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Journey through Alexander County

Called the Gateway to the Brushy Mountains, Alexander county is named in honor of the Alexander family who were leaders in Colonial North Carolina. And Taylorsville is the namesake of either John Louis Taylor, Carolina agriculturist and political philosopher, or General Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States. The County was established in 1847, the year of the first sale of land in the county seat (Taylorsville). With the proceeds from the sale, the first courthouse was built on the present site. When the Civil War began, Alexander County was 14 years old. The 1860 population was 5,837; yet Alexander County ranked high per capita in the number of Confederate soldiers serving in the war. The Alexander Railroad Company is an active short line rail system operating between Taylorsville and Statesville and connecting with Norfolk Southern.

This county offers many amazing views of the foothill mountains and valleys that pop into view around nearly every twist and turn of a country road. It’s truly worth your time to spend a day getting lost in this county–for the views alone.

Stony Point

A Stoney Point Post Office was established on February 17, 1826 in Iredell County (at the time), with James Thompson as postmaster. The name was changed to Stony Point in 1832. The Stony Point populated place has existed in both Alexander and Iredell Counties since 1847, when Alexander County was created.

Hiddenite

Hiddenite was once noted as a health resort because of its sulfur springs. The town of Hiddenite was incorporated in 1913, but its charter was repealed in 1919. Hiddenite was named for William Earl Hidden (1853–1918), a mineralogist sent to North Carolina by Thomas Edison to look for platinum. Hidden discovered the gem that came to be known as “hiddenite” in 1879 in mines nearby. Until recently, it was found only in Alexander County, North Carolina, but in recent decades it has been subsequently found in both Madagascar and Brazil. Prior to the arrival of W.E. Hidden, the community was known as White Plains; this is how the area appears on a map of 1871.

The Hiddenite Gem Mines and surrounding areas also yield emeralds, sapphires, and many other precious stones. Sluicing and digging for precious gems is a popular recreational activity that draws many visitors to the area.

Hiddenite Celebration of the Arts

The Hiddenite Celebration of the Arts is held on the fourth Saturday in September. The Celebration invites people to see and participate in arts and crafts from different cultures. The main culture is the folk ways of North Carolina, but Hispanic and Hmong folkways are also celebrated. The annual 13.1-mile Hiddenite Half-Marathon is held at the same time.

Emerald Hollow Mine

Called the Gem Capital of the World, Emerald Hollow Mine (484 Emerald Hollow Mine Dr.) is the only Emerald Mine in the world open to the public for prospecting, found in the Brushy Mountains of Hiddenite. This is recognized as one of the most unique and interesting geological locations in North America. You’ll find numerous people sleucing, creeking, and digging for gems any day of the week, and especially on the weekends. One note, that if you do want to partake, you will need to purchase a permit, which can be obtained on property and upon your arrival.

More than 60 different types of naturally occurring gems and minerals are found in this area–and a treasure trove of gemstones can be found at the gem mine museum and gift shop. Many are very rare and include emerald, aquamarine, sapphire, garnet, topaz, amethyst, citrine, rutile, and tourmaline. They also have an abundance of world-class smoky and clear quartz crystals. Hiddenite being the 4th rarest gemstone in the world, can only be found in this small town of Hiddenite, North Carolina.

Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area

Rock climber or not, stop by the Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area (3451 Rocky Face Church Rd) for an amazing view of the small mountain’s rock face, which will jump out of nowhere, it seems, as you round the corner before the park. You’ll find climbers scaling the rock wall daily, and you can also picnic and walk the paths of this nature preserve. It’s definitely selfie worthy too!

Hiddenite Arts & Heritage Center’s Lucas Mansion Museum

The Hiddenite Arts & Heritage Center’s Lucas Mansion Museum (316 Hiddenite Church Rd) pays homage to the trademarks of this area with rotating exhibits featuring hiddenite and gem mining, emerging and regional artists, local craftspeople, a 3,000-piece doll and toy collection on the third floor, and more–all in the beautiful Victorian-era Lucas Mansion. As you tour through the home, be sure to peek out the windows for a beautiful view of the grounds below. The mansion is on the National Registry of Historic Places due to this amazing architectural feat. In 1914, the owner wanted to double the size of the mansion. But instead of spreading out the footprint on land, the two-story house was cut in half by inserting a new second floor between the two existing floors in order to make it the now three-story mansion that it is today. Amazing! The 22-room mansion also features a unique fire system and a bell system (so that residents could communicate between floors). Be sure to stop in the museum gift shop to take home a memory of your visit.

Vashti

Although you won’t find any activities or attractions here, I highly encourage you to type Vashti into your map locator and drive to the center point of this area for some absolutely amazing views of these North Carolina foothills. You never know what beautiful vista awaits you around the corner!

(P.S. This photo does it no justice.)

Taylorsville

Taylorsville, NC is nestled in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains in beautiful Western North Carolina and is the county seat of Alexander County. The town of Taylorsville was formed in 1847 along with Alexander County and named in honor of General Zachary Taylor, who at that time was in Mexico engaged in the Mexican–American War.

The land for the town was donated by J.M. Bogle who gave 22 acres, William Matheson who gave 13 acres, and James James who gave 113⁄4 acres for a total of 463⁄4 acres. Most of the land was woodland, and the road from Statesville to Morganton passed to the south of town.

A commission of Alexander C. McIntosh, R.L. Steel, Sion Harrington, J.H. Newland, and George Swain, treasurer, was appointed to lay out the town of Taylorsville and sell lots to raise money for the building of a courthouse and jail. An auction of lots was held August 11, 1847, and 47 lots were sold. The second sale took place on November 30, 1847, and 10 lots were sold. At a third auction on March 8, 1848, five lots were sold. The total amounted to $6,674.75.

The town of Taylorsville was incorporated in 1851. And John Watts served as its first mayor, appointed by the commissioners. The boundaries of the incorporated town were square, with each side measuring 160 poles or one-half mile long.

Harry Gant, former NASCAR Cup Series driver, is from the area as well as Jerry Rushing, a bootlegger and inspiration for The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Old Jail Museum

Today the Old Jail, built in 1913 as a two-story brick structure with a pyramidal roof, houses a small museum honoring the former jailers and their families who lived in the jail supervising the prisoners. Except for the addition of a wing at the East elevation in 1930, the building has retained much of its original period detailing. Of note are the quoins, which frame the main building, and are unusually stylish details for a jail. This is one of the oldest public buildings of Alexander County–and one of the oldest jails still standing in North Carolina. Four of the 10 original jail cells are still intact and are located upstairs.

The Old Jail (72 Main Ave Dr) is also home to ACAAI’s Genealogical Research Library. The collection includes local census, obituary files, family records as well as books, periodicals, microfilm, photographs, and other research media.

Alexander Railroad Company’s “June Bug”

Alexander Railroad Company, a locally owned, operated, and maintained short line railroad, offers weekday carload freight service along the Highway NC 90 corridor between Statesville and Taylorsville. The railroad’s offices are located in the old depot in Taylorsville.

According to legend, the railroad’s locomotives are painted green and gold in honor of local attorney and State Senator Romulus Z. Linney’s impassioned speech to NC Legislature in 1887, supporting a railroad charter to extend the existing Charlotte-Statesville AT&O line into Taylorsville.

To demonstrate the mineral wealth of this route, Linney referred to the recently discovered Hiddenite stone, claiming, “A well-wintered June Bug can carry away $1,000 worth of this valuable gem, which rivals the diamond in sparkling beauty, tied to its hind leg!” The legislation passed, and the railroad and its locomotives have been nicknamed “The June Bug” to this day.

Next road trip… Cleveland County!

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Journey through Anson County

Enjoy a scenic day throughout the rolling hills of Anson County, NC.

Named for George Anson, Baron Anson, a British admiral, who circumnavigated the globe from 1740 to 1744 and later became First Lord of the Admiralty, Anson County was formed in 1750 from Bladen County.

While neighboring Bladen was occupied by Native American tribes(Waccamaw), Anson County was originally occupied by Catawba Siouan tribe as a large territory with undefined northern and western boundaries. In 1753, the northern portion of the county became Rowan County. In 1762, the western part of Anson County became Mecklenburg County. In 1779, the northern part of the remaining of Anson County became Montgomery County, and the portion east of the Pee Dee River became Richmond County. Then, in 1842, the western part of Anson County was combined with the southeastern part of Mecklenburg County to become Union County.

Interesting fact: Steven Spielberg filmed “The Color Purple” mostly in Lilesville, and a large white farmhouse (the Huntley house, located in Lilesville, an old farmhouse located few miles off Highway 74) was used extensively as the main exterior location in the film.

Peachland

The Town of Peachland was officially incorporated on March 31, 1895, but Peachland’s history actually dates back to the late 1700s. Some of the town’s street names reflect the New Jersey heritage of its founding fathers: Passiac, New England, New York, Park, and Boston. Passaic Street was the original Highway 74, built in 1923-24, before the existing four-lane US Highway 74 was constructed to bypass the downtown area. In March 1895, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified an act to incorporate a small town in western Anson County; and the Town of Peachland was officially formed on March 31, 1895.

The community’s rich history dates back to the late 1700s when Charlotte lawyers enroute to the Anson County Courthouse in Wadesboro would camp overnight near a spring because the trip by horseback took more than a day’s travel time. The route became known as Lawyers Road and the water source was called Lawyers Spring.

Originally, the  community was known as Mulcahy. But in 1888, community fathers gathered to discuss renaming the unincorporated town to Fruitland. Eventually, the name “Peachland” was suggested, a nod to the natural beauty of Pad Gray’s peach orchard, located south of town.

Local lore alludes to the panning of gold in the area during Anson County’s own “gold rush.” Several mining operations popped up in Anson County during that time, and the gold was shipped to a mint in Charlotte for coinage prior to the Civil War.

Prior to incorporation, a one-room schoolhouse was constructed in the Lawyers Spring area. And the first elected mayor of Peachland was Vernon Allen. An early map, drawn by Eward Brown for inclusion in Peachland’s Centennial Celebration publication, pinpoints the location of local businesses, such as Griffin Drugstore, James Shoe Repair Shop, Redfern Store, Crowder’s Blacksmith Shop, Preslar’s Barber Shop, Cohn Grocery, a cabinet shop, Tucker’s Corn Meal Store, Caudle and Meggs Grocery Store, Leak and Marshall Grocery, Lowery Seed Store, Crowder’s Pool Hall, the Bank of Peachland, a Southern Bell telephone company office, an auto repair shop, Brown’s Garage, Huntley Gin and Lumber, the  Peachland Depot, Baucom’s Fertilizer Co., Peachland School, and Peachland Elementary.

Perhaps the most notable Peachland resident was Dr. Parks Turner Beeman. He is remembered for his epitaph, “I Fed Fever,” that is inscribed on his tombstone in the family cemetery near Peachland. He favored the practice of feeding patients who had a fever, stating a feverish patient is weak enough without making him suffer malnutrition too.

Interesting fact: On April 1, 1995, a time capsule was buried with the stipulation that it would be opened on April 1, 2045 – Peachland’s 150th birthday.

Polkton

The town is named after its founder, Leonidas Lafayette Polk, and incorporated in 1875. The Billy Horne Farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Polkton began as the farm of Colonel Leonidas Lafayette Polk, the noted agrarian crusader. Founder L.L. Polk (1837-1892) laid out the streets for the town in 1870 and Polkton was incorporated in 1875.

Wadesboro

This county seat city has a downtown area called Uptown Wadesboro, due to its geographical positioning as the highest point in town. The town of Wadesboro dates back to 1783 when it was founded by Capt. Patrick Boggan and Col. Thomas Wade (the town’s namesake), famous Revolutionary patriots.

A settlement had grown along the banks of the Pee Dee River but a more centralized location was needed for the county seat. The new site was found and Patrick Boggan purchased the 70 acres of land. Streets were laid out and named for Revolutionary War notables, including Generals George Washington, Nathaniel Greene, Daniel Morgan, and Griffith Rutherford; Colonels Thomas Wade and William Washington; and Governors Richard Caswell and Alexander Martin. The town was first called New Town, then later changed to Wadesborough and finally Wadesboro.  The land on which New Town was established comprises the main business district today.

The Boggan-Hammond House on East Wade Street is the town’s oldest home. Built by Capt. Patrick Boggan for his daughter, Nellie, wife of William Hammond, it is now a historical museum maintained by the Anson County Historical Society (open on special occasions or by appointment).

In the early days of the town, taverns flourished and stagecoach travelers stopped in Wadesboro to pass the night at places like Buck’s Tavern, which was located on the present site of the First United Methodist Church at Greene and Morgan Streets. On September 26, 1787, Andrew Jackson spent the night at Buck’s Tavern in uptown Wadesboro in order to obtain a license to practice law.

On April 2, 1868, a great fire swept through Wadesboro destroying the courthouse and about 30 other buildings. Nearly all of the Superior Court, county court, and marriage records were destroyed in the blaze. But with the brick walls still intact, the fifth courthouse was built in its ashes. The sixth courthouse, standing today on Greene Street between Wade and Martin, was built in 1912.

In 1894, George Little, later joined by his brother, Henry Wall Little, opened a hardware store on South Greene Street. The store, H.W. Little and Co., is still owned and operated by the Little family at 109 S. Greene. Prior to the Great Depression, the store was the marketing center for cotton, Anson County’s main crop, and kept track of world prices at the New York Cotton Market with Western Union delivering a market bulletin every 15 minutes.

Wadesboro was a thriving textile town until the early 1990s when it felt the effects of the decline in the US textile industry as did other textile towns in North Carolina. Through the mid 1900s, Wadesboro was a hub for citizens of the county and was a bustling town with crowds of people walking the downtown streets. Traveling into town from the surrounding countryside, Ansonians would take in a double feature at the Ansonia Theatre, get a haircut, have lunch at the tea room, drink a milkshake at the Parson’s Drug soda fountain, and patronize the dry goods and hardware stores of local merchants. Visitors today can still see echoes of Wadesboro’s past in the buildings and architecture of the Uptown business district and surrounding residential streets.

The Anson County Historical Society offers a walking tour brochure of our historic downtown district.  The brochure is available at the Historical Society office (206 E. Wade St., 704-694-6694) or at the Anson County Chamber of Commerce for $5.

Interesting facts: In 1900, scientists determined that Wadesboro would be the best location in North America for viewing an expected total solar eclipse. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, then based in Washington, D.C., loaded several railroad cars with scientific equipment and headed to the town for the event on May 28, 1900. Incidentally and inadvertently, this blogger was visiting the town on May 28, 2022, within an hour of the time of the total eclipse in 1900.

Gary Porter, former driver of the Carolina Crusher and Grave Digger Monster Truck, ran in the Monster Jam series is from the area.

Horror film Evil Dead II was filmed in Wadesboro, and the Huntley House became the production office for the film. Most of Evil Dead II was filmed in the woods near that farmhouse, or J.R. Faison Junior High School, which is where the interior cabin set was located.

Rotary Planetarium and Science Center

The Rotary Planetarium and Science Center is a cooperative effort of the Anson County School System and the Wadesboro Rotary Club. The center is available to all students and has programs open to the public at various times of year. 

A wildlife diorama identifies more than 30 animal species native to the Piedmont. The Life Science Room is home to assorted creatures such as Frodo the Gecko. A “hands-on” exhibit is the 2,000-square-foot “Lives of the Tree” where visitors can learn to identify leaves, study tree rings, and see the effects of soil erosion. A Hubble Telescope exhibit gives the visitor the opportunity to view images of galaxies, nebulae, and dying stars.

The center takes visitors by appointment only by calling ahead (520 Camden Rd., 704-694-7016).

Galleries and Local Pottery

You’ll find locally made pottery at Granny Hollow Pottery, Price’s Place, and the gallery at the Anson County Arts Council (110 S. Rutherford St.). The Anson County Arts Council has an art gallery featuring local artists at its gallery/office, also on Rutherford Street. The Arts Council hosts Sunday afternoon art shows featuring local artists during the year.

Ansonia Theatre and Arts Council gallery

The Anson County Arts Council presents live theatrical and musical productions in this renovated community theater. The Ansonia (112 S. Rutherford St.), built in 1925, was a vaudeville-era theater and can seat 273 people. Even as late as the ’50s and early ’60s, the Ansonia was still showing regular movies with local bands performing after the late show on weekends. Then as television and mall cinemas gained a stronghold in American culture and as people became more mobile, the Ansonia, like most movie theaters in small towns, eventually closed. Although several attempts were made to reopen it, there was no way it could compete with larger cinemas.

The Ansonia Theatre renovation was completed in the Spring of 2011, and the theater is now being used as a facility for local and regional musical and theatrical productions.

Peaches ‘n Cream

Just on the outskirts of town, stop here for fresh made ice cream or fresh produce and rest awhile in one of their rockers.

Uptown Wadesboro Business District on National Historic Register

Wadesboro’s uptown historic business district (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) is bounded by Martin, Rutherford, Morgan, Lee and Brent Streets. The Uptown Wadesboro business district boasts architecture reminiscent of its long history as a cotton and textile town when Wadesboro was the center of shopping, entertainment, and dining for all of Anson County. The architecture of the historic district and surrounding neighborhoods includes examples of Italianate, Victorian, Colonial Revival, Craftsman Bungalow, and Gothic Revival styles. Many homes and buildings in Uptown Wadesboro have retained their historical integrity, including the 1894 HW Little & Co. Hardware building at 109 S. Greene Street, an old-fashioned hardware store in the same family since 1894.

Lord George Anson Antiques

This store is a treasure trove of antiques–and owner Ralph Coble has a story for just about every item. Look high, look low, look in between, so you’re sure not to miss a thing. Oh, and don’t forget to ask him about the plants out front.

Lilesville

A post office called Lilesville has been in operation since 1827. The town was named for an early merchant. Lilesville is home to the Lilesville Granite, a porphyritic igneous rock named for the town.

Sneedsboro

I was unable to find this proclaimed North Carolina ghost town, supposedly located about five miles southeast of Morven. If you find it, do let me know. But here’s the lore…

The Pee Dee River flows east of Sneedsboro, and when the town was laid out and chartered in 1795 it was promoted as an inland river port. Streets in Sneedsboro were laid out and named, and the town had a post office, school, inn, general store, and Methodist and Baptist churches.

But by 1835, a mere 40 years later, the town became deserted. Poor economic conditions in North Carolina forced many of Sneedsboro’s residents to leave, and an epidemic of typhoid fever also struck the town.

During the Civil War, a large battalion of Union forces led by William Tecumseh Sherman crossed the Pee Dee River at Sneedsboro. Historian Mary Louise Medley wrote that “though the Pee Dee River was then at flood stage, they took the time to destroy everything of value around the once flourishing town”. The only remnants of the town are the crumbling chimney of the Knox Inn and some tombstones in the Sneedsboro Cemetery.

Next stop… Alexander County!

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Journey through Granville County

Grandville County is Uniquely Open.

The land known today as Granville County was once the home of many Indian tribes, dominated mainly by the Tuscarora. After the Tuscarora War of 1711, settlers, mostly from Virginia, began to populate this area, attracted by the abundant game, well-watered wood, and rich land.

By 1746, the area had a population sufficiently large enough to merit becoming an independent county, separating itself from Edgecombe County’s western frontier. Since most of the land in the northern half of North Carolina was part of the proprietary domain of Lord John Carteret (by title known as the Earl of Granville) the county was named Granville in his honor. Over the years, Granville yielded areas to new counties as settlements grew: Orange (1752), Bute (1764, which in turn became Franklin and Warren in 1779), and Vance (1881).

Benton was Granville County’s representative to the State Assembly in 1761 when he purchased 1,000 acres of land and built a plantation home known as “Oxford.” In 1764, the Assembly ordered that this area be known as the county seat, and Benton gave one acre of land where the courthouse was to be built. Not until 1811 did the Assembly authorize the county to buy 50 acres around the courthouse from Thomas Littlejohn and began to lay out the town, selling lots at public auction in 1812, and incorporating the town in 1816.

Through the colonial and revolutionary periods, the county was the home of a number of citizens of considerable social influence in North Carolina. Most notable was John Penn, a landowner in present-day Stovall, who was elected in 1775 to be a member of the Continental Congress. He was one of North Carolina’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1860, Granville County plantations and farms had some of the state’s best agriculturists, consistently growing large crops of tobacco with the help of a large slave population. Oxford had become a sophisticated town and was famous as a seat of learning by the creation of several academies and colleges. Although Granville was one of five counties with as many as 10,000 slaves, there was also a sizable community of free blacks claiming dozens of craftsmen, especially masons who helped build the grand homes of the more affluent families.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, several militia companies were formed, among them the “Granville Grays.” It is estimated that over 1,500 Granville County men participated vigorously in many battles until the war’s end.

Bright Tobacco brought business to Oxford. Businessmen positioned themselves to take advantage of this new industry and many merchants, lawyers, and doctors set up shop in town. New schools, churches, literary societies, and two orphanages were formed. By the late 19th century, this thriving local economy resulted in a brick commercial district that included as many as three banks, general and hardware stores, an opera house, various professional offices, and new businesses.

Two world wars and the Depression brought many changes to Granville County. Even with revenues from Bright Tobacco, many Granvillians left the county for larger cities with more opportunities. The establishment of Camp Butner at the beginning of World War II engulfed many of their homes and tobacco fields but spawned what is today a thriving community due to the various hospital and prison facilities situated in the area.

Seeing the need for attracting new industries to the county, several local business leaders formed organizations in the 1950s and 1960s to accomplish this task. By the 1980s, there were 38 major manufacturing industries in the county, principally around Oxford and Creedmoor. After more than two centuries, Granville County no longer has a primarily agricultural economy.

Creedmoor, NC

In 1885, a group of 25 taxpayers of Granville County, including Civil War Confederate veteran Robert Fleming, appeared before the Board of Commissioners for the County of Granville with a petition from the Dutchville Township. The petition made a proposition to subscribe $10,000 to the capital stock of the Oxford and Clarksville Railroad Company.

In 1888, Lyon sold part of his land to the Durham and Northern Railroad for track to run through the town. Linking Creedmoor to Henderson and Durham was a major cause of growth of this town. The old Seaboard train depot building still stands at its location on Elm Street, making it over 120 years old.

Creedmoor was incorporated in 1905, having previously been known as “Creedmore”. Although the town is rich with history (home to four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places), it does not hold the title of a Historic District unlike nearby Oxford and Wake Forest.

Tobacco was extremely important in the early history of the town. Four tobacco warehouses were built in the town in the early 1900s. Tobacco was a cash crop in Creedmoor, and was shipped by railroad to nearby Oxford’s Tobacco Research Facility and Durham’s thriving smoking tobacco industry, with firms including W. T. Blackwell and Company, American Tobacco Company, and Liggett & Myers. At one time Creedmoor was a larger tobacco market than Durham. Area farmers did not limit themselves to tobacco only, but also grew cotton, a profitable crop.

In the wake of the tobacco era, mules came to Creedmoor. About 40 train car loads of mules were pulled into the town each year. Mules were the ideal farm animals because their hooves were smaller than those of a horse. Their smaller feet helped them pass through rows of tobacco without stepping on the crop. In 1906, Jim Netherly and a Mr. Cooper founded the Creedmoor Supply Company, which sold feed, mules, horses, buggies, and even some groceries and seeds to meet the demands of local farmers. G.M. Chappell opened a barn that auctioned mules, horses, and cows from 1938 to 1962. At one point in time, Creedmoor was considered to be the largest mule trading center in the world and was widely referred to as “Mule Town”. By 1940, over $500,000 were traded and spent on mules each year. It was not until the mid-1950s that the town removed the slogan “One of the Largest Retail Livestock Markets in North Carolina” from the official letterhead. By then, the mule trade was no longer a major part of the local economy.

In downtown Creedmoor, you’ll find a few historic buildings, such as Creedmoor Drugs, the James Mangum House, and First National Bank Building.

Cedar Creek Gallery & Pottery
The Cedar Creek Gallery (1150 Fleming Rd.) was built in 1968 on what used to be an old tobacco field in the community of Northside. The gallery has grown from one building to more than 10 on the property. This is a must-stop within the county. You’ll find a pleasant garden area outside that is quite inviting in spring and summer. Outside, you’ll also find a variety of plants for sale. Then walk through the doors–and you think you’re walking into a small gift shop–but the gallery keeps going and going, with many nooks and crannies and twists and turns. Enjoy shopping among pottery, jewelry, and various craft displays by local NC crafters throughout the space. We guarantee you’ll bring something home to remember your trip to Granville County.

Oxford, NC

Known today as the Home of the North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest, the town’s history dates to 1761 when local legislator Samuel Benton built a plantation home and called it “Oxford.” The legislature ordered the area around his plantation to be the seat of Granville County. The town was incorporated in 1816.

In 1970, Henry Marrow was shot and killed in Oxford. The killing resulted in a racial protest. The events were chronicled by Timothy Tyson in the book Blood Done Sign My Name (2004) and a 2010 movie with the same name.

A Confederate statue was erected in 1909 by the Granville Grays United Daughters of the Confederacy at a cost of $3,000 and valued in 2009 at $1,327,791.62. The monument was erected in the courthouse square facing away from the courthouse. The base, constructed of granite from Warren County, is 27 feet (8.2 m) tall, and the bronze statue is 7 feet (2.1 m) tall. The monument, a memorial to the Confederate veterans of Granville County that served in the Civil War in the Granville Grays Company D, 12th Regiment, was dedicated October 30, 1909. The statue had not arrived in time but the ceremony continued and the statue was placed at a later date.

Following the 1970 Oxford protests, the city moved the monument from the courthouse square to a site in front of the Richard H. Thornton Library. Since 2009, some activists had suggested moving it to an historic graveyard located down the street. In 2020 the statue was removed and is currently in storage.

Every September, Oxford’s downtown hosts North Carolina’s Hot Sauce Contest. Attracting more than 18,000 visitors, this event is the highlight of the city’s calendar. Featuring three entertainment stages, crafters, kids activities, and food trucks, visitors can taste as many hot sauces as you dare with several blocks’ worth of vendors from all over North Carolina and the United States. Watch competitors in the hot pepper eating contest. The 2019 competitors went through 15 rounds alternating between jalapenos, reapers, and habaneros until the last contestant remained.

