language lovers can revel in the historic origins of phrases such as “keep your nose to the grindstone,” while visiting the grist mill (originally located on Miller’s Creek) and more.
Plus, the owners recently built an amazingly fabulous event hall to host weddings, corporate events, family reunions, and more on the property. They even offer co-working spaces to local business entrepreneurs. Stop by for several annual festivals: the annual Hart Square Village festival where you can see 500 pounds of cotton being baled throughout the day with the still-running cotton gin. Hart Square Village also hosts an annual Sunflower festival in the fall where you can pick your own sunflowers and a Christmas Festival in December at night complete with lighted pathways and a beautifully lit covered bridge. This village is truly an amazing find–and so worth the tour.
Maiden was the first public high school in the state with an observatory and is currently home to an Apple iCloud Data Center, covering 500,000 square feet. “The Biggest Little Football Town in the World,” as it has long called itself, was incorporated on March 7, 1883 as a cotton mill site and a trading center. The name “Maiden” most likely is Native American in origin. Historians claim that the town was named after the native-grown “Maidencane” grass, which is found throughout the township to this day.
Sherrills Ford, NC
Sherrills Ford is named due being the site of the fording of the Catawba River from east to west by Adam Sherrill et al. ca. 1747. The apostrophe in “Sherrill’s Ford” was inadvertently dropped. The Sherrills, of English ancestry, had come from northeast Maryland, most probably trekking through modern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. Many Sherrill descendants still reside in Sherrills Ford.
Long Island, NC
Previously a milling town, the area was flooded when a dam was built on the Catawba River to create Lake Norman in 1959. John J. Shuford and Avery M. Powell built Long Island Mill in the early 1850s. Brothers Columbus and Wilfred Turner bought the mill in 1881. It was located “on a mile-long stretch of island in one of the river’s wider spots.” Columbus Turner built a house nearby which he called Mont Beaux, which the mill workers pronounced Monbo. Eventually, the Turners called their company Monbo Mill Company. In the late 1880s, they sold Long Island Mill to English businessman Jim Brown and focused on Monbo Mill.
The idea for a dam on the Catawba River dated back to before 1900. Buck and Benjamin Duke saw dams on the Catawba as a way to help industry.Duke Power had planned for a dam in this area since the early 1920s, when the company bought Long Island Mill, Monbo Mill and other properties to prepare for the building of a new lake.
Catawba, which was selected as an early railroad station, is one of the oldest towns between Salisbury and Asheville, NC. Trains ran to the town before the War Between the States, beginning around 1859.
Murray’s Mill Historic District
In Newton, you’ll find this quaint little picturesque mill and surrounding landscape (1489 Murray’s Mill Rd.) along side a 28-foot waterwheel dam beside a restful pond on the banks of Balls Creek, complete with geese and a trickling waterfall. You can park in a field just up the hill, then head down to shop in the 1890’s Murray & Minges General Store, visit with a few local crafters outside, picnic alongside the waterwheel and mill dam (closed in 1967), and even hike on a nature path and part of the Carolina Thread Trail. Tour the 1913 grist mill and 1880s Wheathouse as well as the 1913 John Murray House and numerous outbuildings run by three generations of the Murray family. Grab a soda from the old-timey Coca-Cola refrigerator at the general store and shop for some country goods and snacks, candy, toys, and gifts. When in operation, the mill ground corn with the original one-ton French millstones and wheat to make flour with roller mills. Today, the Annual Harvest Farmers Market is held each year on the last Saturday of September.
Historical Museum, Veterans Garden
You’ll find these two right across the street from one another (101 First St SW). The Veterans Garden is a lovely tribute to Catawba County residents, men and women, who have perished while serving their country. Take a few minutes to pay your respects, then head across the street to the Historical Museum. If it’s not open, you can at least peer through the windows.
Established in 1986 in response to the naming of the Catawba Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, TCHA, Inc. adopted the restoration of the oldest brick building, Dr. Q. M. Little House ca. 1873, to showcase local history.
The Museum opened to the public in 2003. The Federal-style building contains five rooms of unique local history and a room dedicated to the National Little Family Archives. The structure itself is quite remarkable as well, featuring a two-tier porch, exterior stairway, six front doors and vintage handmade brick construction.
Next blog… Harnett County!