In town, you can also visit the Granville History Museum and Sallie Mae Ligon Museum & Archives.

Stovall, NC

The first Boy Scout troop in NC (Troop 1) was founded in Stovall by Luther Connally Wilkerson on Sept. 30, 1910.

Stovall was also home to Declaration of Independence Signer, John Penn, who was born in Caroline County, Virginia, to a family of means. His father died when he was eighteen years old, and though he had received only a rudimentary education at a country school, he had access to the library of his relative Edmund Pendleton. He was licensed to practice law in the state of Virginia at age 22. In 1774, he moved to Granville County, North Carolina, where he established a law practice and soon became a gentleman member of the political community. He was elected to attend the provincial Congress in 1775 and elected to the Continental Congress that same year. He served there until 1777, participating in committee work. He was again elected in 1779, appointed to the Board of War, where he served until 1780. He declined a judgeship in his native state around that time, due to failing health. In retirement he engaged in his law practice and died at the age of 48.

Butner, NC

The Butner Incorporation Bill #986 passed by the North Carolina General Assembly was signed by Governor Mike Easley on July 27, 2007, and the Town of Butner officially incorporated as a municipality on November 1, 2007. The town is the former site of the U.S. Army’s Camp Butner, which was named for Major General Henry W. Butner (1875–1937), a North Carolina native.

Next stop… Anson County!

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Journey through Richmond County

Step back in time with a visit to Richmond County, formed in 1779 from Anson County. In 1899, the southeastern part of Richmond County was organized as Scotland County.

The county was named for Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox, who was an Englishman and a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom who sided with the colonists in America during the American Revolution. During the 19th century, the county became developed for plantation culture with vast areas of fields and farmland.

Richmond County is well known for its history in auto racing with the advent of the Rockingham Speedway, which opened in 1965. Until 2005, this one-mile race track featured bi-annual NASCAR-sanctioned events in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series divisions. The race track also hosted several other events including ARCA, USAR Pro Cup, and UARA Late Models as well as a weekly scheduled series of events for Bandolero and Legends race car classes at the 1/2 mile infield track dubbed the “Little Rock.” As events were moved to other sites, the speedway has sat idle since 2015.

The County is host to Rockingham Dragway (directly across from the Speedway), sanctioned by the International Hot Rod Association. It hosts more than 90 drag racing events per year. Richmond County also hosts lawnmower races. Each weekend from April–October, the Lion’s Club of Ellerbe puts on a weekly show, attracting fans and competitors from surrounding counties and states.

Ellerbe

Development grew around the railroad, built to Ellerbe in 1910, and a depot to form the town of Ellerbe. The rail line remained in service until 1954, and the depot suffered a fire and burned down several years later. The town’s most famous resident was professional wrestling great André the Giant, who owned a nearby ranch/farm. André was known for his extremely tall and large figure due to his affliction with giantism. His heart eventually gave out due to the disease, and he suffered a heart attack in his hotel room in France (where his family originated) while attending his father’s funeral. His dying wish was to have his ashes scattered on his ranch. Since there were no crematoriums in France that could handle a body of his stature, he had to be flown back to the United States to be cremated, and his ashes were spread on his ranch property in Ellerbe, NC.

Benny Parsons, a NASCAR driver and television analyst who won the 1973 Winston Cup Championship and the 1975 Daytona 500, also hailed from Ellerbe.

Rankin Museum of American Heritage
Experience the Rankin Museum’s (131 West Church St) displays on geology and paleontology as well as wildlife, arts, heritage, and artifacts from around the globe–even authentic fossilized dinosaur eggs. You will also find a special exhibit dedicated to its most famous resident, the Frenchman André the Giant. Peruse through his memorabilia, including news articles, photographs, a wrestling belt, and a pair of his size 26 wrestling boots. You can also stand beside a life-sized image of André and compare your hand size against his handprint. Admission to the museum is only $4 ($3 with a AAA discount), and they are only open on Saturdays.

The Berry Patch
Stop at The Berry Patch (Hwy. 220 N. Exit 25), also known as possibly the world’s largest strawberry, at 24′ tall, for in season fruits and vegetables, canned goods, 20 homemade ice cream flavors, Southern foods, and more.

Ellerbe Springs Inn
The Ellerbe Springs Inn (2537 N US Highway 220) is a longtime destination for this community. In its heyday, it attracted numerous guests. As of this visit, the inn is currently for sale and in need of restoration.

Bostick School

Located at 604 Clayton Carriker Road, the Bostick School was an active, one-room schoolhouse for grades 1-7 from 1800-1922. In 1992-1998, the old wooden structure was restored, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2005.

Rockingham

Rockingham is the county seat of Richmond County. The City of Rockingham was named for the Marquis of Rockingham, Charles Watson Wentonworth, a strong friend of the Colonies, who was Prime Minister in 1765. He was in bitter opposition to Lord North and the policy that lost America.

On April 1, 1785, the three duly appointed Commissioners – General H. W. Harrington, John Cole Sr., and Robert Webb, met and bought 18 acres of land from John James, Sr. for about $30, and 32 acres from John Cole for $50. This land was situated on the road that ran from the Mountains to Cross Creek (now Fayetteville). The land was bounded by Falling Creek on the south, and Hitchcock Creek on the North and West – a constricted area.

During the early 19th century, numerous families from here migrated to Middle Tennessee, settling in what is now Nolensville. They quickly established their new community. In 1950, the town fielded a professional minor league baseball team in the Class D Tobacco State League, the Rockingham Eagles. The club won the playoff title in their only season before disbanding with the entire league. Downtown Rockingham is currently being revitalized as a part of a ten-year plan named “Shaping Our Future: 2023.”

While in Rockingham, you can also visit Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham, walk all of part of the 14-mile the Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail, and explore the area’s diverse floodplain forests, historic mills remnants, and rare plants and animals. Hitchcock Creek in Rockingham, North Carolina, is a destination for fishing, boating, and other family-friendly recreation. Leon Levine, founder of Family Dollar, hails from Rockingham.

You’ll find he Richmond County Visitor Center at 101 West Broad Ave. And although there is not an convenient overlook, be sure to drive by the Great Falls Mill ruins along West Broad Ave.

Rockingham Speedway and Dragway

 The city is the home of Rockingham Speedway, formerly the North Carolina Speedway, a staple of the NASCAR schedule for nearly 40 years before the race was discontinued in 2004. The Rockingham Dragway (just across the street at 2153 North US HWY 1) offers year-round events that bring thousands of people to our area.

Hamlet
Known as “The Hub of the Seaboard,” Hamlet had seven hotels and numerous boarding houses and restaurants catering to transferring rail passengers.

The area in Richmond County which presently includes Hamlet was originally known as Sandhills. In 1872, the land was purchased by John Shortridge, an English immigrant who intended on building a textile mill along a creek. He renamed the locale Hamlet the following year, supposedly in homage to hamlets in the British Isles. He planted a sycamore tree to celebrate the occasion, which stood until 1946. A post office was established in 1876, and that year Shortridge sold a parcel of land to Raleigh and Augusta Air Line Railroad, which completed its own line through Hamlet by the following year. Railway shops were built in 1894 and the town was formally incorporated on February 9, 1897. Seaboard Air Line Railroad decided to establish its regional headquarters there, and Hamlet rapidly grew thereafter. By 1910, the locale hosted two five and dimes, five dry goods stores, and a Coca-Cola bottling plant.

Hamlet’s early growth was sustained by Seaboard, which heavily invested in facilities within the town. By the end of World War I, 30 trains passed through Hamlet daily, and the corporation decided to construct a maintenance shop, a roundhouse, and a shipping yard. After World War II, an $11 million classification yard, the first one in the Southeastern United States, was established. The Seaboard Line carried mostly freight traffic, but also brought tourists through Hamlet on the Orange Blossom Special, the Boll Weevil, and the Silver Meteor. Before sleeping cars became predominant, many rail passengers would stop in Hamlet and board at the Terminal Hotel or Seaboard Hotel. They provided traffic to the businesses on Main Street, which included several banks, a jewelry store, shoe shop, drug store, hardware store, opera house, and a bowling alley. Throughout the early 20th century, Hamlet was visited by prominent persons including Booker T. Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, and Jenny Lind. Seaboard provided thousands of mostly-white men with well-paying, secure employment as conductors, engineers, and brakemen. Workers received sick pay, pension plans, and wages negotiated by national unions. As a result, Hamlet developed a large middle class, unlike the nearby city of Rockingham, which was home to many poorer textile mill workers.

Hamlet’s economic situation came under strain beginning in the 1960s, as the railroad faced increasing competition from growing road networks, trucking, and air travel. Seaboard acquired smaller competitors and consolidated its operations, moving workers out of Hamlet. It also froze wages, terminated some positions, and reduced passenger services, diminishing the number of outside visitors to the town. Seaboard became CSX Transportation in 1986. A K-Mart and Walmart were built in Rockingham in the 1970s, providing that municipality with tax revenue and pulling Hamlet’s customers away from their own town. Seaboard laid off hundreds of workers while more national business chains with cheaper prices moved into the region, driving down wages and further reducing the viability of Hamlet’s traditional businesses along Main Street. Racially-charged riots broke out in June 1975 after a Hamlet police officer discharged his gun during an altercation with a black woman. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, many businesses along Main Street and Hamlet Avenue were vacant, and the Terminal Hotel had become a flophouse. Seaboard’s facilities employed less than 600 people, and the Hamlet Depot was only serviced by Amtrak passenger trains twice a day and visited occasionally by railfans. National declines in manufacturing, including textiles, also had a wider stagnating effect on Richmond County.

In 1990, portions of the movie Billy Bathgate were filmed on Main Street, and in June the city was bestowed with the All-America City Award by the National Civic League.

Hamlet is at the junction of three major CSX rail lines, one running north toward Raleigh and south toward Savannah, Georgia, and the second running east toward Wilmington, and west toward Bostic, NC.

On September 3, 1991 the Imperial Food Products chicken processing plant in Hamlet caught fire. Many exits at the plant were locked in violation of fire codes, and 25 workers died. North Carolina’s government imposed a record fine upon the plant owners for the violations and the incident brought negative national attention to the town. You’ll find a memorial plaque for those who perished at the town’s lake.

In addition to the Hamlet Passenger Station, the Main Street Commercial Historic District is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable people from Hamlet include John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist and composer and the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hamlet Depot

The Hamlet Depot (2 Main St) is still a fully restored, active passenger depot and is known as one of the most photographed train depots on the East Coast–and is the only Victorian Queen Anne train station in North Carolina. Inside, you can peruse the heyday of railroads through the site’s museum. Outside, you can visit a few trains preserved in the park across the street–and you can wander over to the tracks to see the literal crossing of the north-south and east-west routes. Be sure to visit the Silver Meteor exhibit in the Tornado building.

In 1870, a railroad ran from Wilmington to the Pee Dee River and on to Charlotte and in 1877, a railway was established running from Raleigh to Augusta. The crossroads of these two rails occurred at Hamlet and spurred population growth for this town. Hamlet, incorporating on February 9, 1897, has always been a railroad town with five spurs radiating from the town to Richmond, Wilmington, Atlanta/Birmingham, Savannah/Charleston and Columbia.

To celebrate the importance of this hub for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, an impressive train station was constructed around the turn of the century. The station was designed in a Victorian Queen Anne style that was popular with railroad architecture in the late 19th century. The long bracketed porches radiate around the corner entry tower that faces the railroad intersection, honoring the reason for its being. For years, the train station served as both a passenger depot and a freight yard.

The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was fully restored in 2004. The museum is free to the public.


National Railroad Museum And Hall Of Fame
Located only a few minutes from the Hamlet Depot, be sure to stop in the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame (120 E Spring St). The museum preserves the county’s rail history as well as a model train display, train equipment, news stories, and many railroad artifacts. The museum is only open on weekends and is staffed by rotating train historians. Be sure to strike up a conversation, as you’ll learn a lot about the local railroad and Seaboard history in Hamlet.

Next stop… Granville County!

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Journey through Randolph County

Home to the original school that became Duke University, some of the first European settlers moved into this area of the Piedmont. The county was formed in 1779 from now neighboring Guilford County and part of a then larger Rowan County. Randolph County was named for Peyton Randolph, the first president of the Continental Congress.

In 1911, a new county called Piedmont County was proposed, with High Point as its county seat, to be created from Guilford, Davidson, and Randolph counties. Many people appeared at the Guilford County courthouse to oppose the plan, vowing to go to the state legislature to protest. The state legislature voted down the plan in February 1911.

Level Cross

This community was named for its flat main intersection, or level crossroads. Level Cross is the hometown of the Petty racing family, beginning with patriarch Lee Petty and his sons, driver Richard Petty and engine builder Maurice Petty, as well as Richard’s son, driver Kyle Petty, and Kyle’s son, driver Adam Petty, who died in a car racing accident. Level Cross was also the birthplace of Richard’s cousin, crew chief Dale Inman.

Victory Junction Gang Camp

Built and funded by the Petty family and worldwide donations, Victory Junction Gang Camp is a racing-themed camp facility in the Level Cross area for special needs children. The camp holds weekly-themed camps for different disabilities and has dedicated medical and camp staff for every child’s needs during their stay as well as therapeutic activities and much more. Kids come from around the world to attend this camp.

ClimaxGoat Lady Dairy

In the small town of Climax, you’ll find Goat Lady Dairy, best know for its award-winning goat cheese and chevres. Named for its founder, who was lovingly called the goat lady (and has since passed away), Goat Lady Dairy holds open houses twice yearly, in the spring and in the fall with music, vendors, and goat cheese tasting. Be sure to bring a cooler with you and stock up on the incredible goat cheese. It freezes well too. If you miss out, you can always catch them at the farmer’s market in Colfax or in some local grocery stores. Even some local restaurants feature Goat Lady Dairy Cheese on their menus. Oh, and you can also make reservations for one of their community dinners.

P.S. Just a few minutes up the road in Liberty, Rising Meadow Farms (3750 Williams Dairy Rd), a working sheep farm, also holds their spring and fall open houses on the same weekends as Goat Lady Dairy. So, you can stop by both–and enjoy a day in the country.

Liberty

Originally named Liberty Oak, the town was founded in 1809 near the plantation of John Leak. The Liberty Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Liberty is home to the famous Liberty Antiques Festival. The movies Killers Three (1968) and Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1993) were filmed in Liberty and the surrounding areas.
Staley

The Town of Staley, founded in 1889, was named for Col. John Staley, a Confederate officer in the Civil War.

Franklinville

Franklinville’s history dates back to at least the 18th Century when there were Keyauwee and Saponi Native American tribes living along the Sapong River, known now as Deep River. Members of these tribes and settlers crossed Deep River at the well-known Island Ford Crossing.

In 1784, the Earl of Granville granted the land where Franklinville is now located to Jacob Skeen. Christian Morris bought this land in 1801 and built his water-powered grist mill on the river. By 1820, Jesse Franklin was the governor of North Carolina and when Elisha Coffin acquired the land and properties from Christian Morris, the area was named Franklinsville in honor of the governor.

In 1847, the state legislature incorporated the village as a Town, the first mill village government in the state.  It was named after former Governor Jesse Franklin of Surry County, a well-known anti-slavery advocate. All of the original stockholders of the mill appear to have been Quakers or abolitionists, and the majority of the inhabitants were Unionists who voted against joining the Confederacy.  Under military supervision during the Civil War, the mills made cotton underwear for soldiers.  Outside of the mills Franklinville was a center of the Red String, the pro-Union Peace Party, which after 1865 was reborn as the new Republican Party.

Franklinville was incorporated as a town for the first time and was ratified by the State of North Carolina on January 15, 1847. By December 19, 1917, Franklinsville became Franklinville without the “s”. Franklinville has been a manufacturing community since its earliest beginnings in the 1760s. The mechanical power of Deep River as it flows through town sparking the construction of numerous mills and still turns electric generators today. The first cotton factory was started in 1838, triggering the growth of a village where mill workers and their families could live, play, shop, and worship.

Today, the parks and open spaces created by the mill company over a hundred years ago are maintained by the town, and the vanished railroad has become the Deep River Rail-Trail, a hiking and biking greenway and proposed kayak and canoe blueway. The Franklinville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984

Ramseur

Ramseur was named for Stephen Dodson Ramseur, the youngest Confederate major general of the Civil War.

Millstone Creek Orchards
506 Parks Xroads Church Rd

Coleridge

This community was named for James A. Cole, a local merchant. The Coleridge Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Coleridge was the home of the Enterprise Manufacturing Company, the southern most cotton mill built on Deep River. Its construction in 1882 was the final link in the chain of Randolph County’s water-powered textile industries that had begun to be forged in 1836.

The company was organized by H.A. Moffitt, an Asheboro merchant, and Daniel Lambert and James A. Cole, prominent citizens of southeastern Randolph. The original structure was a two-and-one-half-story, wooden building housing 800 spindles and 26 workers. The facilities of the corporation included a wool-carding mill, saw mill, and flour mill.

The surrounding village was known first as Cole’s Ridge and then as Coleridge, after James A. Cole, who in 1904 sold a majority interest in the company to his son-in-law, Dr. Robert L. Caveness.  By 1917, it was said that “R. L. Caveness is at the head of practically everything in Coleridge,” and it was under his influence that the brick mill facilities were built.

The village was Randolph County’s first historic district, and has been placed on the National Register or Historic Places. Its 1970 nomination stated that “the chief appeal of this site is as a picturesque example of a riverside mill seen in one of North Carolina’s oldest manufacturing sections.”

Seagrove

Spend an entire weekend here, and you still won’t see all of the pottery shops! In fact, it would take at least a week to see them all–if you visited 15+ shops every day.

Seagrove was named for Edwin G. Seagraves, a railroad official who was responsible for routing a railroad through the area. According to local sources, after a unanimous decision to name the station after Seagraves, the town name resulted from a sign painter running out of space and simply dropping the ‘s’ from the end of the name. Also the painter misspelled Seagraves as Seagrove. The railroad served Seagrove until December 31, 1951. The old train depot later was adapted as a pottery museum.

The name Seagrove refers to the town proper, and includes several other communities that are part of the pottery tradition along and near the “North Carolina Pottery Highway” (NC-705). Due to the high-concentration clay soil, more than 100 pottery shops are located in Seagrove and the neighboring towns of Star, Whynot, Erect, Westmoore, Happy Hollow, and Robbins. Seagrove is also home to the North Carolina Pottery Center, which was established on November 7, 1998, and has since received visitors from across the continent and around the world.

Plank Road

Construction of Plank Road began in 1849. Plank Road extended 129 miles and was made of planks 8 feet long, 9 to 16 inches wide, and 3 inches thick. The road carried horseback riders, wagons, and stagecoaches. A toll of one cent per mile was charged for a wagon and four horses. Toll revenues declined after construction of the railroad, and by 1862 much of Plank Road was abandoned. Parts of North Carolina Highway 705 follow the Plank Road route.

Seagrove’s pottery tradition dates back to the 18th century before the American Revolution. Many of the first Seagrove potters were Scots-Irish immigrants. They primarily produced functional, glazed earthenware. Due to the high quality of the local clay and transportation access for traders, Seagrove became known for its pottery.

The popularity of Seagrove pottery fell off during the Industrial Revolution and the advent of modern food preparation. For a time whisky jugs were a successful source of income, but the beverage was outlawed. The potteries continued their decline in the early 20th century.

In 1915, Jacques and Juliana Busbee of Raleigh made an effort to revive the industry. Over several decades, the Busbee’s hired Seagrove potters JH Owen, Charlie Teague,  and Ben Owen to make signature wares under the name Jugtown Pottery to sell in the Village Shop, which they opened in Greenwich Village, NYC, and later from the Jugtown shop in Seagrove.

Around 1920, a new market developed as the pottery became popular with tourists driving through on their way to Pinehurst, Southern Pines, or Florida buying inexpensive souvenirs. The new tourist industry marked a general change from utilitarian pottery to more decorative ware. After another decline from the 1950s through 1970s, due to the road being replaced with the Interstate, a renewed interest in traditional pottery developed. In 1982, a group of local potters founded the North Carolina Museum of Traditional Pottery and organized the Seagrove Pottery Festival, an annual event held each year the weekend before Thanksgiving in the old bean cannery.

The Cole, Auman, Owen, Teague, and Albright families are eighth- and ninth-generation potters in Seagrove who continue this tradition. Some of the oldest, historic pottery locations still in operation include the “Original” Owens Pottery founded in 1895 and Jugtown Pottery founded in 1921. Jugtown Pottery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Asheboro

Asheboro was named after Samuel Ashe, the ninth governor of North Carolina (1795–1798), and became the county seat of Randolph County in 1796. It was a small village in the 1800s, with a population of less than 200 through the Civil War; its main function was housing the county courthouse, and the town was most active when court was in session. Asheboro’s population only began to grow significantly following its connection to railroads: the High Point, Randleman, Asheboro, and Southern Railroad first served the city in 1889, followed by the Montgomery Railroad in 1896.

Asheboro emerged as a textile production center in the 20th century with the opening of the Acme Hosiery Mills in 1909. After World War II, the city’s manufacturing sector grew to include batteries, wires, and food products. The city’s main tourist attraction, the North Carolina Zoo, opened in 1974.

Asheboro suffered from an economic downturn in the 2000s due to a decline in its traditional manufacturing industries amid increasing competition from overseas; the national news program 60 Minutes described it as a “dying town” in 2012.

Asheboro is known as the center point of NC. Although Asheboro is located in the gently rolling Piedmont plateau region of central North Carolina, far to the east of the Appalachian Mountains, the town and surrounding area are surprisingly hilly. The town lies within the Uwharrie Mountains, an ancient series of ridges and monadnocks which have been worn down by erosion to high hills. As such, Asheboro gives the impression of being in a more mountainous area than it actually is.

NC Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo is the largest and finest zoo in the state, with closest rival being the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Plan to spend a full day here between the North American and African exhibits, including plains where elephants, rhinocerous, and herd animals roam free. The zoo also has giraffes, zebra, lions, tigers, bears, polar bears, and much more.

North Carolina Aviation Museum & Hall of Fame

Visitors will have the opportunity to see displays of old planes, military artifacts of war events, and civilian memorabilia. This display has its different unique story to tell, dating back to how flight started. Visitors can feel what it feels like to be a pilot in an aircraft as a Boeing 727 is available. Since 1966, the Museum organizes an annual fly-in event on the second Saturday of June. Visitors can see facilities for free like the aircraft displays, Ham radio demonstrations, free mini aeroplane flights for children, aircraft displays, and a racing exhibition. The military face painting is something worth doing when you visit.

Sunset Theatre

The Sunset Theatre is a classically restored theatre in the heart of downtown Asheboro, and surrounded by a multitude of shops, antique stores, and local eateries.

Union Township

Pisgah Covered Bridge

Randolph county is home to one of the last two remaining original covered bridges in the state. The wooden structure, originally built in 1910 for the cost of $40, is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places and carried horse and wagon travelers of the day. The bridge can be seen close to the Uwharrie National Forest and crosses 54 feet over the West Fork Branch of the Little River. In 2003, the Pisgah bridge was destroyed by a flood but was put back in place using 90% of materials retrieved from the disaster. It’s a quiet spot with picnic tables and trails, and you can even picnic on the rocks in the river.

Uwharrie National Forest

American Classic Motorcycle Museum

The American Classic Motorcycle Museum is small, but inside it has a comprehensive arrangement of information on the history of motorcycles and old original bikes. The museum houses the private collection of antique Harley Davidson, and it is one of the most extensive collections in the country. It’s an ideal place for motorcycle lovers. Admission is free.

Richland Creek Canopy Tours

Cox Mountain

Cox mountain is popularly known for its trails amongst hiking lovers with trails through creeks and woods. Visitors will have to cross small lakes and rivers on wooden bridges that are rope-tied.

Randleman

Home of NASCAR’s Petty family and the Victory Junction Gang Camp, Randleman was also the location of the Richard Petty Museum from 2003–2014. The town was originally named Dicks for Rick Dicks, who built a mill there around 1830. Later, a cotton mill was built in Dicks, and the town was renamed Union Factory. Randleman was the next name chosen, in 1866 for John B. Randleman, a mill owner. The town was incorporated as Randleman Mills in 1880; the name was later changed to Randleman. According to The Town of Randleman website, Randleman was named after John Banner Randleman in 1880:

“In 1880 the General Assembly at Raleigh granted paper of incorporation to the City of Randleman, named for John Banner Randleman. When the town of Randleman Mills was created and incorporated a town. John H. Ferree, James E. Walker, James O. Pickard, Romulus R. Ross, Addison W. Vickery, created a body politic under the style of Commissioners of the Town of Randleman Mills.”

The small town thrived, and by 1890 was the largest town in Randolph County. The coming of the High Point, Randleman, Asheboro, and Southern Railroad in 1889 had greatly facilitated the growth, because roads were not good, and the railroad assured the town of quicker freight handling. During this time, three more mills came popped up: Randleman Hosiery Mills, Plaidville Mills, and Marie Antoinette.

The High Point, Randleman, Asheboro, and Southern Railroad was completed in July 1889. In its early days, the influence of this railroad played an important part in the development of Randleman and other sections of Randolph County.

Randleman’s feature event is the annual NASCAR Days Festival, held each fall.

Trinity

The community was named after Trinity College, which later became Duke University. Trinity College started as Brown’s Schoolhouse, a private subscription school founded in 1838. The school was organized by a group of Methodists and Quakers, and was officially started by Hezekiah Leigh, widely recognized as the founder of Randolph-Macon College. In 1841, North Carolina issued a charter for Union Institute Academy. The school took the name Trinity College in 1859, and in 1892, the college moved to Durham.

Sealy Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of bedding products with sales of $1.2 billion in 2003, is headquartered in Trinity. Trinity is also home to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Bobby Labonte, Brian Vickers, and Kyle Petty. The former “World’s Longest Hot Wheels Track” was built at the Kyle Petty Farm in Trinity on May 9, 1999.

Zimmerman Vineyards

For wine lovers, Zimmerman Vineyards (1428 Tabernacle Church Rd) is located on 140 acres at the foot of Mt. Shepherd. They offer weekend tours and wine tastings.

The Neal John Deere Tractor and Industrial Museum
5507 Snyder Country Rd

Next stop… Richmond County!

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Journey through Davie County

Davie County is one of the smaller counties in North Carolina, so you can easily traverse the county in one day and hit all of the highlights. We chose Davie County this day because it wasn’t too far from our origination point–and the days are shorter this time of year, of course.

Davie County was formed in 1836 from part of Rowan County. It was named for William R. Davie, Governor of North Carolina from 1798 to 1799. Davie county was initially strongly Unionist. However, 1,147 soldiers from Davie County fought in the American Civil War for the Confederate States of America. Portions of Davie County are located in the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Today the county features many highlights, including Farmington, Cooleemee Plantation House, and Cooleemee Falls as well as towns named Jerusalem, Maine, and Turkeyfoot.

Bermuda Run

The first stop of the day is in Bermuda Run, incorporated in 1999. It may come as no surprise that the name Bermuda Run hails from the island nation of Bermuda. The English colony (now designated a British Overseas Territory) of Bermuda, or the Somers Isles, was settled in 1609 by the survivors of the Virginia Company’s flagship, the Sea Venture. Bermuda quickly became thriving and populous. Its limited land mass, however, meant there were few prospects for many members of its rapidly multiplying working class. So, roughly 10,000 Bermudians would emigrate during the 17th and 18th Centuries, primarily to Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. This included the establishment of the city of Charleston and the colony of South Carolina under William Sayle in 1670. One result of this exodus is the appearance of the name Bermuda in many locations in the American South where Bermudians settled, from Bermuda Hundred, VA, to Bermuda Island, in Albemarle Sound, North Carolina. The name Bermuda Run was also previously used for areas of what are now Colonial Heights and Hopewell in Virginia.

Today, what was once a major cattle and horse farm has become a luxurious retirement community, a private country club and golf course, and the newest town in Davie County.

When Billy Satterfield, a plumber’s helper from nearby Clemmons, found a farm for sale at $1,000 an acre. Armed with artists renderings of what his future club would be, he sold 175 lots for $10,000 each. In the 1980s, the country club was sold with the undeeded land to developers who purchased an additional 234 acres of Lybrook farm (giving Bermuda Run a total of 900+ acres) on the Davie County side of the Yadkin River. The community underwent an expansion that added a plush retirement center, luxury condominiums, and another nine holes of golf.

Tanglewood Park

In the Bermuda Run area, you’ll find Tanglewood Park, best known for hosting the annual Tanglewood Festival of Lights during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season (usually mid-November through January 1st, 6pm-11pm). Be prepared to wait up to an hour or so just to get in the gate. Once you are past the ticket booth, turn your headlights off and the ride through is pretty smooth. You can stop partway through the tour at the Gift Barn and roast s’mores and enjoy hot chocolate and other goodies. The park also has miles of paths and trails and a large kids playground, hosts golf and community runs, dog events, and other events throughout the year, and is open daily from sun-up to dusk for park visitors.

Advance

Various accounts exist for the origin of the town’s name. Some suggest the name was derived from the name of a popular resident and freed slave, Samuel Vance Allen. Other accounts suggest the community was named by residents who hoped that with the addition of a post office, the community would advance.

Mocksville

Mocksville was incorporated as a town in 1839. The town was named for the original owner of the town site. The quaint downtown features the Davie County Courthouse, Davie County Jail, Downtown Mocksville Historic District, North Main Street Historic District, and Salisbury Street Historic District–all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of note, American folklore figure Daniel Boone lived near Mocksville from 1750–1766. His father, Squire Boone, Sr., was the Justice of the Peace for Mocksville. Squire Boone and his wife Sarah are buried in Mocksville’s Joppa Cemetery. Stop at the top of the short U-shaped drive into the cemetery. Just past the stone wall, you’ll see the gravesite just ahead.

In Mocksville, you’ll also find Main Street Park and Cognition, a children’s discovery place plus several artistic public art wall murals.

The Running of the Horses

If you’ve ever taken a drive down E. Depot Street, or a walk down Main, it is impossible to miss “The Running Of The Horses,” a historic piece with a bright color palette. The piece harkens back to the days of World War II, when gasoline was hard to come by, and farmers would rely on horses for pulling farm equipment. In 2020, William Richardson, son of the blacksmith, recalled the events the piece was inspired by, “During the war years… you couldn’t get gasoline to run tractors… so they used horses on the farms. They would unload them at the depot, run them right up E. Depot Street, across Main Street on the square, and down to where Junker’s Mill is.” The horses in the piece are galloping down W. Depot in the same fashion, and are a reminder of Mocksville’s roots in farming and simple hardworking lifestyle.

The center oak tree in the piece is a nod to the original four oak trees that were in town square for over 90 years. The tree also symbolizes the town itself, with its roots in unity and its limbs reaching out. The roots of the tree serve as the foundation, as unity does with the community. The limbs reach out, symbolizing the growth of the town, and the positive impact its members make. Mother Earth faces both directions as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, which brings about the energy and life of Mocksville. The entire piece is a representation of where we have come from, and the continued growth and progress throughout the generations.

A Vintage Backdrop

A vibrant vintage piece can be seen on Main Street should you be coming from the Brock. The Horn Oil and Royal Republic gasoline advertisement is a classic piece that captures the essence of the early 20th century. The Horn Oil headquarters has been located at 190 North Main Street in Mocksville since 1923, and fans of classic American designs and early 20th century art are sure to love this retro advertisement.

Mermaid of Justice

If you venture down Water Street and happen to find yourself on the back side of the Bomar Law Firm facing the First Presbyterian Church, you can catch a good look at a mermaid in the window. This artwork depicts a figure similar to Lady Justice, a symbol of a fair judicial system that does not discriminate. Her depiction dates back to ancient Greece, over 2000 years ago. In this rendition, the Mermaid of Justice is holding the scales, as well as a fishing pole in place of a sword. She is wearing her signature blindfold as well, representing blind justice within the court. This aquatic twist on classical art is a signature of Mocksville’s familiar nature, yet unique characteristics.

Greetings From Mocksville

Some art downtown requires a bit more work to seek out, but the effort is worth it. On the backside of the popular downtown hangout, The Station’s brickwall postcard is a colorful welcoming piece that encompasses the landmarks and warm feelings that radiate across the easygoing town. The inspiration for the mural came from an old postcard that The Station’s owner, Suzanne Lakey’s mom, Kathy Miller, found in the Davie County Public Library’s online archives while searching for old photos of the building to use as part of The Station’s decor. By merging both the past and present, Lakey hopes the mural will appeal to the older generation as well as the newer “selfie” generation.

“For me, the goal of the mural was the same as that of The Station, to continue bringing people downtown and keeping the environment lively,” said Lakey.

The Elusive Flying Pig

Even more elusive, the Flying Pig piece behind Attorney Ryan Addison’s Law Firm is a whimsical one. Dressed in War Eagle attire, the Flying Pig daringly leaps from the nearby courthouse. “I have embraced this idea that flying pigs represent how anything is possible,” said Addison, who has an extensive collection of flying pigs in his office. Artist Bruce White made sure to give the flying pig some local flavor, in classic orange and white.

History & Heroes

The most recent mural addition to downtown is on display at the office of Attorney Wade H. Leonard. This historic piece was painted by Todd Donahue from Imagination Works, and is composed of various elements from Mocksville’s rich past. From one of Daniel Boone’s homes, to honoring the soldiers who gave their lives, it’s art full of detail that is best taken in up close.

Time Well-Spent

Downtown Mocksville’s urban artwork is sure to catch the attention of those passing through and residents alike. Some pieces are bold and obvious, while others are more elusive. This dynamic placement engrains itself in the character of the town. Next time you find yourself downtown, don’t hesitate to reflect and take in the detail of the art gallery that is embedded within the roots of Mocksville.

RayLen Winery & Vineyards
Stop by RayLen Vineyards (3577 US-158) for a romantic, winding drive to the site’s apex and cupola rooftop building; a glass of award-winning European varietals; and amazing 360-degree vistas across the rolling hills of Davie County and beyond, including a view of Pilot Mountain in the distance in Surry County. See our Surry County blog for details. RayLen hosts daily tastings, shopping, plus other events year round, including musical entertainment.

The property once functioned as a dairy farm for nearly a century until 1988.

Coolemee

Cooleemee’s Textile Heritage Museum

This museum is located in the historic Zachary Holt House (131 Church Street, just off Marginal Street). In the setting of the former mill manager’s large brick home, its exhibits allow visitors to explore just what a cotton mill town was like in its prime.

The Mill House Museum

Just one block down Church Street sits a typical four-room mill house built in 1905. A tour guide takes you back in time to the world of a mill hand’s family in the early 1930s. Hundreds of local period artifacts help tell the story—from iron beds, feather ticks, chamber pots, handmade toys, and a wood cookstove. In the yard, you will find a clothesline, garden plot, and smokehouse.

Cooleemee’s museums are open Tuesdays from 1-4 and then by appointment only.

RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls – “The Bullhole”

RiverPark opens on the riverbank opposite Cooleemee. These 30+ acres on the Rowan County side feature an impressive stone dam and waterfall, a sandy beach deposited there by a flood, and good fishing in the spring and fall. Many bring their bathing suits to swim and “ride” the little rapids. There are scattered picnic tables and benches along its beautiful wooded trails and the picnic shelter can be rented for private events.

Next trip… Randolph County!

Featured

Journey through Rowan County

Considered part of the Charlotte metropolitan area, Rowan County was formed in 1753 as part of the British Province of North Carolina. It was originally a vast territory with unlimited western boundaries, but its size was reduced to 524 square miles after several counties were formed from Rowan County in the 18th and 19th centuries, as population increased in the region. The county seat, Salisbury, is the oldest continuously populated European-American town in Western North Carolina.

The first Europeans to enter what is now Rowan County were members of the Spanish expedition of Juan Pardo in 1567. They established a fort and a mission in the native village of Guatari, believed to be located near the Yadkin River and inhabited by the Wateree. At the time, the area was ruled by a female chief whom the Spaniards called Guatari Mico (Mico was the Wateree’s term for ‘chief’). The Spaniards called the village Salamanca in honor of the city of Salamanca in western Spain, and established a mission, headed by a secular priest named Sebastián Montero.

English colonial settlement of North Carolina came decades later, starting in the coastal areas, where settlers migrated south from Virginia. Explorers and fur traders were the first to reach the Piedmont, paving the way for eventual settlers. Rowan County was formed in 1753 from the northern part of Anson County. It was named for Matthew Rowan, acting governor of North Carolina from 1753 to 1754.

A house several miles west of present-day Salisbury in “the Irish settlement” served as the first courthouse starting June 15, 1753. Daniel Boone’s father Squire Boone served as one of the first magistrates. By mid-1754 a new courthouse site was selected near “the place where the Old Waggon Road (crosses) over Grant’s Creek.”

As was typical of the time, Rowan County was originally a vast territory with an indefinite western boundary. As the population increased in the region, portions were taken to organize other counties and their seats. In 1770, the eastern portion was combined with the western part of Orange County to form Guilford County. In 1771 the northeastern portion of what was left became Surry County. In 1777 the western part of Rowan County was organized as Burke County.

After the American Revolutionary War, in 1788, the western portion of the now much smaller Rowan County was organized as Iredell County. In 1822, Davidson County was formed from an eastern section. Finally, in 1836, that part of Rowan County north of the South Yadkin River became Davie County, and Rowan County took its present form and size.

Once a center of textile manufacturing in the 19th to late 20th centuries, Rowan County was developed for tobacco, cotton cultivation, and mixed farming in the antebellum period. Many plantation owners and farmers were dependent on enslaved labor. Cotton and tobacco continued as a commodity crop after the war and into the 20th century. The population of Rowan County was 27.1 percent slaves in 1860.

During and following Reconstruction, the state legislature encouraged investment in railways, which had not occurred before. In addition, textile mills were built here and elsewhere in the Piedmont, bringing back cotton processing and manufacturing from centers in New York and New England. Urban populations increased.

At the turn of the 20th century, after losing to Republican-Populist fusionist candidates, then Democrat Party regained power and passed laws erecting barriers to voter registration in order to disenfranchise most Blacks. Together with the passage of Jim Crow laws, which suppressed Blacks socially, these measures ended the progress of African Americans in the state, after Republican men had already been serving in Congress. Six lynchings of African Americans were recorded in Rowan County from the late 19th into the early 20th centuries. This was the second-highest total of killings in the state.

Spencer, NC

The town of Spencer was named for Samuel Spencer, first president of the Southern Railway, who is credited with establishment of the railroad’s mechanical shops at the site in 1896. The site was approximately the midpoint of the railroad’s mainline between Atlanta, GA, and Washington, DC, and was a key hub in the golden age of rail travel. As shops were built, the Southern Railway developed a town, also named Spencer, alongside the shops for worker housing. Initially, the Southern partitioned 85 acres into 500 lots. Instead of creating a traditional “company” town in which the workers rented houses, Southern sold the lots to workers or businesses for $100 each. The deeds contained restrictive covenants, which maintained that a dwelling costing in excess of $400 and approved by a Southern appointed architect be built within a year. Southern also donated lots for religious institutions and helped establish a YMCA in the town.

The former Spencer Shops were phased out during the 1950s through 1970s and have now become the location of the North Carolina Transportation Museum. The Alexander Long House, Southern Railway’s Spencer Shops, and Spencer Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

North Carolina Transportation Museum

The day started at the North Carolina Transportation Museum (411 South Salisbury Avenue). Stop at the ticket office then tour the building, grounds, and roundhouse. Discover the people and machines that have moved NC, including rail, aviation, and naval. Here you’ll find several buildings, a 1924 37-stall roundhouse with a 100-foot turntable, and a gift shop. See how train cars can be hauled into the Back Shop on elevated rails that expose the rail cars’ undersides for repair and maintenance. Train rides are available year round. The Museum also holds an annual Polar Express event during the holidays. Memberships and volunteer opportunities are available.

NC Museum of Dolls, Toys & Miniatures

Just around the corner from the NC Transportation Museum, you’ll find the NC Museum of Dolls, Toys & Miniatures (108 4th St.), which includes 4,000 square feet of exhibits, including Shirley Temple dolls, Girl Scout dolls, a large operating model train railroad, model airplanes, the largest Schoenhut collection on the East Coast, and much more. Tours are available as well as school and scout programs.

Salisbury, NC

As the county seat of Rowan County since 1753 when its territory extended to the Mississippi River, Salisbury is the oldest continually populated colonial town in the western region of North Carolina. It is noted for its historic preservation, with five Local Historic Districts and 10 National Register Historic Districts, as well as the site of a noted prisoner of war camp during the American Civil War. Soft drink producer Cheerwine and regional supermarket Food Lion are headquartered in Salisbury, and Rack Room Shoes was also founded there. You’ll see Cheerwine in just about every restaurant–and even a few wall murals throughout the city.

The original settlement of Salisbury was built at the intersection of longtime Native American trading routes. It became an economic hub along what was improved as the Great Wagon Road in North Carolina. On June 12, 1792, Salisbury was granted a US Post Office, which has been in continuous operation ever since.

In the antebellum period and after the American Civil War, Salisbury was the trading city of an upland area devoted to cultivation of cotton as a commodity crop. It was also the business and law center of the county. Numerous houses and other structures were built by wealthy planters and merchants in this period. In the late 19th century, the city was served by railroads, becoming a railroad hub as people and freight were transported along the eastern corridor.

In the 20th century, Salisbury’s economy grew into an industrial-based economy. Entrepreneurs developed the textile industry for processing cotton, first, and numerous textile mills operated in the city. Industry owners moved jobs and mills offshore in the late 20th century to areas with cheaper labor costs. This change cost the city and area many jobs.

Salisbury is now home to a downtown area that encompasses several blocks near the intersection of Innes Street and Main Street, including unique, locally owned businesses and merchants. Downtown Salisbury provides an array of shops, antique stores, and cultural attractions. Downtown Nights Out, held from time to time throughout the year, provide opportunities for late night shopping, musical entertainment, and fine dining.

A walking tour begins at the Rowan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and winds through the history of Salisbury and the state’s Piedmont Region. Structures from the 19th century, as well as artifacts, such as the desk that President Andrew Jackson used when he studied law in Salisbury, are viewable. The Salisbury History and Art Trail is made up of a series of markers throughout the city that incorporate both history and art for self-guided tours.

Salisbury has one sister city, as designated by Sister Cities International: Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, UK, and former President Andrew Jackson is from here. Today, Salisbury is an eclectic combination of new world modern and classic, old-world styles, replete with a bounty of public art sculptures and wall murals located throughout the community.

Grievous Gallery

Perhaps one of the newest and possibly eyebrow raising attractions in Salisbury is the Grievous Gallery (111 W Bank St.), where you can purchase glass and ceramic dishware and bottles, write your grievances on the items, then smash them against a wall. The attraction is only open on a limited scheduled, evenings and nights.

Rowan Museum

A non-profit museum devoted to the preservation and presentation of Rowan County, peruse through North Carolina’s history through educational programs and exhibits (202 North Main St.). The Rowan Museum has exhibits that incorporate the use of three buildings: Salisbury’s 1854 County Courthouse (which survived Stoneman’s Raid), the circa 1815 Utzman–Chambers House Museum (built by cabinet maker Louis Utzman), and the 1820 Josephus Hall House.

Off site properties include the Old Stone House and China Grove Roller Mill (details later).

Railwalk Studios and Gallery

Established in 2006, Railwalk Studios and Gallery (409-413 N Lee St.) is a group of art studios and a shared art gallery in the Railwalk Arts District of historic Salisbury. They are located in a former 6,000 square-foot grocery warehouse built in the early 1900s along an old railroad spur. The artists of Rail Walk Studios & Gallery each lease studio space from building owners, Rowan Investment Company. The artists use their space to create art while preserving the historic and artistic nature of the building. On any given day you can stop in, see artists at work, and purchase art as well.

Waterworks Visual Arts Center

Waterworks Visual Arts Center (123 E. Liberty St.) is a non-profit 501(c)3, non-collecting art museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and provides diverse opportunities in the arts through exhibitions, education, and outreach programs. It is an exciting place where ideas, issues, and communities converge to expand traditional ways of thinking and explore the complex and unfolding patterns between artistic and cultural spheres. As a unique blend of education, inspiration, creativity, and fun, the Waterworks serves as the anchor organization for Salisbury’s East Square Cultural Arts District and is the only teaching museum within a 40-mile radius of Salisbury.

Bell Tower Green

Bell Tower Green at 115 S Jackson St. is a park which takes up most of the block bounded by Innes, Church, Fisher and Jackson Streets and named for the bell tower that was part of the former building of First Presbyterian Church. The green officially opened October 1, 2021 after more than two years of construction, funded primarily with more than $13 million in donations.

Wall Mural – Crossroads: Past Into Present
Found at 115 W. Fisher St., this multi-story wall mural is one of Salisbury and Rowan County’s most famous attractions. This mural painted by Salisbury native Cynvia Arthur Rankin features an original look at turn-of-the-century Downtown Salisbury. Discover more than 100 local citizens dressed in period costumes represented in the mural, which has appeared nationally on NBC and featured numerous times in area newspapers, national publications, magazines, and brochures.

Dan Nicholas Park

Fields, trails, picnic areas, and a petting zoo are the main attractions at this local park. Notably, several years ago the park zoo had a devastating fire, which claimed the lives of most of the treasured animals.

Granite Quarry, NC

Formerly named Woodsides, problems arose soon after the town’s incorporation with mail delivery, since there was already another town in North Carolina named Woodsides. Because of this, in 1902, the post office changed its name to Granite Quarry, after the stone quarried in the area. But the town’s name was not officially changed until February 5, 1905.

Old Stone House

In Granite Quarry, you’ll find the Old Stone House (770 Stone House Rd.), built in 1766 by German immigrant Michael Braun as symbol of his newfound prosperity. This German Colonial/Georgian house has been fully restored and can be toured Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4pm, April-November.

Faith, NC

Since 1946, the town has hosted a Fourth of July celebration that has become notably large for a town of its population – running for several days and drawing visitors from many states. The Faith Fourth achieved national visibility in 1992, when President George H. W. Bush not only made a speech praising small town virtues, but also participated in the traditional Fourth of July softball game and enjoyed Cheerwine with local residents. This annual celebration stretches over several days and is one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in North Carolina.

Local tradition says the town of Faith was named for a comment by newspaper writer John Thomas Wyatt, who settled on a rocky plot of land and opened a quarry. With no experience in the field he said he was building his quarry “on faith.”

Faith Soda Shop

Located just a few miles south of Salisbury (115 N. Main St), Faith Soda Shop is a must-stop while exploring Rowan County’s scenic byways.

Rockwell

It is thought the town was named for a rock well located at a shady camping spot north of the present town limits at old Peter Miller farm. Travelers who stopped at the well to rest overnight marveled at the sweet water from the rock well. Most wells in the area had lumber curbing instead of rock curbing, and the lumber gave the water a certain taste, they said. There was a post office located at the rock well, and this was later moved to the town of Rockwell. Some historians have written that the town was earlier called Millville but the longtime Rockwell residents say this is incorrect. Millville was a settlement located at Heilig’s Pond near Lowerstone Church.

The railroad, completed in 1890, was a boost to the town, as was the location of the Salisbury-Albemarle Highway (U.S. 52) through town in 1925. J. W. Peeler, became stationmaster two months after the station opened. An ex-slave, Edmont Lindsey, was said to be the first person to board the train at the Rockwell station. He rode to Salisbury for 30 cents.

The town was incorporated in 1911, and George Peeler served as the first mayor. The Grace(Lower Stone) United Church of Christ and Organ Lutheran Church, located just a few miles from town, date to the 1700s and have graveyards adjoining the churches  which have proved to be a treasure-trove of genealogical information. Five miles to the northwest is the Old Stone House built of native, hand-hewn granite by Michael Braun (Brown) from 1758 to 1766.  It is known as the oldest German house in North Carolina and has been a popular tourist attraction since being restored by the Rowan Museum.

Tiger World
Established in 2008, this endangered wildlife preserve houses more than just tigers. You’ll find a large variety of exotic animals, including a lion, other wild cats, monkeys, kangaroos, exotic birds, wolves, sloths, bears, lemurs, reptiles, a liger, and more. Although the lion enclosures are comprised of two secure, tall chain link fences, I was able to get the closest ever to a live lion. Tiger World (4400 Cook Rd.) is open for touring and holds educational events all year. Admission is $15.

Historic Rockwell Museum
The Historic Rockwell Museum (105 E. Main St.)was organized in 1996 by local citizens who volunteered time, labor, and money to preserve this important historic landmark. This building, which once housed Rockwell’s second Post Office, has been restored as a museum to preserve and display the records, memorabilia, and artifacts of Rockwell’s early years.

Gold Hill

The restored gold mining town of Gold Hill and Gold Hill Mines Historic Park invite visitors to step back in time. Come out and experience the simple life. The wood sidewalks are reminiscent of the Old West; but, in fact, Gold Hill, North Carolina, was a well-established gold mining boom town by the early 1840s. This was almost a decade before the gold strike at Sutter’s Mill in California. Gold Hill had a bustling main street that spanned a mile in its day. The town boasted of at least 16 merchants, 23 saloons, and about six brothels. The town had two hotels, a boarding house and a two-story mining office. It was a town of which, even the mayor of Charlotte, NC, was envious. He made newspaper headlines when he commented that he had hopes that “Charlotte will one day be as big and prosperous as Gold Hill.”

The first discovery of gold at Gold Hill was in 1824. In 1843, the town was incorporated. A formal ‘town’ meeting was held and Col. George Barnhardt, son-in-law of John Reed (Reed Gold Mine, NC State Historic Site), was chosen as the first mayor. Under his management, the Barnhardt Gold Mine at a depth of 435 feet was becoming the largest producer of gold in the South. The Earnhardt/Randolph Gold Mine reached an eventual depth of 850 feet. Between the two mines alone, they produced a wealth of gold valued at $7-9 million dollars prior to the California gold strike. The news of the California strike didn’t stop production of gold on the eastern front. The gold mines in North Carolina continued to prosper and lead the way in gold production until the beginning of the Civil War.

By the 1880s, “The New Gold Hill Ltd. Mining Co.” was established in London, England. The company purchased holdings at Gold Hill and produced equal amounts of gold for another 20 years at considerable profits. The Gold Hill mines ceased production by 1915. Explorations were made again in 1950, but at that time proved to be too costly.

Today, the Barnhardt Gold Mine and the Randolph Gold Mine are two of four gold mines located in the restored gold mining town. They’re located in the 70-acre Gold Hill Mines Historic Park. The Historic Gold Hill and Mines Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization, was formed in 1992. The mission was to restore and preserve the mining property as a park for the community. The Gold Hill Rail Trail (the railroad corridor right-of-way through the park, which extends into Cabarrus County) was developed in 2005 as a partnership with Land Trust of Central North Carolina / Three Rivers Land Trust. The trail was added as an additional hiking venture through Gold Hill Mines Historic Park.

The town of Gold Hill today is a small shopping village with a quaint collection of retail shops and a restaurant. Wooden sidewalks connect the shops throughout town. Only two original stores remain standing today. Mauney’s 1840 Store and the E.H. Montgomery General Store, both built around 1840, continue to serve as anchors to history in the community. The Gold Hill Historic Preservation Society, Inc. was formed in 1993. It’s mission is to preserve the original buildings and rescue and restore additional buildings to recreate the town of Gold Hill.

Chilean Ore Mill
Gold mining on the family farm involved everyone in the family. Women and young girls would often work to separate the gold ore after it had been crushed by the Ore Mill. The nineteenth century Chilean Ore Mill (770 St. Stephens Church Rd.) was used to crush gold bearing ore to aid in gold recovery. It is thought to be the only remaining complete  mill with all original working gears in the U.S. This same mill was in operation in Gold Hill from 1840-1900. Originally owned by the Shafer family of Gold Hill, it was donated to the Historic Gold Hill and Mines Foundation, Inc. and moved to the park in 1992.

Shopping Village
This shopping village is a must-see North Carolina gem. The grouping of wooden buildings, including some original structures, creates a gloriously quaint shopping village (1035 Back St.). You’ll find rows of street-side buildings along what once was a dirt road, along with a second back row of buildings as well as a restaurant and lodging. Spend a few hours her perusing through the shops for antiques, artisan and jewelry creations, original art, apparel, and more. Chat with the shopkeepers while you’re there, and you’re sure to get a good bit of a history lesson about the area. You can check in at the Montgomery General Store for a trail guide brochure before heading out on the Gold Hill Rail Trail.

China Grove

China Grove’s name is derived from a grove of chinaberry trees that was located next to the old train depot.  The China Grove depot, dismantled in 1974, was located on Harris Street just behind Hanna Park. The grove provided welcomed shade for both travelers and their horses, especially during hot summer days. Until about 1920, there were remnants of this grove, but the few surviving trees died from the traffic that was created by the old depot. The town applied to the North Carolina Legislature for a charter, which was granted on March 11, 1889. It is assumed there was a settlement here in China Grove as early as 1710. The town was first known as Savits Mill. Then, in 1846, the name was changed to Lutherville; but in 1849, it was given the name as we know it now: China Grove.

In 1896, following the initiatives of William L. Wilson, Postmaster General of the United States, North Carolina developed a Rural Free Delivery (RFD) route for mail. Postal service via RFD included the delivery of all postal items, free of charge, to citizens at their homes, eliminating the need to visit the local post office.  Following Mr. Wilson’s proposal and under the direction of Postmaster, J. Bruner Goodnight, China Grove established the first Rural Free Delivery route in North Carolina on October 23, 1896. It was only the second RFD made in the United States. A routine task today, in 1896 Mr. Goodnight was taking part in an experiment which would launch the postal service on the biggest endeavor in its history and help change the life of rural America.

In 2016, the Town of China Grove was honored to be ranked one of the 20 safest cities in the state of North Carolina, according to SafeWise, a security systems company which ranked the top 100 safest cities in the state. Gary Chapman, best-selling author of The Five Love Languages, is from here.

China Grove Roller Mill
Local entrepreneurs built this roller mill (308 North Main St.) in 1903 to mechanize grain grinding. The mill, located directly beside an active railroad track, is open limited hours from April-November.

Next trip… Davie County!


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Journey through Surry County

I purposely planned this trip for when Surry County would (hopefully) be in peak fall color season–and this day didn’t disappoint. A nestled Appalachian Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains foothills community, Surry County is alive with peaks and valleys and untouched lands. It seems every corner you turn, a majestic mountain or valley view awaits you. Surry County is also part of the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area. Because of its locale, the area abounds with more than 50 vineyards and wineries–all featured on the Surry County Wine Trail, including wineries and vineyards throughout the county, such as Stony Knoll Vineyards, Adagio Vineyards, Haze Gray Vineyards, Round Peak Vineyards, Herrera Vineyards, and Shelton Vineyards–the largest vineyard in North Carolina.

Surry County was formed in 1771 from part of Rowan County and was named for the county of Surrey in England, the birthplace of William Tryon, Governor of North Carolina from 1765 to 1771. In 1789, the eastern half of Surry County became Stokes County, and in 1790, the county seat was moved to Rockford where it remained for more than 50 years. The town of Dobson was established in 1853 as the new county seat.

Surry County also contains a small portion of the Sauratown Mountains, marking the western end of the range. (You can join the Friends of Sauratown Mountains, which supports Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks.)The western third of the county lies within the Blue Ridge Mountains, which dominate the county’s western horizon with amazing vistas. Do be award of high-wind advisories in this area, as mountain range gaps can cause strong winds to build, which can force automobiles and even large 18-wheeler trucks off the highways. The highest point in Surry County is Fisher Peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which rises to 3,570 feet above sea level. However, the best-known peak in Surry County is not the highest. That honor goes to Pilot Mountain, an isolated monadnock (meaning ‘isolated mountain’) and a North Carolina landmark. Pilot Mountain sharply rises some 2,421 feet above the surrounding countryside, and can be seen for miles. Heading north on 52, you’ll discover an amazing approach with a scenic overlook pullover as you approach. Surry County also has three recognized major rivers: the Ararat, the Fisher, and the Mitchell. All three flow southward and are tributaries of the Yadkin River, which forms the southern border of Surry County. The Yadkin River is the northern component of the Pee Dee River, which flows to the Atlantic Ocean near Georgetown, South Carolina.

Before you leave Surry County, be sure to order yourself some Sonker, a dessert specific to this region. There are many different variations, ranging from a cobbler-like appearance to a pseudo-biscuit atop a fruit compote, and both restaurants and families hold their recipes close to the vest. You can also travel the county’s Sonker Trail, including eight restaurants in Elkin and Mount Airy that serve the local treat: Anchored Bakery, Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, and Prudence McCabe Confections in Mount Airy; Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards and Rockford General Store in Dobson; Southern on Main (had my sonker here), Skull Camp Smokehouse & Brewery in Elkin; and The Tilted Ladder in Pilot Mountain.

Pilot Mountain State Park

The day started in Pilot Mountain with a visit to the mountain itself. This morning was heavily overcast with slight precipitation. I was disappointed on the approach because Pilot Mountain was obviously 100 percent in the clouds–so no amazing views from the top today. Visibility at the top of Pilot Mountain was only a hundred feet or less, but it made for an interesting experience: peaceful, quiet, and very few people. Pilot Mountain, a metamorphic quartzite monadnock, is one of the most distinctive natural geological features in North Carolina. A knob-like structure, it is a remnant of the ancient chain of Sauratown Mountains. The Saura Native Americans, the region’s earliest-known inhabitants, called the mountain “Jomeokee”, meaning “great guide” because they used it as a navigation aid.

One billions years ago, Pilot Mountain was part of a shallow sea and the area experienced volcanic activity. Approximately 700 million years ago, magma invaded the layers of sea sediment and cooled to produce granite. The are continued to undergo a long period of violent geological activity, weathering, and erosion, which eventually turned the igneous rock into a quartzite protective cap, which protects the underlying rocks from further erosion.

Pilot Mountain has two distinctive features, named Big and Little Pinnacle. Big Pinnacle (also called “The Knob”) has high and colorful bare rock walls, with a rounded top covered by vegetation, reaching approximately 1,400 feet above the surrounding terrain. Visitors can take a paved road to the park visitor center and campgrounds, then up to a parking lot on the ridge. Trails from there allow access to the main Little Pinnacle Overlook and other viewing stations as well as the Jomeokee Trail (which includes a few rock climbing areas) around the entire base of the knob–though you will need to be sure-footed to traverse it.

Pilot Mountain is part of Pilot Mountain State Park, which extends to the Yadkin River via a corridor of land, and it is associated with nearby Horne Creek Living Historical Farm. The curved depression between the ridge slope to the Little Pinnacle and then to the round knob of the Big Pinnacle gives the entire mountain an even more distinctive shape from a distance. Other interesting rock formations are to the east at privately held Sauratown Mountain, and the higher complex at Hanging Rock State Park (in Stokes County).

You’ll also find picnic areas here and other trails ranging from 0.1 miles to 4.3 miles, including Sassafras trail and Grindstone Trail which connects the popular campground to Ledge Spring Trail. Fans of Pilot Mountain can select a special First in Flight-Pilot Mountain National Landmark state license plate. And you’ll find a few attractions in the town of Pilot Mountain as well…

Pilot Mountain

Discover wine, fun, and friendship at JoLo Vineyards among the locals (219 Jolo Winery Lane). Shop at the Pilot Mountain Country Store (108 West Main St.), check out the Beroth Oil & Gas Memorabilia Museum (100 East Main St.), and enjoy the Pilot Mountain Train Mural (114 West Main St.) by artist Lisa Floyd–all within feet of one another and within perfect viewing distance of Pilot Mountain.

Incidentally, president of Scripps Networks Interactive and creator of Home & Garden Television (HGTV) is from Westfield, just north of Pilot Mountain. Westfield also has ties to Guilford County’s New Garden Friend’s Meeting Quaker establishment.

And be sure to stop into the town of Pilot Mountain, at the foot of the mountain base, where you’ll find some quaint, local country shops, including Mount Pilot Country Store and a community wall mural: Pilot Mountain Train Mural.

Beroth Oil & Gas Memorabilia Museum

This museum may be open to appointments only, but there are many treasures visible through the windows.

Pinnacle

Horne Creek Living Historical Farm

Located here is Horne Creek Living Historical Farm (308 Horne Creek Farm Rd.), is an actual farm and a Piedmont Living History Farm that is operated by turn-of-the-century technology to showcase what life in northwestern North Carolina was like at the time. Here, you can experience what farm life was like in days gone by while touring the property with animals and several buildings, including a tobacco curing barn, cannery site, smokehouse, chicken lot, dry house, farm house, and more. The farm is operated by the state of North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Be sure to stop in the gift shop on your way out. Sections of the Pilot Mountain State Park that reach the rapids of the Yadkin River are located in the Shoals community. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Mount Airy

Named for a nearby plantation, Mount Airy was settled in the 1750s as a stagecoach stop on the road between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Galax, Virginia. Mount Airy was incorporated in 1885 and the City’s official seal was established in 1977, which depicts major industries that are home to Mount Airy, including furniture, textiles, and the granite quarry. In 1994, Mount Airy was named an All-American City.

Actor Andy Griffith was born in Mount Airy, and the town is believed to have been the basis for Mayberry, the setting of the TV shows “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Mayberry RFD”. The community holds an annual “Mayberry Days” celebration during the last weekend of September: 30,000 attended in 2009, and 50,000 attended for the show’s 50th anniversary in 2010. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro estimates the town receives $5 million each year as a result of its association with Mayberry tourism. Surviving members of the cast, along with family members of other cast members, often visit. Several Ford Galaxie police cars, painted to resemble those used on the show, give rides to guests via Squad Car Tours (located at Wally’s Service Station, 625 South Main St.). Your visit isn’t complete without a ride in one of these old-timey Barney beauties! Many town establishments pay tribute to their Mayberry heritage, including Floyd’s barber shop, Snappy Lunch, and Aunt Bea’s Room.

The Autumn Leaves Festival is held the second weekend in October, attracting more than 200,000 people to the city during the festival weekend. Vendors sell food and other items, and there is a stage for musicians. The town is also home of old-time music legend Tommy Jarrell, bluegrass gospel legends The Easter Brothers, and country singer Donna Fargo. Mount Airy was also the residence of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), famous Siamese conjoined twins (originally from Siam) joined by a band of cartilage at the chest (xiphopagus). They are buried at White Plains Baptist Church about 2 miles from Mt Airy Main street. Many of their descendants still live in the Mount Airy area. (See the entry about their gravesite for more.)

Andy Griffith Museum

The Andy Griffith Museum (218 Rockford St.), founded in 2009 by Emmett Forrest, is open 7 days a week and attracts 200 visitors a day. The 2,500-square-foot museum, located half a mile from Griffith’s childhood home, houses the world’s largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia. Tour the inside museum and view outdoor statuary, including “Andy and Opie Taylor”.

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

Journey into the past at this hometown heritage museum (301 North Main St.), open 7 days a week, except during winter. Peruse through 35,000 square feet of permanent and regularly changing local, historical, and cultural exhibits, including a children’s gallery and three floors of exhibits, plus a top floor observation deck over the city. The museum recounts the history of this area once known as “The Hollows” because of its saucer-like depression circled by mountains. From early-history conflicts and cabin living to railroad growth and a firetruck exhibit to 1924 Roadsters and an exhibit on Chang and Eng Bunker, local musicians, and more. Support memberships are welcome here.

The Whittling Wall

Directly beside the museum, discover The Whittling Wall, created in 2018 by NC artist Brad Spencer to pay homage to the region’s local icons: The Whittler, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Ralph Epperson, Donna Fargo, L.H. Jones, Floyd E. “Flip” Rees, and The Mill Worker.

Toast

There’s nothing major to see here, but the post office called Toast has been in operation since 1929 and has an interesting back story. The name “Toast” was supplied by the Post Office Department. E. P. McLeod, the school principal, supposedly came up with the name while buying groceries at Hutchens Store one evening in 1927.

White Plains

Just down the road from Mt. Airy, you’ll find White Plains and the gravesite of world-famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker–the original Siamese Twins. Born May 11, 1911, the twins emigrated to the United States from Siam (now Bangkok, Thailand) at the age of 17. The twins quickly became famous as they were featured in circus sideshows around the world. They eventually settled down in North Carolina when their exhibition tour ended. In 1843, they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates and were married for 31 years until the twins’ deaths. Eventually, they had to build two homes for the sisters and their children as the sisters got to fighting a lot. The twins would alternated time between the two homes.

They had a total of 21 children between their two wives (9 boys and 12 girls) and several hundred grandchildren. The twins died on January 17, 1874. Chang had been ill for several months and died during the night. Eng died shortly after. An autopsy revealed that they share a liver and bloodstream. As for their last name, the story goes that when they were applying for American citizenship, officials said that the twins must have a family name. The man behind them, a Mr. Fred Bunker, offered them his name.

At the gravesite behind a nondescript white church (White Plains Baptist Church), you’ll find a supply of brochures describing their history. Their gravesite still gets several visitors a day, and there were two others viewing the gravesite upon my arrival.

Dobson

Dobson was established as the county seat in 1853, replacing Rockford after all land in Surry County south of the Yadkin River was used to form Yadkin County. Tabitha Ann Holton, who became the first licensed female lawyer in the Southern United States in 1878. She practiced law in Dobson from 1878 to 1886. Here, you’ll find Shelton Vineyards, Stony Knoll Vineyards, and Herrera Vineyards. Shelton Vineyards is known as the largest vineyard in the state and holds many events year-round, including live entertainment and concerts, dinners, auto shows, festivals, and the Running the Vines 5K/10K.

Rockford General Store

“Hey, y’all, give us a call!” This is a must-stop local store in Dobson (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Here, you’ll find a bevy of old-fashioned candies, local fare, and a kitchen serving up a few country treats–including daily Sonker variations.

Mulberry

A small, pass-through community, this area is also interestingly referred to as Jot-Um-Down.

Elkin

The flowing together of the Yadkin River and Big Elkin Creek has drawn people to the area of what is now Elkin, since the coming of the Paleo-Indians 10,000 years ago. The Sioux Indians settled along the Yadkin River as early as 500 BC. The first English colonists came in the mid-eighteenth century along with some colonists from Ireland. Cherokee Indians were also in the area, although the Cherokees had been active in the French and Indian War, they had joined in treaties with the English in 1763, followed by the events of the American Revolution.

Alexander Chatham opened a small woolen mill in 1877 that grew to become Elkin’s largest industry for many decades, The Chatham Manufacturing Company. Along with other mills in the area it has dwindled. The Northwestern North Carolina Railroad arrived in 1890, and the town was ready to take the opportunities the railroad brought for commercial and industrial expansion. Its strategic location near the Yadkin River and the Big Elkin Creek–and as a stop on the railroad–caused prosperity that produced brick stores, many industries, and fine houses.

The beginning of industry with the cotton mill, the Civil War involvement, the coming of the railroad, the town’s coping with the depression of the 1930s, and the two world wars heavily influenced the town’s development. Chatham Manufacturing was famous for making World War II wool blankets for soldiers. And you’ll find a Civil War marker on West Main Street across from the Elkin Library.

The Elkin Municipal Park was the location during the Revolutionary War of a mustering field. Troops gathered to march on the Overmountain Victory Trail towards Wilkesboro then on to Morganton, NC, before they headed south to victory. There is a viewing site along Hwy 268, just west of the Recreeation Center that tells the story on an information panel.

Cedar Point, Downtown Elkin Historic District, Gwyn Avenue-Bridge Street Historic District, and the Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elkin had the biggest cruising community on the east coast during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. USA Today once featured Elkin and its cruisers on the front page of the national newspaper. However, a crackdown by local police in the late 1990s temporarily ended the once-vibrant weekend cruising scene leaving downtown Elkin deserted on weekend nights until cruising returned to downtown Elkin on Saturday, October 10, 2009 for the first time in almost 20 years. Since 2012, Cruise! events have become a summertime monthly event and continue each year. Cruise events involve parking along Main Street as well as cruising around the downtown streets, including past the Reeves Theater.

Elkin is also famous for the annual festivals and regional events: Yadkin Valley Wine Festival (3rd weekend in May), NC Trails Days (first weekend in June), Elkin Roots Music Fest (mid-late June), Take a Break from the Interstate 100-yard Road Market (last weekend in July), Reevestock Music Fest (first weekend in August), Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival on Main Street (4th Saturday in September), including record-breaking pumpkin and watermelon weigh-ins and a car show, quilt show, music, kids play areas, farmers market, and more. Then there’s the Light Up Elkin and holiday parade (first weekend in December).

In Elkin, you’ll find quaint downtown shops and restaurants, the Pirate’s Landing restaurant (161 Interstate Way), plus Adagio Vineyards, Slightly Askew Winery, and Elkin Creek Vineyard.

Crutchfield

This pass-through community is named for Charlie Crutchfield, a worker who died during the construction of a railroad trestle bridge in the area. Crutchfield, who had no relatives, was buried on the Yadkin County side of the river.

Siloam

Another pass-through community, Siloam has some interesting history. Four people were killed and 16 people injured when the one-lane steel span bridge connecting Yadkin and Surry counties in Siloam collapsed on February 23, 1975. The collapse brought national attention to bridge safety and was reported in national magazines, including Reader’s Digest, and on The CBS Evening News.

The Atkinson-Needham Memorial Bridge, which was built at the site of the old bridge, was named in honor of the four victims: Samuel Hugh and Ola Marion Atkinson and Judy Needham and her 3-year-old daughter, Andrea Lee. Among those rescued from the collapse was former Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson, who was 10 at the time.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, the accident started about 9:25 p.m. when a car struck a timber railing on the bridge, causing the bridge to collapse into the rain-swollen river. In heavy fog, six more vehicles within a 17-minute period drove off the bridge. By the 1970s, state officials had hung a sign on the second-hand bridge that read, “Local Traffic Only.”

The bridge, which had originally been used near High Rock Lake, was reassembled in Siloam in 1938. It was listed as deficient and needing repair or replacement in a 1974 state report. Troy Doby, the state secretary of transportation, said later that “it should have been replaced, but it was a question of money.” Weeks before the collapse, Hugh Atkinson had urged state officials to tear it down. The Atkinson family later found a letter in his coat pocket that he had written to the governor’s office urging action on the bridge.

Next stop… Rowan County!

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Journey through Scotland County

Scotland County was founded in 1899 from the southeastern part of Richmond County, which was divided to reduced the travel time for residents to the county seat of Rockingham. The county name documents the strong historic and cultural influence from the early settlers from Scotland. Scotland County is often referred to as the “Soul of the Carolinas,” and prides itself as a top area for retirement.

Festivals include the Scotland County Highland Games (held the first weekend in October), the Storytelling Festival of Carolinas, and the John Blue Cotton Festival (second full weekend in October). Historical sites include the John Blue House (Laurinburg) and the Old Laurel Hill Church. Museums and heritage include the Scotland County Museum, Indian Museum, and Scottish Heritage Center. For a bit of nature or outdoors, discover Cypress Bend Vineyards, St. Andrews Equestrian Center, the Chalk Banks, and the Lumber River.

While traveling through Scotland County, you’ll find small towns and unincorporated communities, such as Old Hundred, Whispering Pines, and Hasty.

Laurinburg

Named a Tree City because of its tall, stately oaks, settlers arrived at the present town site around 1785, which was named for a prominent family, the McLaurins. In 1840, Laurinburg had a saloon, a store, and a few shacks. Laurinburgh High School, a private school, was established in 1852. The settlement prospered in the years following.

A line of the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad was built through Laurinburg in the 1850s, with the first train reaching Laurinburg in 1861. The railroad’s shops were moved to Laurinburg in 1865 in the hope they would be safer from Union Army attack; however, in March of that year, Union forces reached Laurinburg and burned the railroad depot and temporary shops.

Laurinburg was then incorporated in 1877, and the first courthouse in Scotland County was erected in Laurinburg in 1901. A new courthouse was built in 1964. The Laurinburg Institute, a historically African-American school founded in 1904, is also located in Laurinburg.

Laurinburg, North Carolina, is also a three-time All America City located in the Sandhills region near Fort Bragg, a U.S. Marine base. The large town offers the charm and quiet living of a small southern town with close proximity to larger cities, the mountains, and the coast. Developing from its rich agricultural heritage, Laurinburg is still an agricultural community and it is also the progressive business and cultural center of Scotland County.

During the annual Scotland County Highland Games, you can watch athletes compete in traditional events such as the caber, the hammer throw and the sheaf toss. Plus, witness piping, drumming, dancing and more Tartan glory. The Annual John Blue Cotton Festival held each fall allows you to experience rural life in the South 100 or more years ago, bringing together the old and the new.

Interesting facts: Main Street in Laurinburg was paved in 1914, and actor, dancer, and singer Ben Vereen is from the area.

John Blue House and Heritage Center

The John Blue House (13040 X Way Rd) is currently closed for renovations but the Heritage Village and two museums are open. 

The John Blue House and Heritage Center is the go-to destination for learning more about rural North Carolina’s rich history. Tucked away in a grove of pecan trees, the house is over a century old and is a perfect example of the Steamboat Gothic architecture that dominated the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While at the house, you can marvel at the intricacy of the house’s design and furnishings, which have all been immaculately well-kept over the years. The Heritage Center is a collection of three homesteads, a restored pre-Civil War cotton gin, country store, tobacco barn, and an operational miniature steam locomotive. Together, these structures give us a sneak peak into Scotland County’s past.

The century-old John Blue House provides a glimpse into an important part of Scotland County’s past – the culture of the rural Carolinas – as well as insight into the heart and soul of Mr. John Blue. Constructed 25 years after the end of the Civil War in 1891, John Blue, Sr. (then only 30 years old) – but a successful inventor and manufacturer of farming equipment designed the home after visiting family in Mississippi where he became intrigued by the riverboats. Upon his return, he designed the home to reflect this look – including the “bridge” of the home that served as his favorite sitting area. Also contributing to the riverboat design are the rare double circular porches, as well as the ornaments that decorate the porch and railings — all hand carved by Mr. Blue himself.  The house is built entirely of heart of pine lumber from trees on the grounds.

Inside you’ll find 12 rooms–and 12 exterior doors. The doors display decorative stained glass, a feature of which Mr. Blue was especially proud. Today more than 90% of the original stained glass windows remain intact. One window that Mr. Blue especially enjoyed was the red stained glass window in the front door. This window allowed him to look through it, across the road to his cotton fields. The red tint illuminated the fields and allowed Mr. Blue to see his “rose garden.”

Indian Museum of the Carolinas at the North Carolina Rural Heritage Center

Located near the John Blue House, the Indian Museum of the Carolinas (13043 X Way Rd) is dedicated to educating the public about the history, cultures, and importance of the Native American groups that currently and previously inhabited the Carolinas. The museum includes 40 exhibits on various native groups, including the Cherokee, Coharie, Tuscarora, Waccamaw-Siouan, Catawba, and Lumbee, and features a number of artifacts, pottery, tools, weapons, art, and jewelry, some of which are more than 10,000 years old! Additionally, the exhibits include unique items such as an original canoe and projectile points (arrowheads).

Through the millennia, the region now known as North and South Carolina was home to more than 45 different Native American Indian cultures. Among the descendants today are the Lumbee, Cheraw, Cherokee, Tuscarora, Waccamaw, and Catawba.

Museum of Agriculture and History

Also located at 13043 X Way Rd, you’ll also find this lovely museum, comprised of four primary sections: Inventions of John Blue and other agricultural trend-setters, an exhibit of hit and miss engines and other farming vehicles, a look at household appliances from yesteryear, and one of the most fascinating collection of antique cars you will find in the Southeast. Additionally, the museum boasts a retired locomotive engine, an exhibit on textiles, a local sports hall-of-fame, and an honorary exhibit to the armed forces.

In 1886 John Blue and his father established a business on John’s land. In the shop, the younger Blue repaired cotton gin parts and other farm tools and equipment. The small business grew into a large plant where implements were made. Blue built a foundry—a building that contained equipment to melt iron and cast it into parts he needed and that building burned in 1947. The factory where the equipment was built is the building that now houses the Museum of Agriculture and History.

Heritage Village

And still at the same spot (13043 X Way Rd), nestled in a grove of pecan trees, the John Blue House serves as the centerpiece of a collection of homesteads that tell the story of a different time in the region. Each of these structures was first built elsewhere by settlers and farmers in the areas and moved to the grounds for presentation, including an original cotton gin and tobacco barn. From the structures to the homesteads that occupy the land, the grounds provide a glimpse of the culture of the rural Carolinas of the late 1800s.

Wagram

The town was named for the Battle of Wagram, a Napoleonic battle at Deutsch-Wagram in Austria.

Cypress Bend Vineyards

Cypress Bend Vineyards (21904 Riverton Rd, Wagram, NC) is Scotland County’s local winery. The Vineyard serves Scotland County’s first Muscadine winery, using five grape cultivars that thrive in North Carolina’s unique climate. A trip to Cypress Bend Vineyards will give you the opportunity to sample some of of the area’s finest wines in a beautiful, open environment. The vineyard’s tasting room and retail boutique is open every day. They hold weddings and events as well as private parties. And every fall, they hold the Fall Harvest Festival and Grape Stomp. Be sure to check it out and partake!

Chalk Banks State Park/Lumber River State Park

For a peaceful getaway, stop here for scenic water views, picnicking, fishing, boating, hiking, primitive camping, and more (26040 Raeford Road, US Highway 401). The Lumber River is the only black water river in North Carolina, is designated a National Wild and Scenic River, and is one of the top ten Natural Wonders of NC. The Lumber River meanders through Scotland, Hoke, Robeson, and Columbus Counties and connects with the Little Pee Dee River. The Lumber River State Park is comprised of 9,874 acres and 115 miles of waterway.

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Journey through Hoke County

Discover rural life in Hoke County, bordering the low country of South Carolina. Hoke county is dotted with small, unincorporated communities like Ashley Heights, Five Points, Silver City, Arabia, and Rockfish. Raeford is the county seat of Hoke County, and the most populated area of the county. Hoke County is among the smallest counties in North Carolina, with just a few highlights this day.

Raeford, NC

Tucked away in the fabled Sandhills of North Carolina lies the City of Raeford, a ‘typical Scottish town.’ The fragrant Carolina pine forests and expanses of fertile land provide the perfect pastoral setting. Majestic magnolias grace front lawns and springtime flaunts an unrivaled palette of azaleas.

Raeford was named for John McRae and A.A. Williford, who operated a turpentine distillery and general store, respectively. Each took a syllable from his name and created the name Raeford for the post office they established. The McRae family, who lived at the “ford of the creek,” was at one time made up primarily of old Highland Scot families. And the Upper Cape Fear Valley of North Carolina was, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the largest settlement of Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots in North America. Today, many of these old families continue to live in the area. Since World War II, many Lumbee Indian families have moved northward from Robeson County and now constitute a significant element of the population that is otherwise European and African American.

Of note, George Floyd was born near Raeford.

Raeford benefits from the unique city blend of an intimate community, offering a small-town, friendly atmosphere within shouting distance of major metropolitan amenities, but without the “big-city” hustle. Bordering Fort Bragg, Raeford offers easy, everyday access to all areas on post. The are is also ideally situated near some of the world’s renowned golf courses of Pinehurst and the Sandhill region.

Raeford-Hoke Museum

The original McLauchlin-McFadyen House, now the Raeford-Hoke Museum (111 South Highland St.) is a neoclassical revival design with 6,000 square feet of heated space. Located on five acres, the museum also includes The Parker-Ray House, an emergency service museum, doll house, school house, and country store plus a genealogy room.

The Raeford-Hoke Museum, a non-profit organization, began its preservation project in 2002 with the purchase of The McLauchlin-McFadyen House. The mission of the museum is to preserve the history, culture, and artifacts of the local area. The Museum houses many historical artifacts, photographs, and genealogies of Raeford and Hoke County.

The museum is free to tour, but donations are welcome as the museum is a nonprofit supported by volunteers and donations. They also hold annual events, such as Singing on the Grounds, History Day for the Children, Open House at Christmas, a Wine Tasting, and the Leadership-Hoke Tour.

Parker-Ray House

In 1899 Louis and Willa Ray, daughter of Dr. W.G. Ray, one of the first doctors in this area built their home in Cumberland County (an area that become Hoke County in 1911) and remained there the rest of their lives. Times changed, the families moved on, and the house became vacant. The house was eventually donated to the Raeford-Hoke Museum and has been renovated to the style of the early 1900s, completed in Spring 2015.

In 1899, the Hoke County entity did not exist, but the land and people of that area of Cumberland County did and Louis Parker found both attractive. He and five of his brothers and sisters moved to the area. He bought 200 acres on the road to Fayetteville, about four miles northeast of the small town of Raeford. That section of Cumberland became part of Hoke County when Hoke was recognized as a county in 1911.

Willa’s ancestors had been in the area since the 1740s. having been forced out of Scotland by the English King. She and Louis married, cleared the land and used the timber to build a home in which they lived the reminder of their lives. Their children and grandson (Richard Neeley) were born in the upper right bedroom. Over the years their land developed into a thriving farm.

The Parker family moved on, leaving the home vacant. Richard Neely and his niece Suzanne Neely Bridges, descendants of Louis and Willa, donated the house to the museum, including funds to move and restore it.

Mill Prong House
This house is not open to the public, but you’ll find it at 3062 Edinburgh Rd.

In the last half of the 18th century, more than 20,000 Highland Scots, including John Gilchrist and the father of Col. Archibald McEachern, immigrated to the Cape Fear Region of North Carolina, the largest Highland Scot settlement in America. Many left Scotland after 1746, the year the Scots rallied under Prince Charles Stuart only to suffer defeat by the British at the Battle of Culloden.The Scots in the Cape Fear Region were divided in their sympathies during the Revolutionary War and the area around McPhaul’s Mill was a center of Loyalist activity. Many followed the appeal of their heroine, Flora MacDonald, and joined the Loyalists who suffered defeat once again at the Battle of Moore’s Creek near Wilmington.

In 1781, Patriot General Rutherford defeated the local Loyalists in a final battle near Mill Prong. During the last year of the Civil War, General Sherman passed through the area on his way to where the Battle of Bentonville, the largest Civil War Battle in North Carolina, was fought. His troops bashed in the family piano, which once again resides at Mill Prong.

Paraclete XP Indoor Skydiving

Nervous about skydiving? At Paraclete XP Indoor Skydiving, you can get a sense of skydiving in a controlled environment. You’ll go through a brief training, then suit up. Though they offer 2-minute adventures, which doesn’t sound like much, it really is when you are doing something that’s high adrenaline. Plus, when you think about actual skydiving, it’s about a minute of freefall before you open your chute. You don’t need any previous experience and, in fact, the experience is open to novices and experts alike. You may catch expert aerialists practicing drills here in between novice flights. Be sure to stop downstairs for an a display showing how the vertical wind tunnel operates. It’s an amazing set up and the experience–and the rush–are definitely worth it! You can even purchase a video of your experience. Oh, and there’s plenty of space for spectators to watch. Once you’ve got bitten by the bug, you can go actual sky diving with Paraclete as well.

Next up–Scotland County!

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Journey through Harnett County

You’ll find Harnett County filled with Civil War history. And there’s more for you here–even if you’re not a Civil War buff.

Harnett County was formed in 1855 from land given by Cumberland County. It was named for American Revolutionary war soldier Cornelius Harnett, who also served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. The first settlers came to this region in the mid-1720s, and were followed by Highland Scots immigrants. The Scots settled in the foothills, where land was more affordable, rather than in the rich coastal plain.

During the American Revolutionary War, many of the Scots were Loyalists. In their defeat in Scotland, it is surmised that they had been forced to take ironclad vows that prohibited taking up arms against the British. Thus, some Rebels considered them traitors to the cause of Independence. Public executions of suspected spies occurred. One site near Lillington may have been the scene of a mass execution of “Scots Traitors.”

Though Harnett County was not a site of warfare during the Civil War, one of the last battles took place near Averasborough, which was once the third most populated town in North Carolina but is now no longer in existence. During the Carolinas Campaign, the Left Wing of General William Sherman’s army under the command of Maj. General Henry W. Slocum defeated the army of General William Hardee in the Battle of Averasborough and proceeded eastward. A centennial celebration of the event was held in 1965 at the site of the battlefield.

Lillington

The town of Lillington is named for John Alexander Lillington (c. 1725–1786), aka Alexander John Lillington, who was a Patriot officer from North Carolina in the American Revolutionary War, notably fighting in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776 and serving as brigadier general in the state militia. The Summer Villa and the McKay-Salmon House and Summerville Presbyterian Church and Cemetery are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

East Coast Classic Cars

The day started here with this fantastic collection of 100+ classic, antique, and muscle cars cars in a 35,000-square-foot showroom. It may seem like a museum, but most of these vehicles are actually for sale. This collection is really a must-see! (325 E. Cornelius Harnett Blvd, Hwy 421)

Harnett County Veterans Memorial

Not far from East Coast Classic Cars, you’ll find this memorial in Courthouse Square, located to the right of the Harnett County Courthouse. The memorial consists of three granite panels. Two smaller horizontal panels on either side have bronze plaques with the names of veterans who sacrificed their lives in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War.

Raven Rock State Park

Nine miles west of Lillington, discover the natural beauty of Raven Rock State Park (3009 Raven Rock Rd.). The Raven Rock Loop Trail is the showcase of the park, featuring a 150-foot crystalline structure that stretches for more than a mile along the Cape Fear River. The Raven Rock Loop Trail is a 2.6 mile easy loop trail (the longest of the walking trails) that drops you off at the Raven Rock as well as an incredible panoramic overlook high above the Cape Fear River–definitely worth the hike! The park also has bridle trails (on the other side of the Cape Fear River), mountain bike trails, and other walking trails too as well as campgrounds and picnic shelters.

Dunn

An All-American City and the largest city in Harnett County, originally called “Lucknow,” was renamed “Dunn” in 1873. The city of Dunn was incorporated on February 12, 1887, when it was mostly a logging town and a turpentine distilling center. The city’s name honors Bennett Dunn, who supervised the construction of the railway line between Wilson and Fayetteville. The Dunn Commercial Historic District, among several other historic homes and buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and comprises a number of quaint and eclectic downtown shops. The city also hosts an annual Cotton Festival.

Averasboro Battlefield and Museum
When in Dunn, make a quick visit to The Averasboro Battlefield and Museum (3300 NC-82), dedicated to the Battle of Averasborough, a Civil War battle fought on March 15-16, 1865. The Confederate soldiers delayed the advance of General William T. Sherman’s Union Army for two days. More than 1,200 were wounded and at least 350 soldiers were killed. 56 Confederate soldiers are buried in the cemetery, though only two names are known.

The museum, founded in 1994 by the Averasboro Battlefield Commission, Inc., is located on the battlefield and is part of the NC Civil War Trails. The Battlefield attained National Register Historic District status in May 2001.  Also on the battlefield and considered to be part of the museum is the restored Chicora Civil Cemetery.  Here you’ll find a small museum displaying an array of artifacts, souvenirs, and monuments along with a Civil War-era cabin and gift shop. Admission to the museum, grounds, and cemetery is free.

General William C. Lee Airborne Museum
The museum today is an early 20th century neoclassical three-story revival house built in 1903. The museum was once the home of Dunn native Maj. General William C. Lee, known as the “Father of the Airborne.” Maj. Lee brought to life the idea of an allied airborne invasion of Europe. The museum (209 West Divine St.) tells of General Lee’s life history, the early years of the US Army Airborne and the use of glider planes during WWII. Admission is free.

Dunn Area History Museum

Peruse through this museum for a variety of local historical influences in this part of North Carolina, including clowns, quilts, toys, telephones, scouts, baseball, music, and more.

Angier

Angier annually hosts the “Crepe Myrtle Festival” in September, which attracts approximately 20,000 visitors. The town calls itself “The Town of Crepe Myrtles,” and there are definitely plenty of these beautiful summer-blooming trees here. Each summer, Angier draws a crowd of motorcyclists and bike enthusiasts from across the region to downtown Angier to enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of its annual Bike Fest event. The family-friendly event features live music, a bike show, a poker-run fund-raiser, exhibits, and fun for people of all ages. Angier lies along the “Art Road and Farm Trail” through Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston, and Robeson counties.

Angier Town Museum

Located beside the town’s historic depot, stop here (by appointment) to learn about the rich history of the “Town of Crepe Myrtles.” Be sure to stop at the train depot next door (19 W Depot St.), the newly dedicated mural (on August 17, 2021) across the street beside the intersection, and several eclectic downtown shops.

Gourd Museum

You’ll find the Gourd Museum (28 North Raleigh St) located in the Angier Municipal Building/Angier Library, though you’ll have to check this out during the week as the library isn’t open on weekends. The Gourd Museum was established in 1964 by Marvin and Mary Johnson on their homestead just off of NC Highway 55 between Fuquay-Varina and Angier in the Kennebec Community just opposite of the Fuquay-Angier Airport.  Marvin, long-time president of the North Carolina Gourd Society, founded the museum. Nephew Mark Johnson, who lived next door, owned and operated the museum for many years inside the small white building. You discover hundreds of gourd crafts here from all over the world.

Coats

Coats Museum

The town of Coats, North Carolina, was chartered in 1905. The Coats Museum (109 South McKinley St.) is located in the beautiful Coats Heritage Square and invites visitors to learn more about the town and surrounding area. Their website extends an invitation for you to enjoy a walk through their community’s history as well as a Seed-to-Product Cotton Exhibit.

Animal Ed.ventures Sanctuary at Noah’s Landing
While in the area, take a stroll through 12 acres of Animal Edventures (1489 Live Oak Rd), a collection of rescued exotic and domestic animals, including camels and Clydesdale horses. They offer onsite and off-site programs.

Other Harnett County Sites

Hawk Manor Falconry – Enjoy an amazing experience with birds of prey here. You’ll even have the opportunity to have one perched on your arm. Be sure to make reservations in advance! (587 Joe Collins Rd)

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Journey through Catawba County

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, NC

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.)

Harper House
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 12-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!

Conover, NC

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, NC

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.

Vale, NC

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, NC

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, NC

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!

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Journey through Chapel Hill, NC

You’ll find Chapel Hill to be a little bit urbanist and a little bit village. The town of Carrboro runs right into Chapel Hill, so it may seem difficult to determine where one begins and the other ends. Hailed as one of America’s Foodiest Small Towns by Bon Appétit, Chapel Hill is rapidly becoming a hot spot for pop American cuisine. World-famous musician James Taylor (of whom this writer is a huge fan) hails from this city, and his probably Chapel Hill’s most famous native son.  Chapel Hill has been the birthplace of many other artists as well.

Chapel Hill, founded in 1793, saddles both Orange and Durham counties, is the 15th-largest city in North Carolina, and is one of the corners of the Research Triangle (RTP) area. Chapel Hill was named for the New Hope Chapel, which stood at the crossing of the town’s two primary roads–and is now the site of The Carolina Inn. The town is centered on Franklin Street, named for Benjamin Franklin, and contains several districts and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally developed along a hill, Chapel Hill has established itself surrounding The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has a very large presence here. In 1819, the town was actually founded to serve the University of North Carolina.

In 1969, a year after the city fully integrated its schools, Chapel Hill elected Howard Lee as mayor. It was the first majority-white municipality in the South to elect an African-American mayor. Serving from 1969 to 1975, Lee helped establish Chapel Hill Transit, the town’s bus system. Some 30 years later, in 2002, the state passed legislation to provide free service to all riders on local buses. The bus operations are funded through Chapel Hill and Carrboro town taxes, federal grants, and UNC student tuition. The change has resulted in a large increase in ridership, taking many cars off the roads. Several hybrid and articulated buses have been added recently. All buses carry GPS transmitters to report their location in real-time to a tracking web site. Buses can also transport bicycles and have wheelchair lifts.

In 1993, the town celebrated its bicentennial and founded the Chapel Hill Museum. This cultural community resource “exhibiting the character and characters of Chapel Hill, North Carolina” includes among its permanent exhibits Alexander Julian, History of the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Chapel Hill’s 1914 Fire Truck, The James Taylor Story, Farmer/James Pottery, and The Paul Green Legacy.

For more than 30 years, Chapel Hill has sponsored the annual street fair, Festifall, in October. The fair offers booths to artists, crafters, nonprofits, and food vendors. Performance space is also available for musicians, martial artists, and other groups. The fair is attended by tens of thousands each year. Several free walking tours and guided tours are available.

Chapel Hill’s sister city is Ecuador Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal (Galápagos, Ecuador).

Won Buddhist Temple

Before you head into Chapel Hill proper, stop by the Won Buddhist Temple for a little peace in your life. Beside the beautiful Far Eastern architecture building, you’ll find a meditation garden. Take some time to peacefully sit and contemplate amongst the beautiful plants, paths, and water features. And if they are having a service while you’re there, you may be welcome to attend. Just be sure to remove your shoes upon entering the building and refrain from speaking or only communicate in a quite whisper. They have YouTube livestreams and Zoom gatherings as well as early morning indoor meditations plus other workshops, retreats, and outdoor meditations. Everyone is welcome!

P.S. The temple is right down the road from Hartleyhenge in Calvander (both are on the same side of the street). Both structures were built by John Hartley. See the Orange County blog for more details.

UNC-Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC, is all about Carolina Blue! Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly on December 11, 1789, the University of North Carolina’s cornerstone was laid on October 12, 1793, near the ruins of a chapel, chosen due to its central location within the state. Beginning instruction of undergraduates in 1795, UNC is the oldest public/state university in the United States and the only one to award degrees in the 18th century.

Influences of the university are seen throughout the town, even in the fire departments. Each fire station in Chapel Hill has a fire engine (numbers 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35) that is Carolina blue. These engines are also decorated with different UNC decals, including a firefighter Rameses, which is the school mascot. The Old Well is UNC’s most recognized–and most photographed–landmark.

Morehead Planetarium

Be sure to stop by The Morehead Planetarium at UNC (250 E. Franklin St.), opened in 1949, which is one of only a handful of planetariums in the nation, and it has remained an important town landmark for Chapel Hill. During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, astronauts were trained here!

The Morehead Planetarium was the first planetarium built on a U.S. college campus and continues to show in their Fulldome Theater. When it opened in 1949, it was one of six planetariums in the nation and has remained an important town landmark. One of the town’s hallmark features is the giant sundial, located in the rose gardens in front of the planetarium on Franklin Street.

Chapel Hill is also a treasure trove of public art wall murals, many of them painted by UNC alumnus and artist Michael Brown.

Greetings from Chapel Hill

One of the most photographed pieces in Chapel Hill, this public art wall mural might be a little hard to find. The “Greetings from Chapel Hill” mural is located on the back side of He’s Not Here, along Rosemary Street. Depicting a 1941 postcard by German illustrator Curt Teich, this mural was created by Scott Nurkin, who graduated from UNC with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and was once Michael Brown’s intern. While facing the mural, turn around and looking diagonally in the opposite direction and you’ll see the Sea Turtles mural.

Sea Turtles

Considered one of Michael Brown’s best known and most popular murals is “Sea Turtles,” painted on the corner of Columbia Street and East Rosemary Streets. The mural was originally painted in 1993 and was restored in 2011 with the help of funds raised by Sadie Rapp.

Dogwoods

Be sure to stop and admire this work of art before or after you head to the Visitors Bureau at 501 West Franklin Street. It’s located in their back parking lot. This is another one of Michael Brown’s more recent murals, finished in 2011.
P.S. There’s another cute little mural across the adjacent parking lot, so this visit is a two-fer.

The Blue Mural

This was Michael Brown’s first painted mural, completed in 1989 and the first one restored by the Painted Walls Project in 2009. Michael had so many volunteers to help paint this mural that he gave everyone paintbrushes of the same size, and “The Blue Mural” was painted in the pointillist style (dots) so that the mural would have a uniform look. You can find it at 109 East Franklin Street, visible from the parking lot on the corner of Columbia Street and Rosemary Street. When facing The Blue Mural, look directly to your left and you’ll see the next mural.

Walking Up the Wall

Painted in 1996, “Walking Up the Wall” is a wonderful optical illusion. The number of people painted into the mural at 100 East Rosemary Street relates to every donation that was received to bring this piece of art to completion. (It was difficult to get a good photo of this mural due to the construction happening in front of it at the time.)

Paint By Numbers

Located on the side of Pantana Bob’s on Rosemary Street, this was the last mural Michael Brown painted during the 18 years of the Mural Project. He painted figures that represent the many student volunteers that Michael had worked with over the years. He designed the mural, which kind of looks like a work in progress, to show the “paint-by-numbers” process he used for many of his pieces.

Sutton’s Drug Store

Suttons Drug Store is a local icon that’s been around for decades, since 1923. It’s a Chapel Hill tradition. While dining, you can view all the photos on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. While the pharmacy is no longer in operation to the public (since the local CVS came along), you can still find all of the old fashioned staples and hot off the grill eats that attract new Tar Heels and keep customers coming back year after year, plus flavored sodas and milkshakes. (I was told, however, that there is a pharmacist that still comes in once a week to service employees.)

Carolina Coffee Shop

Another local icon, you’ll find the markings Est. 1922 on the front of the Carolina Coffee Shop. It’s even older than Sutton’s and holds the title of the oldest continually running restaurant in North Carolina. It’s easy to find, just look for the Parade of Humanity mural at Port Hole Alley on East Franklin Street. Don’t let the year distort your idea of the menu – they serve modern southern cuisine, a full bar of cocktails, and weekend brunch.

Top of the Hill Restaurant

Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery (or TOPO), aka the social crossroads of Chapel Hill, is the place to be during basketball season; particularly a UNC vs. Duke game or better yet, a championship game where you’ll find a trail of people camping out the night before just for a seat in the outdoor patio. It’s a perfect view of the thousands and thousands of people that rush to the intersection of Franklin and Columbia after a Tar Heel victory. And if you’re into craft brews, you’ll be interested to know they use locally sources ingredients and are the eighth oldest surviving brewery in the state and developer of over eighty different acclaimed varieties since 1996 and many award-winning beers.

You can get a bird’s-eye, panoramic view of Chapel Hill at this hot spot, must-eat-at restaurant in Chapel Hill that overlooks the city streets. Eat inside or on the outdoor patio with a beautiful view below.

Coker Arboretum

Peruse through five acres of luxuriously landscaped gardens on UNC’s campus showcasing more than 500 flora and fauna specimens since 1903. The garden’s prominent features include a cascading stream and a 300-foot native vine arbor. It is free to walk through, and free guided tours are offered on the third Saturday at 11am, March-November.

Gimghoul Castle

This is the second castle in NC that this travel blogger has visited. (See the Person County blog for details on Castle Mont Rouge in Rougemont, NC.) The legend of Gimghoul Castle has long been a source of mystery, rumor, and curiosity for students and locals alike. Located at 705 Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill, Gimghoul Castle was formerly known as Hippol Castle. Castle construction was accomplished at an exorbitant cost of $50,000 and took more than five years. The castle is thought to be haunted by the ghost of Peter Dromgoole, who died in a duel over his love for a local girl named Fanny. The castle has also been associated with a secret society known as the Order of the Gimghoul, which was founded in 1889 by noted UNC alumni.

Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower

Amidst well-kept hedges and a grassy lawn, the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower is a 172-foot-tall functioning bell tower located on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. The tower boasts an observation tower at the top (though not available for viewing), a conical spire structure, and a Roman numeral clock on each of the four sides of the tower. The surrounding grounds were designed by University botany professor William Chambers Coker, who also designed the Coker Arboretum on campus (see below). The tower is one of the most visible landmarks on campus.

The belfry originally began with 12 manually operated bells in 1931 and is currently equipped with 14 mechanized bells with the addition of 2 bells in 1998. The names of prominent figures in the University history, Governor John Motley Morehead and William Lenoir, are inscribed on the two largest bells. The bells ring every 15 minutes, chiming on the hour. In addition, the bells play other songs or the alma mater as part of University celebrations or holidays.

The idea of erecting a bell tower on the University of North Carolina campus was originally suggested by John Motley Morehead III in the 1920s, but it was denied several times by the University because of conflicts regarding the location. When the idea was finally approved, construction began with the funding of two sponsors: Morehead and Rufus Lenoir Patterson II. It shares a resemblance to the North Carolina State University (NC State) bell tower that was initially built to commemorate the NC State alumni that fell during World War I.

Head football coach Mack Brown started the tradition of lighting the bell tower blue after every Tar Heel victory.

Merritt’s Store & Grill

Do you love bacon? Who doesn’t??? Merritt’s has the hands-down reputation for the most delicious BLTs–and BBBLTs—and other bacon-related food fare–all loaded up with bacon and the freshest lettuce and tomatoes. Yum! This bacon lover couldn’t wait to eat there. There is a small amount of indoor seating for non-pandemic days. But most everyone eats out front under the umbrellas or out back surrounded by bamboo. But be careful… it comes up quick around a curve with fast-moving traffic that goes by. If you miss it, just turn around… and don’t run over the median.

P.S. You can call your order in ahead of time, but their service is pretty quick.

NC Botanical Garden

On your way out of Chapel Hill, head South on 15-501 from University Place to 100 Old Mason Farm Rd. to see one of the largest native plant botanical gardens in the Southeast. The scenery and native landscapes of The North Carolina Botanical Garden creates a stunning stage for art in media ranging from steel to ceramic to glass. Each year, the Garden hosts a show of local artists, around 30, that showcase their pieces, around 50, magnificently curated throughout the garden. Free guided tours are available at 10am on the first Saturday of each month.

Lavender Oaks Farm

“Fragrant fields in a timeless setting, far away in a nearby place.” Owned by Robert and Karen Macdonald (yes, the Macdonalds), Lavender Oaks Farm (3833 Millard Whitley Rd.) is an isle of quiet tranquility not far outside of bustling Chapel Hill. Stop here to pick your own lavender from rows and rows of 15 varietals. You’ll also love the adorable gift shop with loads of lavender gifts: lotions, sachets, candles, soaps, and much more. They do host weddings and events here. And they are gearing up for 2022 with a big musical and entertainment event. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

Maple View Ice Cream & Country Store

Top off your day with a few scoops! On the outskirts of Chapel Hill, Maple View Ice Cream & Country Store, with its wrap around porch, rocking chairs, and farm acreage views has the most delicious, creamy, award winning ice cream. The flavors change with the season and are as wholesome as the Holstein milking cows across the street at Maple View Farm. No worries if you’re a true chocolate, vanilla and strawberry kind of person, they serve those flavors plus favorites like butter pecan, and cookies and cream all year ‘round.

Next up… Catawba County!

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Journey through Orange County

Orange County was formed in 1752 from parts of Bladen, Granville, and Johnston Counties, and was named for the infant William V of Orange, whose mother Anne, daughter of King George II of Great Britain, was then regent of the Dutch Republic. In 1771, the western portion of Orange County was combined with the eastern part of Rowan County to form Guilford County. Another part was combined with parts of Cumberland and Johnston Counties to form Wake County. The southern portion of what remained became Chatham County. In 1777, the northern half of what was left of Orange County became Caswell County. In 1849, the western county became Alamance County. Finally, in 1881, the eastern half of the county’s remaining territory was combined with part of Wake County to form Durham County. English Quakers were among some of Orange County’s first settlers along the Haw and Eno Rivers.

Eno River State Park

The Eno River State Park is part of the 237,000-acre North Carolina State Parks system, including 35 parks, four recreation areas, three staffed natural areas, four rivers, seven lakes, nine trails, and 600 miles of trails. While at NC state parks you can find activities such as hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge, four-wheeling at Fort Fisher, and rock climbing at many of the parks.

Eno River State Park consists of 4,319 acres, 31 miles of trails, five accesses, and, of course, the Eno River, which stretches 33 miles through Orange and Durham Counties. You can canoe, camp, hike, picnic, fish, discover flora and fauna as well as historic structures and animal life, and more.

I entered the park at 6101 Cole Mill Road. Take the Buckquarter Creek Trail (1.5 mile loop) on the left side of the building. Once at the Eno River’s edge (just a short hike), you can head left to a calm swimming hole and trek down the river. Or you can head right, trekking down the other end of the river and experience the wooden staircase that overlooks the short rapids. This trail also connects to the Holden Mill Loop and Ridge Trail.

Hillsborough, NC

Originally inhabited by the Occaneechi Native American Indian tribe, the town of Hillsborough was established in 1754 as the seat of Orange County. In fact, the Great Indian Trading Path crossed the nearby Eno River more than 250 years ago. The area now know as Hillsborough was first owned, surveyed, and mapped by William Churton (a surveyor for Earl Granville). Originally to be named Orange, it was named Corbin Town (for Francis Corbin, a member of the governor’s council and one of Granville’s land agents), and renamed Childsburgh (in honor of Thomas Child, the attorney general for North Carolina from 1751 to 1760 and another one of Granville’s land agents) in 1759. In 1766, it was named Hillsborough, after Wills Hill, then the Earl of Hillsborough, the British secretary of state for the colonies, and a relative of royal Governor William Tryon.

Hillsborough served as a military base by British General Charles Cornwallis in late February 1781. The United States Constitution drafted in 1787 was controversial in North Carolina. Delegate meetings at Hillsboro in July 1788 initially voted to reject it for antifederalist reasons. They were persuaded to change their minds partly by the strenuous efforts of James Iredell and William Davie and partly by the prospect of a Bill of Rights. The Constitution was later ratified by North Carolina at a convention in Fayetteville.

William Hooper, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery in October 1790. However, his remains were later reinterred at Guilford Courthouse Military Battlefield. His original gravestone remains in the town cemetery.

Hillsborough was the scene of some pre-Revolutionary War tensions. In the late 1760s, tensions between Piedmont farmers and county officers welled up in the Regulator movement, or as it was also known, the War of the Regulation, which had its epicenter in Hillsborough. Majority, working-class North Carolinians, including farmers (95% of the population), were dissatisfied with the wealthy North Carolina officials (5% of the population), who regularly cheated them our of their hard-earned money by doubling taxes, intentionally removing tax collection records, seizing property, or even kept collected taxes for personal gain–and maintained nearly total governmental control.

Governor William Tryon’s conspicuous consumption in the construction of a new governor’s mansion at New Bern fueled more resentment. Frustrated farmers took arms and closed the court in Hillsborough, dragged those they saw as corrupt officials through the streets and cracked the church bell. Tryon sent troops from his militia to the region, and defeated the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance in May 1771. Several trials were held after the war, resulting in the hanging of six Regulators at Hillsborough on June 19, 1771.

Hillsborough also served briefly as the state capital when the then-capital of New Bern was held by the British.

Downtown Hillsborough of today has managed to maintain much of its 18th-century charm, with more than 100 historic structures, the clock tower, and the courthouse still standing. That being said, you’ll also find Hillsborough’s downtown filled with many quaint shops, art galleries, breweries, and restaurants — generally clustered along North and South Churton Streets, North and South Cameron Streets, East and West Tryon Streets, East and West King Streets, and East and West Margaret Lanes.

River Walk and Occoneechee Speedway Trail

On your way into Hillsborough, you may want to stop first at River Park and the River Walk, which features a replica Historic Occoneechee village. And at the end of that trail, cross Cameron Street to discover the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, an old dirt track now converted into a wooded oval trail, featuring the old flag stand and a few antique race cars on the front stretch. And before you hit the old speedway trail, you’ll pass by the old ticket booth and grandstands as well.

Occoneechee Speedway was one of the first two NASCAR tracks to open, and is the only track remaining from that inaugural 1949 season. Bill France and the early founders of NASCAR bought land to build a one-mile oval track at Hillsborough, but opposition from local religious leaders prevented the track from being built in the town and NASCAR officials instead built the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama.

Ayr Mount

Ayr Mount (376 St. Marys Rd.) is a Federal-era plantation house, located off of the Old Indian Trading Path, built in 1815 (post War of 1812) in Hillsborough, North Carolina by William Kirkland, born in Ayr, Scotland. Ayr Mount, the first major residence in the area built of brick, and its grand interior has been restored to its original splendor (though it was still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic). Visitors on guided tours will find 14-foot ceilings, which are unusual for the period, along with ornate woodwork and plasterwork, as well as the grounds and Poet’s Walk.

Burwell School Historic Site

The Burwell School Historic Site (319 N. Churton St.) preserves the setting for one of the state’s earliest schools for girls, The Burwell Academy for Young Ladies. Today, the site’s two-acre property encompasses the Burwell residence (ca. 1821, 1848), the original brick classroom building of Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell’s school (ca.1837–1857), a rare brick “necessary house” (ca. 1837), and formal gardens.

From 1835–1841 the Burwell household was also home to Elizabeth Hobbs, a Burwell family slave sent from Virginia with Robert and Anna Burwell to work for them in Hillsborough. Elizabeth was a talented seamstress, who later married, bought her freedom,  and became a successful businesswoman and the confidante and seamstress of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

Another interesting tidbit I discovered on tour… one of famed singer and musician James Taylor’s great-great or great-great-great aunts attended the school. More on JT in the Chapel Hill Blog coming soon.

Orange County Historical Museum

Located on the site of the 1788 Constitutional Convention, you can explore Orange County’s history at the Orange County Historical Museum (201 N. Churton St.). The museum features the only complete set of weights and measures in the U.S. Admission is free, and you can peruse through portraits of notable Hillsborough figures, and Colonial, Antebellum, Civil War, and Industrialization-era artifacts–over 2,000 altogether.

Carrboro, NC

Carrboro, originally known as West End, was named after North Carolina industrialist Julian Shakespeare Carr (who actually never lived in Carrboro). Settlement in West End increased after 1898 when Thomas F. Lloyd of Chapel Hill built a steam-powered grist mill near the depot. This would become the Alberta Cotton Mill and, in 1900, the town briefly called itself Lloydville in his honor.

Durham businessman Julian Shakespeare Carr bought the mill and other nearby buildings in 1909, adding them to the chain of mills that became Durham Hosiery Mills. In 1911, West End was incorporated and named Venable in honor of chemistry professor and University of North Carolina president Francis Preston Venable. Two years later, the town was renamed Carrboro after Carr, who provided electric power for the community and expanded the mill.

A 1920s building boom in Carrboro sparked by a fire in the downtown business district ended as Durham Hosiery Mills business declined toward the end of the decade. The Great Depression took an economic toll. Train passenger service ended in 1936. And, in 1938, Durham Hosiery Mills ceased operations.

Robert ‘Bob’ Drakeford, the town’s first and only black mayor who was elected in 1977, recalled when Carrboro was a sundown town, where people of color knew not to be out after dark.

The town is known for its free, two-day Carrboro Music Festival in the fall. Carrboro is also home to the annual West End Poetry Festival, which draws in a great selection of local poets. In November, Carrboro hosts the annual, two-day Carrboro Film Festival to promote local area shorts films that are 20 minutes or less.

The town is located directly beside Chapel Hill. And, in fact, the two towns merely melt into one another. Carrboro was the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay mayor (Mike Nelson in 1995) and the first municipality in the state to grant domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples.

Weaver Street Market

This bustling indoor and outdoor market area is the center of the town’s activities. Weaver Street Market was part of Durham Hosiery Mills. After World War II, Pacific Mills bought mills No. 4 and 7 and operated them as Carrboro Woolen Mills but closed for good in the mid-1960s. The mill remained abandoned for nearly a decade and changed hands several times. In 1975 the owner intended to have it demolished but a community petition and fund-raising effort provided for its restoration as Carr Mill Mall. It has since grown into a bustling hub of activity, hosting many businesses such as Weaver Street Market.

Millennium Fountain

This beautiful fountain is located outside the Arts Center and across from the Weaver Street Market. I haven’t been able to find any information on this fountain, so if you have any insight, please let me know.

Honey Bee Mural

Matthew Willey painted the “Honey Bee Mural” in 2016 on the right-facing side of Fire Station #1 (301 West Main St.) in Carrboro, right beside the Farmer’s Market. It’s part of The Good of the Hive Initiative, his vow to paint 50,000 honey bees across America in order to bring attention to the struggles of the honey bee. In October 2014, Carrboro was declared a Bee City USA.

Elizabeth Cotten Mural

One of the most recent of Scott Nurkin’s murals located on the Carrboro-Chapel Hill line is part of a project that pays tribute to North Carolina Musicians and features large-scale murals in the hometowns of famous North Carolina musicians. Elizabeth Cotten, born in Carrboro, NC, is a legendary folk-blues musician best known for her song “Freight Train” and playing her guitar upside down to accommodate her left-handedness.

Calvander, NC

Right down the street from Won Buddhism Temple (see Chapel Hill blog), you’ll discover a Druid-looking arrangement of rocks and monolithic slabs stands in a grassy field (259 John’s Woods Rd.). You can park on the shoulder of the road to visit the site, which is officially named “Stone Knoll.” But locals call it Hartleyhenge for its builder, the late John Hartley, who also built the Buddhist temple. He trucked in the stones from a quarry in Tennessee and didn’t mind if people climbed on them. Hartley also built subdivisions for a living, and often set aside spaces for labyrinths and other consciousness-expanding rock arrangements. He placed the mysterious Hartleyhenge stones in a spiral, oriented the monoliths on the points of the compass, and bolted bronze plaques to the rocks featuring animal symbols and poems, some written by himself. Hartleyhenge was Hartley’s biggest foray into neolithic rock architecture. He died in 2011, never revealing what it truly meant.

Next edition: Chapel Hill, NC

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Journey with Me through Wilmington, NC

Wilmington is one of the most beautiful cities by the sea (situated between a river and an ocean), boasting a large historic district that encompasses nearly 300 blocks along the Cape Fear River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. A short drive (30 minutes or less) from several local beaches (Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher), the port city’s historic downtown includes a 1.75-mile Riverwalk, ranked as the “Best American Riverfront” by USA Today readers. The city also hosts the North Carolina Azalea Festival each year and features numerous historic landmarks, museums, art galleries, and more.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Wilmington was a majority-black, racially integrated prosperous city, and the largest city in North Carolina. In the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, white supremacists launched a coup that overthrew the legitimately elected local government. They expelled opposition black and white political leaders from the city, destroyed the property and businesses of black citizens built up since the Civil War, including the only black newspaper in the city, and killed an estimated 60 to more than 300 people.

The World War II battleship USS North Carolina is maintained as a war memorial. Moored on the Cape Fear River and easily visible across from the downtown port area, the ship is open to public tours. The city contains many more historical and entertainment attractions.

Wilmington is also the home of EUE/Screen Gems Studios, the largest domestic television and movie production facility outside California. “Dream Stage 10,” the facility’s newest sound stage, is the third largest in the United States. It houses the largest special-effects water tank in North America. After the studio’s opening in 1984, Wilmington became a major center of American film and television production. Numerous movies in a range of genres and several television series have been produced here, including Iron Man 3The ConjuringWe’re the Millers, Fox’s Sleepy HollowOne Tree HillDawson’s Creek, and NBC’s Revolution.

Due to Wilmington’s commercial importance as a major port, it had a critical role in opposition to the British in the years leading up to the Revolution. When the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act the following year, designed to raise revenue for the Crown with a kind of tax on shipping, Wilmington was the site of an elaborate demonstration against it. On October 19, 1765, several hundred townspeople gathered in protest of the new law, burned an effigy of one town resident who favored the act, and toasted to “Liberty, Property, and No Stamp Duty.”

In the 1830s, citizens of Wilmington became eager to take advantage of railroad transportation. Plans were developed to build a railroad line from the capital, Raleigh, to Wilmington. The Wilmington Gas Light Company was established in 1854. Soon after, street lights were powered by gas made from lightwood and rosin, replacing the old street oil lamps. During the Civil War, the port was the major base for Confederate and privately owned blockade runners, which delivered badly needed supplies from England. The Union mounted a blockade to reduce the goods received by the South. The city was captured by Union forces in the Battle of Wilmington in February 1865, approximately one month after the fall of Fort Fisher had closed the port. As nearly all the military action took place some distance from the city, numerous antebellum houses and other buildings survived the war years.

During World War II, Wilmington was the home of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company. The shipyard was created as part of the U.S. government’s Emergency Shipbuilding Program. Workers built 243 ships in Wilmington during the five years the company operated.

Three prisoner-of-war (POW) camps operated in the city from February 1944 through April 1946. At their peak, the camps held 550 German prisoners. The first camp was located on the corner of Shipyard Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road; it was moved downtown to Ann Street, between 8th and 10th avenues, when it outgrew the original location. A smaller contingent of prisoners was assigned to a third site, working in the officers’ mess and doing grounds keeping at Bluethenthal Army Air Base, which is now Wilmington International Airport.

River Walk

You can’t visit Wilmington without experiencing River Walk, stretching from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to the Isabel Holmes Bridge. Constructed with brick-lined streets, cobblestones, gooseneck lighting, granite, open railings, timber and brick structures, and benches along the Cape Fear River, stop in a variety of local, eclectic shops along Market and Front Streets and on many of the area side streets as well. Take a horse-drawn trolley ride or a short river cruise on a Cape Fear Riverboat or other Wilmington water tours while you’re there. Peer at the USS North Carolina across the river, shop to your heart’s content (including at The Cotton Exchange, transformed in the 1970s to accommodate 30+ locally owned shops and restaurants), visit several local museums and historic homes, take a walking tour or haunted ghost walk, and eat at numerous trendy restaurants and cafes. The area also hosts numerous festivals and events year-round.

Museum of the Bizarre

Tucked away toward one end of the River Walk shops, you’ll stumble upon the Museum of the Bizarre (201 S. Water St.). It only costs a few dollars to enter–and no photos allowed–but you’re sure to experience something offbeat, unusual, or even creepy while you’re here. You just have to experience it for yourself. You can even lie inside a coffin for a few minutes… or seconds.

Airlee Gardens

Tucked away on a street that meanders Wilmington’s jagged coastline near Wrightsville Beach, you’ll find the expansive 67-acre Airlee Gardens (300 Airlee Rd.). This exquisitely maintained public gardens has attracted people since its inception in 1901 for public parties, weddings, and entertainment as well as an afternoon stroll on the grounds.

Just two miles west of Wrightsville Beach, Airlee Gardens features walking paths, a freshwater lake, and formal gardens that showcase seasonal blooms, towering live oaks, historic structures, and contemporary sculpture. You may find a bit of wildlife, birdlife, and butterflies as you peruse the landscape. Check their schedule for their summer concert series, annual art exhibit, low country oyster roast, and Christmas light displays. Other site features include a bottle chapel, mystery grave, Bradley Creek pier, pergola garden, and more. On-site, formal photography is permitted with reservations and hourly rates. The gardens are operated as a nonprofit, and membership is available. Be sure to stop by the gift shop for a memento from your visit here!

Cameron Art Museum

Peruse through rotating exhibits of acclaimed local, national, and international artists at the Cameron Art Museum, established in 1962 (3201 S. 17th St.). Take a walk through on your own or a guided tour for a more in-depth experience. Plus, catch events happening both indoors and outdoors throughout the year–or rent the facility for your own event. Hungry while you’re there? Stay for a bite at their delightful CAM cafe, with art-inspired dining right beside the gift shop at the museum entrance.

Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Garden

Just around the corner from the Cameron Art Museum, you’ll find another hidden NC Gem: the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Garden (3800 Canterbury Rd.). Slip into the small parking lot and take a short hike down the trail that empties into an observation deck and a myriad of trails for an up-close view of the area’s indigenous carnivorous plants, including pitcher plants and Venus fly traps. In fact, did you know this fun bit of trivia… the Venus fly trap is indigenous ONLY to the Wilmington and surrounding areas–and nowhere else in the world It’s true!

USS North Carolina Battleship and Museum

You can’t miss this big beauty, which has been part of Wilmington’s character for decades. The USS North Carolina (1 Battleship Rd. NE) is the most decorated battleship after taking part in every major naval offensive. The ship was actually torpedoed in September 1942, causing a 32 x 18 foot torpedo hole. The water caused the ship to list. The crew quickly righted the ship by intentionally flooding compartments on the opposite side. Five men were killed and 23 were wounded. The battleship has since been authentically restored, serves as a memorial for the 11,000 North Carolinians who gave their lives in World War II, and is open for tours. Step back in time and let history come alive through the crews’ stories. You can explore all nine levels of this battleship, including the barracks, mess hall, and other areas plus an on-site gift shop.

Wilmington Railroad Museum

Stop in the Wilmington Railroad Museum (505 Nutt St.) for lots of kid and family fun all related to Wilmington’s rail history. Take your picture beside a scale-model rail car and full-size steam engine, and marvel at the huge room filled with model trains running the tracks. And their red caboose is available for party rentals.

A 3-Pack of Historic Homes: Bellamy Mansion, Latimer House, and Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens

Located at opposite ends of adjacent city blocks on South Third Street, you can enjoy back-to-back (on the hour tours) of the Latimer House and Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens. The tours are approximately 45 minutes, and designed so that you can visit one house and go straight to the next, though you may want to plan your gift shop stop before one of the tours or head back after your second tour. Be sure to ask for the Triple Ticket at your first stop for a discounted rate to tour all three homes. (It’s not required that you tour all three in one day.)

Latimer House

The Latimer house (126 S. Third St.) is a fully furnished 1852 Italian mansion. Three generations of the upper-class Latimer family lived here along with both free and enslaved help. Meander through the 11 rooms and more than 600 period objects and ornate furnishings on a guided tour (on the hour). The historic home also hosts events and houses an archive, library, and gift shop. Plus, they host the Annual Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour.

Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens

Just a few minutes away on foot is the deceptive property in the middle of downtown. Aside from the historic residence of Georgian architecture at 224 Market St. (built in 1770-1771), you’ll discover 2/3 acre of luxurious, manicured gardens that dwarf the home’s footprint. It is the only structure in Wilmington from the colonial era open to the public. Walk the brick footpaths and spy unique plant, shrub, and tree specimens sprinkled throughout. Inside, discover another Wilmington treasure and take a guided tour on the property’s many levels, which include the lower level which was once the city’s first jail, built in 1744. The House also hosts a myriad of events, including weddings, Fourth Friday, Paint-Out, and an annual Christmas Stroll.

Bellamy Mansion

Surrounded by majestic magnolias, the Bellamy Mansion (503 Market Street) was built between 1859 and 1861, and is located just a few blocks away from the Latimer and Burgwin-Wright Houses–and just down the street from River Walk. Take a guided (on the hour) or self-guided tour through the grand entrance, airy parlors under the glow of brass gasoliers, and one of the few remaining urban slave quarters in the U.S. that is open to the public. They also host numerous art and musical events and fundraisers throughout the year. Don’t forget to stop in the museum store before you leave.

New Hanover County Extension Service Arboretum

Not far from UNC-Wilmington, enjoy a walk through the seven acres of beautiful gardens, statuary, and treasures at the North Hanover County Arboretum (6206 Oleander Dr.). These gardens opened in 1989 after a fire destroyed the Bradley Creek School on the site in 1982. In February 1984, New Hanover County commissioners appropriated $200,000 to turn the school’s site into the gardens you see today. The arboretum is open daily (8am-5pm) free of charge.

Tregembo Animal Park

On your way toward Pleasure Island (Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher) you’ll encounter the Tregembo Animal Park (5811 Carolina Beach Rd.), in operation since 1952. You can’t miss it for the entrance through a lion’s giant jaws that invite you to encounter more than 100 animal species. It is also Southern NC’s oldest zoo. This wild animal park of rescued animals is larger than you think–and houses a lion, tiger, giraffe, zebras and zedonks (which this travel blogger had never seen before!), ringtail lemurs (think Madagascar), numerous monkey species, and more. For a few extra dollars, you can purchase some feed and interact a little more with the animals during your visit.

Next edition… Orange County!

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Journey through Moore County

Moore County, named after Alfred Moore (an officer in the American Revolutionary War and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States), is home of Southern Pines and part of the Sandhills region of North Carolina, and a border county between the Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This area is packed with pine tree forests on just about every road you travel. And still hours from the beach, the soil has a high sand content; hence the name. In the days of early settlement, North Carolina’s greatest trade commodity was the longleaf pine, which provided pine wood, pitch, and tar. This is why NC is nicknamed the Tarheel State.

Indigenous peoples occupied this area, with varying cultures over thousands of years. In the historic period that included European encounter, tribes included Algonquian speakers in the coastal area, with Siouan-speaking tribes in the border and Piedmont, and the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee in the western mountains. This area was eventually settled by Highland Scots and descendants, who had migrated through the backcountry of Pennsylvania and Virginia. The county was formed in 1785, shortly after the American Revolutionary War, from part of Cumberland County. In 1907, parts of Moore and Chatham counties were combined to form Lee County.

Throughout the southern section of Moore County, you’ll find numerous golf courses and resorts in the Southern Pines/Pinehurst area as well as throughout Whispering Pines and Seven Lakes areas. The region hosted the 1996, 2001, 2007, and 2014 Women’s U.S. Opens as well as the 1999, 2005, and 2014 Men’s U.S. Opens. 2014 was the first time in U.S. Open history that a single region consecutively hosted both the Women’s and Men’s Opens in the same year.

Celebrities who frequent or have private homes in the area include athletes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Jack Nicklaus, and British actor Sean Connery. Past residents of the area have included Annie Oakley, Harvey Firestone, General George C. Marshall, and John D. Rockefeller.

High Falls, NC

Starting in the northwest corner of the county, you’ll find the town of High Falls, originally known as The Great Falls or The Big Falls in homage to a 15-foot waterfall in the Deep River at the site. In 1780, William England established a grist mill at the location. In 1904, Thomas Woody built a spinning mill, a cotton mill, and a grist mill, incorporating them as the High Falls Manufacturing Company. In the late 19th century, a small, single-room school was built for the community, which was later replaced by a larger structure. Later in the 19th century, the High Falls Dam on the Deep River was also constructed and modified in the 1920s to generate hydroelectricity for Hydrodyne Industries. Here you’ll find the darling High Falls Post Office (1368 NC-22).

Glendon, NC

Just a short drive from High Falls, you’ll find Glendon, originally known as Fair Haven. Residents of the community changed its name to Glendon in honor of the Glenn family, which owned a significant amount of land in the area. Since the 2015, the community has hosted a biannual music festival called Glendonfest, held twice yearly and gathering of musicians and music lovers at a rural and rustic 21-acre farm deep in the heart of Moore County. Hosted on a historical property once owned by a multi-generational family of country doctors, the grounds contain a fully preserved doctor’s office (built circa 1820 and filled with trinkets and tools), a beautiful landscape, a charming farmhouse, a remodeled horse barn, and a fishing pond.

House in the Horseshoe

In Glendon, you can also visit House in the Horseshoe (324 Alston House Rd.), named for the nearby horseshoe bend in the river which surrounds the 400+ acres of now mostly farmland and woodland. The closest point in the river is about 3/4 mile away. The house was built in 1772 as part of a cotton farm and still bears the scars and bullet holes from a July 29, 1781 four-hour Revolutionary War militia skirmish on the property at dawn, in which Mrs. Alston surrendered the house. It was said that she hid under the bed with her six-month old while she placed a bench or small table for the other children to stand on inside the chimney as protection from the bullets. Three musket holes are evident over the bed still today. The house is open for free tours Tuesdays-Fridays, though a donation is appreciated. Enjoy period furnishings as well as the property surrounded by fields of winter wheat and corn, depending on the season.

Cameron, NC

The one-square mile town of Cameron was incorporated in 1876, and was located at the end of the Raleigh-August Railroad, making it the perfect place for entrepreneurs to establish a business. The Town of Cameron was once known as the “Dewberry Capital of the World” because of the large-scale cultivation of dewberries in this farming community. Today Cameron is the antiques capital of the Sandhills with a variety of antique stores along the main road through town, Carthage Street.  The antiques experience here has been featured in Southern Living magazine and voted “Best Antique Shopping” by the readers of Our State magazine.

If you love antiquing, National Register historic Cameron is a must-stop. Discover The Old Hardware Antiques, the Antique Shops of Cameron (consisting of 6 antique shops) just down the street filled with country furniture and vintage accessories and treasures. Amble through the wood and brick cobble floors of The Old Hardware Antiques, then follow the smell of breakfast cooking all the way downstairs in the local eatery. The area holds an Antique Street Fair the first Friday and Saturday in May and October each year, attracting antique dealers and lovers alike.

Oh, and just around the corner be sure to stop for a gaze at the local water tower (247 Carter St.).

Aloha Safari Zoo

The Aloha Safari Zoo in Cameron is a family-run zoo featuring a wide array of animals, most of which have been rescued. The zoo’s mission is to create a loving home for unwanted, mistreated, and injured animals. One of their animals’ favorite enrichment activities is painting – using non-toxic, water-based tempera paint, of course. You can see and feed Titus the giraffe and animals such as bison, zebra, ostriches, antelope, donkeys, llamas, water buffalo, camels — and even some animals you’ve never heard of!

Vass, NC

Originally named Bynum and later Winder, the town of Vass was established in 1892 and incorporated in 1907, honoring Major William Worrell Vass, who was at that time paymaster for the Seaboard Railroad. Vass originated as a stop on the Seaboard Railway as a station called Bynum.

Restored Merchantile Building in Vass

Located on Main Street in Vass, this 1900s-era building was expanded several times and housed many businesses through the decades, with 7,000 square feet of street-level retail area and 4,000 square feet of apartment space on the second floor.  Enchanted with the building’s history, Beth Dent and husband Daniel jumped at the chance to purchase the property.

More than a renovation, the Dents wanted to honor the building’s historical character. Punched tin was installed over new fire safety ceilings, and exposed brick was left in place, where possible. The centerpiece of their project is Main Street Commons, a 2,600-square-foot social venue space for weddings, rehearsals, and other special events. Built in the former mercantile, the room is rustic and elegant, with Victorian chandeliers alongside industrial accents and reclaimed wood furniture.  The main room has an area for a DJ or live band, with a seated dinner capacity for 120 people.

The space has now attracted several local, eclectic businesses: Buggy Town Coffee, Main Street Sweets, ARTWorks Vass, Make It Happy. Visit ARTWorks Vass to shop the art of numerous local and other NC artists. You may even be able to spy on one of their artists working in the studio in back.

Balloons Over America – Hot Air Balloon Rides

If you want an adventure of a different kind, stop in at Balloons Over America for a hot air balloon ride or a tethered balloon ride. They get booked pretty quickly on the weekends, so book your ride well in advance.

Dunrovin Country Store

Just down the road in Vass, you’ll find a country store like none other. Enter through the side and peruse through room after room after room of local country goods, seasonal decor, outdoor decor, treats, and even shoes–and more. The store seems to go on and on forever. But after you exit the store, you’re not done yet. Meander to the backside of the building and you’ll find yourself in an entirely different world. Are you at a country store? A zoo? What is this place? I don’t want to say too much here. You just have to go and see it for yourself. Suffice it to say, that as of our visit, they had at least 172 various rescue birds and a myriad of other animals to discover.

Southern Pines, NC

Founded as a winter health resort for Northerners, Southern Pines is now a large golfing community with a quaint downtown shopping district. The town owes much of its prosperity to the activities of the Boyd family, who resided in the town since the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the younger James Boyd began his life in Southern Pines by building what would become known as the Weymouth House. In his new home, James wrote his first and most well-known novel, Drums (1925). During his time there, the Weymouth House became a social center for other great writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Paul Green, beginning a literary tradition in Southern Pines that remains a core aspect of the town’s heritage today.

Spend the day or spend a few hours perusing through unique array of boutique shops, bookstores, coffee shops, and more–including the flagship location of R.Riverter (as seen on CNBC’s Shark Tank). Be sure to stop in the Christian Bookstore to see the Taxidermy Museum in back.

Among the areas historic homes are The James Boyd House and Shaw House. You’ll even find a home built by P.T. Barnum himself at 285 N. Bethesda Road, though it is very much a private residence now. Other areas of interest include The Campbell House, Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, and the downtown train station.

Weymouth Woods

The Weymouth Center is also the gateway to the Boyd Round Timber Tract and its extensive trails which are located just beyond the house and gardens. The trails are part of the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve. Of note, in the Boyd Tract (off of E. Connecticut Ave.) of land in Weymouth Woods, which has largely never been timbered, you will find the oldest living longleaf pine in NC, at 473 years old, which dates back to 1548! Hike just a bit further and you will see the states largest longleaf pine tree as well. All said, it is about a 1-mile circular hike to see both trees. (Note: The trees are not marked, so you may want to stop in at the visitor center [N. Fort Bragg Rd.] to get specific directions to find both trees.)

West End, NC

West End was once prosperous when Stanley Furniture employed hundreds in the area. By the mid-2000s, it had left the area, leaving a big real estate hole. In West End, you can stop in the Sand Hills Winery (1057 Seven Lakes Dr.) and the Log Cabin Country Store (4993 NC 211 Hwy) for plants, produce, and garden statuary.

Taylortown, NC

Not much to tell here, but stop in at Scrollicious (211 Central Park Ave. Suite G) for some scrolled ice cream. It’s an amazing and labor-intensive process to watch. Each person’s ice cream is made individually, on the spot, and from scratch.

Pinehurst, NC

Pinehurst is the home of the historic golf resort, Pinehurst Resort, and was originally established with the vision of building a “health resort for people of modest means.” It was also named one of the 2020 Safest Cities in NC.

While in Pinehurst, stop by the Native Pollinator Gardens and the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens (3395 Airport Road…free)–absolutely beautiful. Plan on spending at least an hour here as you stroll through the paved paths that travel deeper and deeper into the property. Discover English gardens, a desert garden, various flowering plants and trees, and bronze sculptures throughout the gardens.

Carthage, NC

Carthage was the home of the Tyson & Jones Buggy Company, a predominant cart and buggy manufacturer in the late 1800s. The town has an annual event in spring called the Buggy Festival, usually the second Saturday in May. This event is used to showcase the history of the town and feature music, hot rods, old tractors, old buggies made by the Tyson Buggy Company, and crafts from potteries in the surrounding areas. This event is held in the town square around the Old Court House, recognized as an historic landmark.

In the downtown area, you’ll find several wall murals commemorating the history of the city, including the Tyson and Hones Buggy Company and James Rogers McConnell . I’m including this part because it is interesting history for the period… Tyson & Jones buggy factory partner, William T. Jones was born the son of a slave and her white owner in 1833. By the time of his death in 1910, William T. Jones was one of the prominent business owners in Carthage. He rubbed elbows with the elite, white, upper class in Moore County during the 1880s, dined with them, threw elaborate holiday parties where most of the guests were white, and even attended church with them. Both of his wives, Sophia Isabella McLean and Florence Dockery were white. Dockery was the daughter of a well-to-do Apex family.

James Rogers McConnell, a resident of Carthage (14 March 1887 – 19 March 1917) flew as an aviator during World War I in the Lafayette Escadrille and authored Flying for France. He was the first of sixty-four University of Virginia students to die in battle during that War. McConnell was flying in the area of St. Quentin when two German planes shot him down on March 19, 1917. He was the last American pilot of the squadron to die under French colors before America entered the war in April 1917. Both the plane and his body were found by the French, and he was buried at the site of his death at the edge of the village of Jussy, and was later reinterred at the Lafayette Escadrille memorial near Paris upon his father’s wishes. McConnell was commemorated with a plaque by the French Government and a statue by Gutzon Borglum at the University of Virginia, as well as an obelisk on the court square of his home town of Carthage.

Black Rock Vineyards
While in Carthage, stop by Black Rock Vineyards (6652 US Highway 15-501). Watch closely, as it is up on a hill beside the road and comes up fast.

Robbins, NC

Misty Morning Ranch
Before leaving the county, you’ll want to hit this one last stop… Misty Morning Ranch ostrich farm (2812 Plank Rd.), a 60-acre, family-owned operation in Robbins. The Ostrich meat produced on the ranch is a red meat that is low in fat and can be used in any traditional red meat recipes to produce great tasting dishes. Even though Ostrich meat tastes like beef, the Ostrich does not have fat marbling in the meat like beef. The ranch also produces Ostrich leather goods like wallets and belts, along with cosmetics and raw pet food.

Next stop… Orange County!

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Journey through New Hanover County

If you love coastal communities, New Hanover County has the idyllic combination of seaside village beaches plus the city perks of nearby Wilmington–all rolled into the second-smallest county in North Carolina (by land area, behind only Chowan County).  New Hanover County totals 328 square mmiles, of which 191.37 square miles of land area and 136.67 square miles of water area, which consists of inlets, intracoastal waterways, marshes, and the Cape Fear River and its tributaries. You can’t go far without a view of the water.

Named for the House of Hanover, a German royal family that ruled Great Britain at the time, New Hanover County was created in 1729 as New Hanover Precinct of Bath County and became a county in 1739. Eventually parts of New Hannover County were broken off into other counties: Duplin, Onslow, Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender. The county was originally developed as plantations, mostly to cultivate tobacco and other crops by enslaved African-Americans. And by 1860, the majority population was black.

New Hanover County played a tremendous role in Civil War battles, including the second battle of Fort Fisher (the last coastal stronghold of the Confederacy) and the Battle of Wilmington. New Hanover County’s history also holds the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 (planned by a group of 9 conspirators), in which a duly elected bi-racial government was overthrown. Mobs then rioted and attacked the city’s black neighborhoods and businesses. Altogether between 60 to 300 African-Americans were estimated to have been killed.

The most notable people hailing from this New Hanover County are basketball players Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards) and Meadowlark Lemon of the entertaining Harlem Globetrotters.

Castle Hayne, NC

Castle Hayne takes its name from the large house of Captain Roger Haynes, which was located in the area. Naval stores and lumber were the greatest source of revenue in this region. In fact, North Carolina’s greatest commodity was the longleaf pine, which provided pine, tar, and pitch for trade and sale. Hence, NC became the Tarheel State. During the Revolutionary War, the British maintained a garrison at Fort Johnson near Wilmington. After crippling losses at Guilford Courthouse (in Guilford County), British troops withdrew back to Fort Johnson and abandoned plans to occupy the state.

The General Store at River Bluffs

I loved happening upon this little treasured stop in Castle Hayne. You’ll find The General Store at River Bluffs nestled in the quiet River Bluffs community, but they do allow outsiders to stop in for a treat and a rest. You’ll find baked goods, locally sourced produce, locally roasted coffee, NC gourmet items, ice cream, candy, beer, wine, and more. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone or a bacon-topped donut while you’re there!

South and east of Castle Hayne, you’ll find a number of small towns: Skippers Corner, Wrightsboro, Hightsville, Ogden, Kings Grant, Murrayville, Kirkland (also known as Porters Neck), and Bayshore.

Figure Eight Island guard shack

Figure Eight Island

I hate to disappoint you, but this entire island is an affluent, private, gated community. And you can’t cross the bridge unless you are a resident, have been invited or have rented a home on the island. Figure Eight Island is a barrier island just north of Wrightsville Beach. The island itself is 100% residential (about 475 homes) with nary a business. About 90% are second homes and fewer than 100 are rentals. Here’s a little synopsis of this island’s interesting history:

Figure Eight Island was originally part of a royal tract of land given to James Moore in 1762, then passed to Cornelius Harnett (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) in 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution. Harnett held the property for 20 years before selling it at auction to the Foy family, who owned it for the next approximately 160 years.

After Hurricane Hazel in 1954, brothers, Dan (mayor of Wilmington) and Bruce Cameron purchased the island from the Hutaff and Foy families for just $100,000 to create a private vacation destination. The island remained dormant for about 10 years. Then a $150,000 bridge was built on top of a government surplus landing ship tank, which was eventually replaced with today’s $1.5 million bridge in 1980 (actually second-hand from Port Royal, Virginia).

The island garnered attention in the 1980s and 1990s, when celebrities flocked to the destination for private vacations. The island has hosted the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Debra Winger, Nick Nolte, Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin, Al and Tipper Gore, and many more. The first lots on the island sold for as little as $5,000. Today, the average home on the island fetches $2 million.

Another interesting historical fact: In August 1974, a smuggling ring of 15 people on the island (operated by an attorney who had rented two homes on the island) was indicted for smuggling 14,000 pounds of marijuana from Columbia to Figure Eight Island.

Johnnie Mercers Pier, Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach

Incorporated in 1899, Wrightsville Beach was named for local realtor Joshua G. Wright and the Wright family of Wilmington. Here, you’ll find the Carolina Yacht club, the second oldest in America, founded by seven local men. Among the deep history of this area were the areas original streetcars and the Lumina Pavilion (no longer standing) that attracted the well-to-do from far inland points of North Carolina and beyond for food, dancing, socializing, games, and entertainment, including the Big Bands of the 1930s and 1940s. It was said that the 6,000 exterior lights on the Lumina Pavilion were so bright that ships at sea would use it as a guidepost. In 1913, they added a movie screen in the surf for silent films. After its heyday, the building later became a skating alley and a bar before it closed in 1972, then condemned and torn down in 1973.

In 1937, North Carolina’s third pier was built here and named the Ocean View Pier. Two years later, Johnnie Mercer bought the pier and it was renamed for him as Johnnie Mercer’s Pier. Battered by numerous hurricanes throughout the decades, it was deemed beyond repair and closed from 1996-2002, when it reopened as the bridge we know today with reinforced concrete piers. A second pier was built in 1938 named the Mira Mar Fishing Pier, constructed on top a Confederate blockade runner that ran aground during the Civil War, creating a natural reef. Today, it houses the beach’s most famous restaurant, The Oceanic.

Hurricanes have ravaged the island over the years causing extensive damage, wiping some cottages off the beach, and destroying the Carolina Yacht Club in 1899 when it had to be completely rebuilt.

At Wrightsville Beach, you can enjoy a day at the beach and seaside shopping. Stay at a rental cottage or at the popular Blockade Runner Resort. Inland, you’ll find delightful shopping at the Lumina Pavilion, water views Wrightsville Beach Park, and a little coastal education at the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History (See the circa 1910 scale model of Wrightsville Beach.) and the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center. Both have limited weekday hours.

Pleasure Island

Pleasure Island is comprised of three island communities: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher.

Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach

On the way to Carolina Beach, you’ll drive through coastal communities of Silver Lake, Myrtle Grove, Monkey Junction, and Sea Breeze. Carolina Beach may best be described as the perfect combination of seaside living plus entertainment and recreation, with only two smaller-scale, high-rise hotels on the island. The town was virtually wiped off the map by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, which destroyed 362 buildings.

Carolina Beach’s Boardwalk is central to the daytime and nighttime activity. Walk around the local shops, enjoy nightly seasonal entertainment, carnival rides and games by day and night, and fireworks on Thursday nights in the summer. Be sure to stop by for some famous Britt’s Donuts and milk. (Don’t get spooked by the line. It moves very quickly–and the donuts are soooo worth it.) On Saturday mornings, you’ll find a local artisan and produce market set up at Carolina Beach Lake on Lake Park Blvd.

Some other local spots to hit include Havana’s Restaurant, Deck House, The Nikki’s Gourmet Sushi, Kate’s Pancake House, The Fork ‘n Cork–Carolina Beach (The Wilmington location was featured in Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.), Soul Flavor, Michelangelo’s Pizza, Wake ‘n Bake (gourmet donuts), and many other island favorites. You’ll also want to stop at the Veggie Wagon for fresh produce, natural foods, North Carolina gourmet items, and more. The Celtic Creamery is an ice cream hot spot on the island, which also includes a gift shop.

The low-lying north end of the island is sandwiched tightly between the ocean and the intracoastal. Here you’ll find a few popular island restaurants such as the SeaWitch Cafe & Tiki Bar and Stoked as well as Hamilton Park, a drive-on beach.

While at Carolina Beach, you can take surf lessons with Tony Silvagni’s Surf School (legendary, North American champion and top world-ranked longboard surfer) as well as learn to or rent a paddleboard, kayak out to Shark’s Tooth Island (shark teeth aplenty to be found here… bring a baggie to collect them) and Zeke’s Island. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas and fat tire bikes to ride around the island. Just over Snow’s Cut bridge, you’ll find North End Jet Ski Rental to jet ski on the Intracoastal waterway/Snow’s Cut.

While here, take some time to hike through Carolina Beach State Park, where you will find trails (including Flytrap Trail with native Venus fly traps), camping, and a boat dock at the water’s end of the park. You can also walk, run or bike the new Carolina Beach Greenway.

Kure Beach

Kure Beach

Past Carolina Beach, you’ll drive through quieter Kure Beach, named for a family of settlers, with lots of nestled communities and a small handful of businesses and restaurants. Drive past Rainbow Row, a row of colorful seaside 3-story rentals. Kure Beach has a pier as well as a weekend (just Saturdays?) crafter’s fair at the Ocean Front Park & Pavilion. Built in 1923, the Kure Beach Fishing Pier is one of the oldest on the Atlantic Coast. It’s been rebuilt and restored several times due to storms and wear and tear.

Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher

Just a little further down the road, you will hit Fort Fisher, noted for it’s majestic live oaks, seaside brush, rocky knolls at Fort Fisher State Park (less-trafficked beaches), Fort Fisher Aquarium, and Fort Fisher Historic State Sight. No restaurants or shops down at this end. Fort Fisher was a Confederate fort during the American Civil War that protected the vital trading routes of the port of Wilmington from 1861 until its capture by the Union in 1865. The fort is located on one of Cape Fear River’s two outlets to the Atlantic Ocean on what was then known as Federal Point or Confederate Point and today is known as Pleasure Island. The battle of Fort Fisher was the most decisive battle of the Civil War fought in North Carolina.

Ride all the way to the island to see an outlook toward Zeke’s Island, a former Civil War battery and now a great place to kayak. From Fort Fisher, you can also take the Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry to Southport, NC, in Brunswick County. It’s a delightful and quick 30-minute ferry ride where you may spot a pod of dolphins along the way. Once moving, you can exit your car and walk about the boat or pass the time in the air-conditioned upstairs cabin. Once in Southport, you can spend the day perusing this quaint area with many local shops and eateries, including Fishy Fishy and Frying Pan Shoals (named for the famous Fryin Pan Shoals tower) that sits about 30 miles offshore with a live camera often viewed to see the effects of Hurricanes coming ashore.

And from Southport, you can take another short (walk-on) ferry ride out to Bald Head Island and do some exploring there.

Look for the city of Wilmington featured in a separate post.

Next county: Moore County!

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Journey through Lincoln County

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.

Ironton/Iron Station

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.

Lincolnton

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

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.

Woodmill Winery

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!

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Journey through Wilson County

Wilson County is the shining epitome of small-town, southern life and days gone by. A leisurely drive throughout the county will spotlight small towns (many are railroad communities) with 1920s- and 1930s-style downtown building facades and water towers. You’ll discover this tucked-away county about halfway between New York and Florida, just east of I-95.

Wilson County and the county seat of Wilson were named for the prominent 19th century Eastern North Carolina legislator, Colonel Louis D. Wilson. It is said that he died of fever while on leave from the State senate during the Mexican–American War of 1848.

Wilson, NC

In the early 21st century, Wilson was ranked as 18th in size among North Carolina’s 500-plus municipalities. From 1990 to 2010, the city population increased by more than 40%, primarily due to construction of new subdivisions that attracted many new residents. This has been accompanied by new retail and shopping construction, primarily in the northwestern parts of the city.

Once a center of tobacco cultivation, the city of Wilson was widely known as “The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market” in the 19th century. In the 21st century, Wilson enjoys a diverse economy based on agriculture, manufacturing, commercial, and service businesses.

The history of the city of Wilson began with a community that formed around Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church, built in the early 1800s. The community was originally called Toisnot. In 1836, the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Co. began building a Wilmington-to-Weldon line. The railway reached the community in 1839, and by 1840 Toisnot had both north and south service, which stimulated community growth at the time.

Of fame from the county is Julius Peppers, nicknamed “The Freak Of Nature,” an American football outside linebacker/defensive end for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League. He was born in Wilson, North Carolina, and raised in nearby Bailey, NC. He played both college football and basketball for the University of North Carolina and was recognized as a football All-American. He has also played professionally for the Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears.

Stroll through the downtown streets and note the historic architecture and building murals.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park — Wilson, NC

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

In Wilson, you can’t help but marvel at the amazing Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park (301 Goldsboro St.), celebrated with the annual Whirligig Festival the first full weekend of November each year. The small city of Wilson boasts the largest collection of whirligigs anywhere in the world. And they can credit the entire collection to the crafty hands of Wilson County native Vollis Simpson (from Lucama). There is ample parking surrounding the park, which is free to peruse–and you may see local crafters exhibiting their works for sale on any given weekend. (Bring cash, as some exhibitors may not have credit card capabilities.)

In addition to the 2-acre Whirligig Park, you’ll also find more of Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs at the Wilson Rose Garden, Wilson Visitors Center, Wilson Botanical Gardens, and throughout several downtown areas as well as museums across the United States and the globe, including Raleigh, Atlanta, Baltimore, New York, and California plus Russia, London, and Canada.

Wilson Botanical Gardens — Wilson, NC

Wilson Botanical Gardens

Travel down the road to the Wilson Botanical Gardens (1806 SW Goldsboro St.). Peruse through the garden’s paths and tunnels year-round to view the changing environment with each season. You’ll find culinary and medicinal herb gardens, tropical and carnivorous plants, and native and heritage plants dotted with children’s play areas, a STEM learning garden, and garden art throughout the property. Admission is free, and feel free to picnic here.

Memberships are welcome, which support the garden’s upkeep and maintenance as well as grant special access to events and plant sales throughout the year plus local nursery discounts.

Freeman Round House — Wilson, NC

Freeman Round House & African-American Museum

Don’t leave Wilson without touring this lovely property (1202 E. Nash Street), an amazing contribution to Wilson’s native architecture. The site was opened as a museum on September 30, 2001. The Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House is a house and museum featuring the artifacts and culture of African-American history in the Wilson area.

The house was built in 1946 by Freeman (born in 1882) using whatever he could get his hands on, including bottles and tree saplings–even string! Born the son of a former slave, he was educated at the Tuskegee Normal School in Alabama before returning to the area to help construct homes for soldiers returning from World War II.

You’ll find stone benches, bronze bear sculptures (Freeman loved his bears.), and even a dinosaur sculpture on the property as well as an on-site museum building with more artifacts and African-American history. Admission is free. Check for hours, as they are listed differently in different publications.

Wilson Rose Garden — Wilson, NC

Wilson Rose Garden

Not far from downtown Wilson, the Wilson Rose Garden (1800 Herring Ave.) offers more than 1,200 rose bushes and more than 100 varieties. New varieties are added each year. Take time to stroll through the gardens and sculptures, including another whirligig, and snap a photo of the nearby Rose Garden water tower. Plan a picnic if you like, or use the space for a wedding or reception. You can purchase an engraved brick to honor someone for a $100 contribution. Admission is free.

Other sites of interest while in Wilson, NC:

City of Wilson Fleming Stadium (seats about 4,000 fans) and NC Baseball Museum (300 Stadium St.)

Imagination Station (224 Nash St. NE, the former Federal Post Office and Courthouse building built in 1927 of limestone veneer on brick in the Beaux Art architectural style)

NC Museum of Coastal Plain (top floor of Imagination Station building)

The Kennedy Theatre at Barton College (800 Vance St. NE)

Boone’s Antiques (2014 US-301)

Parker’s Barbecue (2514 US-301) — Good old-fashioned Southern BBQ and chicken (Dine in or get in the take-out line on the back side. Call-in your order ahead of time for faster pickup.)

Rock Ridge

Boyette Brothers Sweet Potatoes Farm

Stop by this farm for a tour and a few sweet potatoes to bring home (when in season).

Lucama

This small community outside of Wilson was home to Vollis Simpson, creator of the whirligigs in Wilson’s central park. Wilson created and installed all of the whirligigs on his property. The city of Wilson eventually bought the collection from him and created the community display you see today.

By the way, the story of the naming of this community surrounds three women (Lucy, Carrie, and Mary), honored by Josephus Daniels, who named the town in 1883 after the three women, who may have been his romantic interests or simply friends.

Kenly

Tobacco Farm Life Museum — Wilson, NC

Tobacco Farm Life Museum

In this small town bordering Wilson and Johnston Counties, you’ll find the quaint Tobacco Farm Life Museum (709 N. Church St.) complete with a guided tour and time-honored gift shop.

Next tour… Lincoln County!

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Journey Through Person County

It’s Better in Person! At least, that’s the name of the website. And, perhaps, it is better in Person County once you discover the hidden treasures and gems here, including the Person County Quilt Trail that began in 2015 and consists of 29 barn quilts so far.

On the west side of Hyco Lake, you’ll find Person County, which was once a part of four counties. The county was named for Brigadier General Thomas Person, who was a Revolutionary War patriot that made significant contributions to the area. Person county is said to have been inhabited by Native Americans for as many as 12,000 years. (That’s a staggering number.) Settlement began in the mid-17th to 19th centuries by the English, French, Scots, Scots-Irish, German, and more. Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Moore, another Revolutionary War hero, purchased property in the south of the county in 1778 and called his plantation Mt. Tirzah. He had proclaimed the county a “Lost Eden.” During the Civil War, Person County supplied between 800 and 1,000 soldiers to the Confederate Army. A granite monument at the Courthouse in Roxboro honors E. Fletcher Satterfield, who carried the Confederate flag at Gettysburg.

The northern part of the county is mostly rural and full of beautiful scenery and bucolic pastures. Be sure to take a drive through and enjoy. You’ll also discover many of the stops on the Person County Heritage Trail, which was established in 2015 to recognize and commemorate the many farms, churches, homes, businesses, and other structures which date back 100+ years and have played a role in the areas heritage.

Hesters Store is an unincorporated part of the county named for a country story that stood near the intersection of Gordonton Road, Hesters Store Road, and Wilson Road for more than 100 years. The site is now the Hesters Store station of the Hurdle Mills Volunteer Fire Department.

Castle Mont Rouge

We started the day visiting an unusual site, not only for Person County but for North Carolina itself–an actual, bona fide castle! Built by sculptor and local art teacher Robert Mihaly on Red Mountain on the border of Person and Durham counties (not far from the Orange County Speedway), this castle is one man’s lifelong dream. He had built it years ago (construction started in 2005) and even lived in it for a few years, then abandoned it for 14 years. Mihaly is now in the process of restoring the castle, which has suffered from its years of abandonment and vandals. Mihlay plans to turn into a wedding venue as well as a bed and breakfast establishment. He has purchased the lot across from the castle to use for parking.

Be warned, in Mihaly’s own words, the drive up the mountain road is “not for the faint of heart.” In addition, it is private property. So, permission is needed before visiting. I was able to get permission from Mihaly in advance, and I had a great meeting with him while there on the property. Our visit was in February, so I am sure the property looks much different in summer. (P.S. Neighbors are very wary of trespassers and vandals, so I don’t suggest heading there on your own.)

Roxboro

From the castle, it was just a short drive to Roxboro, the county seat and named for the Scottish town of Roxburgh (yet pronounced the same). Interestingly, prior to adopting the name, this community was known as “Moccasin Gap”. Roxboro was incorporated on January 9, 1855 and is the only municipality in the county.

We visited a few small shops downtown at The Shops at Hall’s Way (44 West Gordon St.), then enjoyed an impromptu private tour of The Kirby Civic Auditorium/Gallery. The Kirby Cultural Arts Complex (213 North Main St.) houses a classic theater/performing arts center, two art galleries with changing exhibits, studios, and event spaces.

In Uptown Roxboro, you will also find shops, restaurants, a quaint and historic downtown with beautiful architecture (yes, look up), and the Person County Museum of History (309 North Main St.), featuring six buildings. There you will find historic artifacts surrounding the railroad’s introduction, baseball, dolls, china, Native Americans, and the local military history. The museum was scheduled to be open on the day of our visit, but was closed for an unknown reason. So, we were only able to walk around outside and peek in the windows. I will try to stop by another time when passing through. Admission is free, and donations are accepted.

Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm

Just outside or Roxboro proper, you’ll discover Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm (465 Yarbrough Rd., Roxboro) among the rolling hills. The working farm is run by Jake and Sandy Pleasant, and they are as nice as their name. The 260 acres of former tobacco land has been in Jake’s mother’s family since 1797! And originally, it was 640 acres! All of the land is still in the family, except for 5 acres. Jake and Sandy together currently raise about 75 buffalo on the farm. They’ve had as many as 130. In 1728, buffalo were actually living around Hyco Creek, so they were native to the area. Jake started the farm with the purchase of 8 calves in 2001.

Jake drove us throughout the property and we were able to catch one heard of buffalo–and buy some bison meat while we were there! Be sure to ask about the difference between buffalo and bison.

Aside from raising and caring for buffalo, they also rent out their facility for weddings, parties, and events for up to 200 people with a 33-foot pond-side gazebo and 900-square-foot adjacent deck, plus large tents, modern bathrooms, and outdoor kitchen, and more. And they are open for tours ($9) and meat sales by appointment, or you can catch them at the local farmer’s market on Saturday mornings selling their high-quality, nutritional bison meat.

Rock of Ages Winery & Vineyard

The last stop of the day was at the Rock of Ages Winery & Vineyard (1890 Charlie Long Rd.) in the Hurdle Mills community. This winery was also built on a former tobacco farm with Italian/ English/old western influences overlooking 26 acres of grapes. They’ve won more than 40 awards and also host weddings and events at their venue. Stop in for a tasting and peruse through their gift shop. (You’ll also find Tunnel Creek Vineyards in Roxboro).

Coming in March… Wilson County!

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Journey through Caswell County

On the west side of Hyco Lake, you’ll find Caswell County, an area dotted with tobacco farms and small towns that boast the joys of rural living in North Carolina at its best. Caswell County was formed from a northern portion of Orange County in 1777 and was named for Richard Caswell, who was a governor of North Carolina from 1776 to 1780. The original county seat sat in Leasburg, but was later moved to more centrally located Yanceyville after a portion of the original eastern side of the county became Person County. (See next month’s blog.) The region’s original wealth stemmed from the tobacco industry.

Shangri-La Stone Village

My first stop was a place I’ve been excited to see since I first heard about it–the Shangri-La Stone Village in Prospect Hill, NC. This little gnome-sized village was built by retired tobacco farmer Henry Warren in the last years off his life, from 1968-1977. In all, he built 27 unique stone structures in his side yard, and it has been a visitor attraction since. They’ll often get several visitors per day!

Peruse through a lovely display of village building made with brick and cement plus rock, quartz, and stone and he blasted from his own property: a bank, library, gas station, church, gym, theater, hotel, jail, silo, windmill, town hall, a dog house, and more. He’d work from dawn to dusk incorporating more than 11,000 arrowheads into walkways. Ironically, Henry Warren died while working on the Shangri-La’s hospital. Look close and you’ll see animal figurines, doorknobs, and more unusual pieces worked into the display.

It’s wonderful to see this creation living on after Mr. Warren and the joy it brings to others. You’ll find Shangri-La right on Highway 86 going through Prospect Hill beside the fire station. Be sure to sign the guest book while you’re there!

P.S. Not far down the road, you’ll find Hillside Sales. You can’t miss it with all of the colorful metal sculpture outside. Be sure to stop in for a look, shop among the antiques, and chat with the owner (15080 NC Highway 86 South, Prospect Hill), open Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-6pm.

Yanceyville

Take a drive through Hightowers, Frogsboro, and Leasburg in your way to Yanceyville, the county seat for Caswell County. The name Yanceyville perhaps came from one of the Yancey brothers, James or Bartlett, or the entire Yancey family.

Step back in time in Yanceyville’s town center. There is much to appreciate here like the gorgeous antebellum courthouse, old-timey drug store, Richmond-Miles History Museum (not open on weekends), and the historic town square. Walk among the old buildings, then head out behind the courthouse for a peak at the Poteat Schoolhouse, the old Caswell County Jail, and Arboretum. Stop by in May for the Heritage Festival, based on 1800s living: weaving, quilting, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, hoop rolling, horseshoes, hay bale tossing, and even tobacco spitting.

Semora

Not much further, in the northwestern corner of Caswell County, is the town of Semora–known worldwide for Jibtopia Wake Park (15748 NC 119) for exceptional wakeboard riding and water skiing lessons. Semora is also home to one of the oldest churches in North Carolina: the Red House Presbyterian Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NC 119 N). The current building was constructed in 1913, but the original church dates back to 1755!

Milton

Another highlight of the day was a walk through historic Milton, right at the Virginia border. The missed railroad line has kept this town a rural treasure, as it was named for its beginnings as a mill town. You can park beside Aunt Millie’s Pizza or at the Milton Tire and Grill, grab some lunch and spend a few hours imagining yourself in an earlier time period as you peruse through the quaint shops and historic buildings and homes in the Broad Street area: Milton General Store, Union Tavern, and more. In its heyday, Milton was supported by four large tobacco houses, four newspapers, cabinet makers, silversmiths, blacksmiths, saddlers, coachmakers, tinsmiths, a militia, cotton mills, waterwheels, steam engines, grist mills, a hotel, taverns, and more–all in the midst of tree-lined streets and dozens of wagons traveling through each day.

Thomas Day, a “free person of color” at the time (1801-1861), was well-respected in the area and made a name for himself as a furniture artisan and cabinet maker. The NC Museum of History owns the largest collection of Thomas Day furniture. Thomas Day built the walnut pews in the Milton Presbyterian Church, which are still used today.

You’ll notice the steps leading up to the local shops–the old stagecoach stepping stones–are a bit higher than you may be used to. Stop by the Museum of Milton, housed in the 1860 Old Milton State Bank and residence, And don’t miss the Milton mural, which recalls the town’s rich history, its 19th century commercial district, and prominence as a river community bordered on two sides by the Dan River. Be sure to take a peak into the old bank vault for a surprise. And arrange a tour in advance to include the old Thomas Day House across the street.

Then take a drive through the rest of the county for more discovery. Providence, NC (also known as Hell’s Half Acre) hosts a Spring Fling each year in late April or early May. Pass through Purley, then Casville (perhaps best know for he Paschal family’s Christmas light show each year with 1,040,000 lights–look for the Christmas lights sign). The couple appreciates donations to help pay for their $10,000 electric bill in December. You can also pass through Locust Hill, Stamp’s Quarter, and Rose Hill (Bedford Brown House, a historic plantation).

Next month—Person County, NC!

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Journey through Gaston County

Gaston County is a wonderful area to visit during the holiday season. I chose this county to visit during December specifically to see McAdensville (Christmas Town USA) and the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens (DSBG). More on both of these attractions later.

Gaston County is a community of rolling hills combined with quaint, walkable downtown areas. The charming small-town vibe is quite attractive. From Belmont to Cherryville and Gaston to Brevard, there is something for everyone here–all wrapped up in a lovely NC ribbon. In its heyday, Gaston County contained the largest concentration of combed yarn mills in the U.S. And the recipe for the South’s Sun Drop soda was first scribbled on a piece of paper by a beverage salesman who was traveling through Gaston County in 1928. And the rest is history!

St. Joseph’s Chapel

Stop one was St. Joseph’s Chapel in Mountain Island, NC, the oldest Catholic chapel still standing in NC. You’ll find it off of NC-273 near Main St. on your way to Mt. Holly. It’s the fourth Catholic Church built in NC, the first west of Raleigh, and the first in today’s Charlotte diocese. This church was originally built to serve the area’s Irish miners, and underwent a long period of neglect until restoration efforts began in the mid-20th century.

I can imagine families gathering hear for both happy, small community celebrations and mournful gatherings in the adjacent cemetery. Take a few moments to notice the beautiful architecture as well as the wrought iron cemetery gates. I found it to be serenely peaceful and quiet.

Gastonia, NC

This county seat of Gaston County has two international sister cities: Gotha, Thuringia, Germany and Santiago de Surco, Lima, Peru. Gastonia, the second largest satellite city of Charlotte (behind Concord) was named for NC Supreme Court member William Gaston. The historic downtown area boasts a small urban park, various shops, many homes and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and even some public art displays.

Perhaps the largest historical happening of the area surrounded the Loray Mill strike of 1929, which caused a big stir but collapsed after the death of the town’s police chief and a murderer trial of several of its organizers. Although the strike never gained much ground in achieving improved working conditions and wages, it was the setting for several novels in the 1930s.

Belmont Abbey

Just outside of Mount Holly (home to a lantern parade every August), in Belmont, you’ll find the historic Belmont Abbey (100 Belmont-Mt. Holly Rd. in Belmont). If you’re coming by highway, it is directly in front of you at exit 26. Completed in 1893, it was once the only Abbey Cathedral in the nation. The cathedral is located on the campus of Belmont Abbey College, a liberal arts college. Take a drive around campus (It is a horseshoe-like drive, so you’ll need to turn around and go back.) You can schedule a tour of the basilica or just quietly stop in to enjoy the beautiful painted-glass windows, which won four gold medals at the 1892 World’s Fair, as well as a baptismal font of historical significance.

Schiele Museum

While in Gastonia, peruse through the Schiele Museum (1500 E. Garrison Blvd), an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution which houses dinosaur, creepy nature, stone, and animal exhibits (the largest collection of mounted land mammals in the Southeast donated by a retired Boy Scout and his wife) as well as a children’s pirate play area. Venture across the museum grounds for a nature trail, Catawba Indian Village, Stone Age Heritage Site, gazebo, grist mill, pond, farm, and more. The museum hosts planetarium exhibits, laser music shows, and many special events throughout the year. I spent a few minutes talking to a few Girl Scout leaders who had just finished an overnight Space Science-themed overnight event for younger scouts. They look like they had had a blast!

While in Gastonia–Bee City, USA– you can also visit the American Military Museum (109 West Second Ave.) and the Alfred C. Kessell History Center (300 South Firestone St.). The history center is housed in the renovated Loray Mill, which now has touchscreen monitors with online, interactive displays and artifacts of the daily life of mill workers of the time. Displays tell the stories of the infamous 1929 and 1934 strikes until the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company later ran the mill for more than 60 years.

Dallas, NC

Tucked in just north of Gastonia is Dallas, a quiet suburb of Charlotte. Named for George M. Dallas, Vice President of the U.S. under James k. Polk. This adorable little town is the oldest incorporated town in Gaston County (since 1863). It was also the original county seat for Gaston County from 1846-1911. The old Gaston County Courthouse was renovated in 1868 after a fire had damaged the building. The courthouse still stands on the main square of town and was decorated quite strikingly for the holidays. Dallas had an opportunity to become a larger metro area when plans were proposed for a rail line and bridges over several area waterways; however, the town’s residents declined for fear they would be awakened during the night and their livestock would be frightened.

In Dallas, you will find the Gaston County Museum (131 West Main St.), located in the former Hoffman Hotel, which was constructed in 1852 in a simple Greek Revival style. When you step through the doors, notice the amazingly intricate front door assembly–surely original to the structure. The hotel served travelers passing through. You’ll find authentically furnished period rooms, a parlor, changing art exhibits on the third floor, and a gift shop downstairs with many well-priced treasures. (I did some Christmas shopping here.) You’ll also see remnants of the county’s prolific combed yarn mills and photos taken during Gastonia’s mill strikes. The old courthouse is right across the street alongside a newer town gazebo.

Stanley, NC

Just a hop away, in Stanley, is the Brevard Station Museum (opened in 1991). The town was originally called Stanley for a Mr. Stanley who had panned for gold in the area long before the 1849 Gold Rush. The town was later changed to Brevard, and then changed back to Stanley. The area is also well-known for its discovery of the giant-leaf magnolia as well as the longest-serving police chief in America, congratulated via letter by then President Ronald Reagan. Take a walk through the small museum, including vintage clothing, sports and military memorabilia, local textile industry and railroad exhibits, as well as exhibits from the area’s modern claim to fame–The Cup Guy, who draws intricate pencil drawings on discarded Styrofoam cups. You’ll also find an area for local to research their genealogy, including reference books of vital records and family histories.

Cherryville, NC

During the last half of the 18th century, German, Dutch, and Scots-Irish families from Pennsylvania migrated south and settled in what became Cherryville, NC. In 1862, the Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherford Railroad (later Carolina Central Railroad) extended westward, terminating in Cherryville (due to construction halting because of the Civil War). After the war, construction began again, and the railroad extended beyond Cherryville, which became a water and coal stop. A local resident planted cherry trees along the railroad, and train engineers began calling it Cherryville, and the name was officially adopted in 1881.

By the early 1900s, the town was a bustling industrial community of 1,000 people and the town was home to 13 mills–all of which eventually closed, leaving the town without an industry to feed its people. In 1932, the company that eventually became Carolina Freight Carriers took up shop in Cherryville with its trucking company hauling fruit produce from Florida to Cherryville.

On July 13, 1966, Trains #45 and #46 hit head-on on the southeast side of town, killing one and injuring three. Several rail cars were destroyed and scrapped on site. While in Cherryville, take a walk through the quiet streets and stop in the local shops and museums.

At the Cherryville Historical Museum, you can follow the history of the town from the early 1800s to today. The painting of a bull was once the exterior of a building until the museum building was constructed. The bull was covered in plaster for 80 years, and has since been uncovered. The town and historical museum are seeking funds now to fully restore the painting. Check out our Instagram page for an old photo of the bull in its original form as well as how it appears today.

Then experience the early days of trucking in Cherryville as it comes alive through exhibits at the C. Grier Beam Truck Museum, housed at the old Beam’s Shell Service Station and Office (listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997). The museum is run by a husband-and-wife team, both extremely knowledgeable about the industry and its history in the area. You’ll find a large variety of vintage, restored truck packed into the 7,500-square-foot museum. Don’t forget to stop by the Cherryville Historic Depot (105 Depot St.), where you can watch the model trains or bring your own. Then stop by the outdoor Cherryville Heritage Park located in the downtown area. The park includes 19th-century buildings that illustrate the developments of Cherryville, including the first City Hall, a school, smokehouse, liquor bonded warehouse, and a jail.

In the summer and fall, be sure to stop by Bush-n-Vine Farm, popular for their sunflower fields.

Belmont, NC

Back in Belmont, I stopped at the Belmont Historical Society (40 Catawba St.) to see their collection of historical exhibits. You’ll find artifacts surrounding the Indians who traveled through here as well as the textile industry, which was important for the area, and a sports hall of fame, 1920s restored mill house and a separate kitchen building.

Stop by the many quaint and kitchy shops in Belmont, including Gig’s Boutique, Stowe Mercantile, and the Cotton Candy Factory with all sorts of gourmet cotton candy flavors and candies. Then check out Stowe Park in downtown, home to numerous lighted trees during the holidays–Festival of Trees.

Carolina Speedway

Before heading to the evening holiday light shows, I made one quick stop at Carolina Speedway (6335 Union Rd). Of course, there are no races this time of year, but head by here in the summer and you’re sure to catch the sounds and smells of good ol’ North Carolina dirt track racing at its best on Friday nights. The 4/10-mile track hosts a variety of dirt track cars throughout the season.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

By day year-round or by night during the holidays, Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens (6500 South New Hope Rd.) is a feast for the eyes. And between the end of November through early January, they host the shimmering Mile of a Millions Lights with lighted topiaries, trees, fountains, and more. I suggest purchasing your tickets in advance in order to save a few bucks. Get there right at 5pm. Yes, it’s not dark yet, but by the time you peruse through the vendors and gift shop, then get yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate, it’s plenty dark to start your journey. You’ll get lots of Instagrammable photos, as these lights photograph well. See our Instagram page.

McAdenville, NC

Last stop–McAdenville–Christmas Town USA! First, I want to say there’s more to do here than see the Christmas lights. Spend some daylight hours here and check out the delicious treats at Floyd & Blackies Bakery, town shops, and restaurants. By night, enjoy the tradition that started in 1956. If you’re already in town, then enjoy a leisurely walk through the lighted streets and homes. If you’re arriving by car at night, you can drive through the 1.3 mile festive loop. Be prepared for a long wait as all exits from the highway lead to one lane through the town. I got in line just past 6:30 and it took four hours to drive the 1.9 miles from the highway to the town limit and then through the light displays. It was certainly beautiful and worth the wait. You’ll just need to plan to have a full tank of gas, drinks, and snacks as well as activities to keep the kids busy. There are a few gas stations/convenience stores along the way, so you can stop for an emergency bathroom break, snack, drinks, or gas.

So, back in 1956, the town’s Men’s Club decided to decorate several trees with lights. The town is now an annual destination for more than 500,000 visitors each year, with residents, churches, and businesses participating–and going all out. More than 400 trees are decorated with red, white, and green lights with a special display surrounding the lake at the town’s center. Check out their website for access instructions as some roads are blocked during this time. It’s free to drive through!

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Journey through Iredell County, NC

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.

Union Grove

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

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.

Mooresville

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.

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Journey through Lee County, NC

One of North Carolina’s smallest counties, Lee County is just about 255 total square miles. The area has historically been one of the leading brick manufacturers in the U.S. due to its location between the Sandhills region and the clay-predominant Piedmont region. The leading crops in the area are tobacco and cotton–and I did stumble upon a gorgeous cotton field in full bloom. Lee County also holds the state’s highest concentration of oil and natural gas.

Cumnock
Deep River Camelback Truss Bridge

My day touring through Lee County started in Cumnock, right on the border of Lee and Chatham Counties, at the Deep River Camelback Truss Bridge and Deep River Park and Camelback Bridge Landing built around it (3485 R. Jordan Road). (From 421, exit at Cumnock Road and head southeast. Follow the road to the county line, then as you cross the new bridge, look to the left and you’ll see the truss bridge. At the next intersection, take a left onto Everett Dowdy Road, and an almost immediate left into the parking area for Deep River Park.)

The Deep River Camelback Truss Bridge, 160 feet long divided into 8 panels, is steel construction that rests on stone and concrete piers with a macadam road surface on a plank deck 40+ feet over the Deep River. (FYI, between Hurricane Florence [Sept. 2018] and Hurricane Michael [Oct. 2018] the region received so much rain that the Deep River swelled to cover the bridge and completely flood the park and surrounding area.)

While here, I met a group of people doing some cleanup around the park in prep for the upcoming 3rd annual Bigfoot Festival on November 2, 2019. A nearly full day of events are planned, including a retelling by locals who have seen a Bigfoot as well as Sasquatch experts and more. The group’s intent is to hold the festival at the park the first Saturday in November each year.

As the Deep River separates Lee and Chatham counties, the bridge is a connector between the two. On the Chatham County, park side, of the bridge, you’ll find a map of the area showing several historic sites and a flying-saucer-like structure, which was a Boy Scout project from several years ago. (Incidentally, there was a Boy Scout Eagle Project happening on the other side of the bridge on the day of my visit.) You’ll also note a plaque depicting a rabbit on the brick columns, and that’s where a little Chatham County history comes into play, even though I am in Lee County that day.

Way back in the late 19th century, cottontail rabbits flourished pervasively in the area. In fact, during a particular snowstorm on November 1, 1896, nine inches of snow covered the area, which drew the rabbits out in such numbers that young boys were able to chase and catch them with only their bare hands. Prized for their meat and skins, this abundant rabbit population soared Chatham County into the rabbit trade. In fact, numbers were so prolific that Our State Magazine reported 94,342 rabbits exported from Siler City by local Chathamites between 1910 and 1914. So, where were they being exported? New York City restaurants, it’s been told!

The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The section along the Deep River was the site of coal, iron, and copper mining and iron foundries throughout much of the 19th century. The bridge was originally constructed in 1901 as part of a multi-span bridge over the Cape Fear River at Lillington, about 30 miles southeast in Harnett County. After a span of that bridge collapsed in 1930, it was deconstructed to make way for a new bridge at the site, and one of the salvages spans was reconstructed at the current site to replace a covered wooden bridge that had burned at the site in 1929. This Truss Bridge #155, now owned by the Deep River Park Association, is one of only four camelback truss bridges left in NC.

Endor Iron Furnace

Travel back the way you came (right out of the parking lot and a right on Cumnock Road), then take your third left onto Cotten Road and a left onto Iron Furnace Road after the train tracks. Follow this road to the end, and you’ll see a gated path. Park here and hike about 10 minutes (You’ll cross over another set of railroad tracks.) to discover another hidden treasure in Lee County. This 35-foot stacked stone edifice was used to produce workable iron for the American Confederacy. Look carefully and you may still find bits of iron ore and pig iron dating back to the Civil War and Reconstruction era. The furnace was placed here to take advantage of the ore veins in the nearby Deep River. The furnace was used for about 10 years, and the remains still stand today. Read ahead in the Sanford section to learn about my discussion with a member of the fundraising team for the Endor Iron Furnace.

Ole Gilliam Park

This historic area along Highway 42 just outside of Sanford boasts a covered wooden bridge and an old mill, plus other buildings originally built by Stephen Henly in 1850. The mill ran until 1870 when he sold the mill complex to Alexander McIver. Howell, John, and Jessica Gilliam leased the mill for many years, then bought the mill and surrounding 500 acres from McIver in 1890. (I had found a cemetery earlier while passing between the Truss Bridge and the Endor Iron Furnace, where members of the McIver and Goldston (Goldston, NC) families and others were buried.) The Gilliams owned the mill until 1928 when it was washed away in a flood. The present mill you see today was reconstructed by Worth Pickard with a few other friends and family members on weekends and holidays in 1979 up the creek from the original site; it is a faithful reproduction of the original Gilliam Mill. All working parts were obtained from old mills throughout the Southeast. In 2000, proprietors Nancy and Worth Pickard donated the mill and 15 acres of land and existing buildings and relics to the Ole Gilliam Mill Park. Today, the park is run by a Board of Directors and is used for several events, including the Ole Mill Crank-Up, church groups, and motorcycle clubs as well as weddings, family reunions and those who wish to visit and walk through the park.

Sanford

The county seat of Sanford was named for C.O. Sanford, a railroad civil engineer who was instrumental in the building of rail lines through the area, which eventually grew to be the city of Sanford. Jonesboro was another major town in the area, and the two eventually joined to form one community: Sanford. For decades, Lee County was the only courthouse in the U.S. with an RFD address. The courthouse had been placed directly between the two towns, but Sanford had grown so much that it merged with Sanford to become one town. The area of Jonesboro was renamed Jonesboro Heights. You will still see remnants of Jonesboro throughout the area.

The city became an important source of coal, brownstone, and brick–even a key provider throughout the U.S. In 1959, Sanford produced 10% of the total bricks in the U.S. and was named “Brick Capital USA.” The area still has a large brick production today. The city also had a seven-season Class D professional minor league baseball team, The Sanford Spinners, from 1940-42 and 1946-50. They played home games at Temple Park, and the Spinners won the regular season pennant three times!

Modern history recalls a large tornado tearing through the Sanford area on April 16, 2011, demolishing a Lowe’s Hardware, a warehouse, and multiple homes and buildings before moving into Wake County. On October 21, 2014, Sanford established a formal sister city relationship with Yixing, China. And the Maine-to-Florida U.S. Bicycle Route 1 passes through downtown Sanford and Lee County.

While in Sanford, I visited a few more gems.

  • City of Sanford Mural Art Trails: includes a growing collection of 9+ murals throughout the city
  • Temple : built int 1925 and hosted vaudeville shows in the 1930s. It was closed from 1965-1980, but has since reopened, hosting concerts, musicals, dramas, and comedies on Thursdays through Sundays.
  • Sanford Town Hall Building
  • The Chocolate Cellar: across from Depot Park. This shop is tucked away below street level, but just follow your nose. The delectable smell of chocolate will lead you straight there! Discover a wide array of extravagantly infused truffles, gourmet chocolates, and assorted candies and gifts (many made on site) as well as a wine tasting room for a Chocolate and Wine Flight experience!

Depot Park and Historic Railroad House

Located at 106 and 110 Charlotte Avenue, respectively, the two spots make a lovely place to visit. The Railroad House is the oldest house in downtown Sanford, dating to 1872. The house contains a museum featuring local memorabilia and interesting history of the area. You can tour the house for free on our own or request a guided tour by the Railroad House Historical Association of the house and other local historical sites. Outside the house, and part of Depot Park, you will find a 1911 Baldwin 2-8-0 locomotive, which is preserved on site. Beside the locomotive, you’ll find two whimsical metal statues of a ticket collecter and passengers as well as various markers throughout. (Museum hours are Saturday and Sunday 1-4pm, and other times by request.)

While visiting the Railroad House, I spoke with a woman who is on the fundraising team for the Endor Iron Furnace. She reports that $300,000 of the needed $1 million has thus far been raised to fully restore, stabilize, and preserve the structure. Planning and Phase 1 activities are in process to eventually build a public park around the centerpiece structure. It is not known at this time how the group will raise the remaining $700,000 for the project. (According to a brochure, tours of the Endor Iron Furnace are available upon request.)


Big Bloomer’s Flower Farm

When you’re in the Sanford area, be sure to stop by this gem: Big Bloomer’s Flower Farm. Even if it’s off season or you’re just passing through, you can peruse through the green houses, enjoy the garden statuary, check out the biggest agave plant I’ve ever seen, and take your photo in The Big Chair!

Broadway

The town of Broadway, NC, became know as “The Town of Candles” in the late 1960s because the water tower was covered in lights and businesses turned on a single white candle in each window. The tradition spread throughout the town and surrounding areas. Broadway was settled in 1870 and was incorporated in 1907. The town’s name came from a broad level opening in the region’s vast pine forest. During the early 21st century, many local Broadway citizens visited New York City and saw a Broadway show. So, Broadway in New York came to Broadway, NC. A show was put on at the local elementary school with TV and stage actress Sandy Duncan leading the way.

While in Broadway, I discovered a Town Clock, Veterans Memorial, and the cutest Little Free Library (beside the Veterans Memorial).

Old Carbonton Dam

My final stop for the day was scheduled to be the Old Carbonton Dam. But lacking any sort of address, and despite driving to and fro, I was unable to find this hidden treasure. If you discover it for yourself, message me and let me know how you got there.

Happy discovering Lee County!

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Journey through Rockingham County, NC

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

Hans Christian Andersen

It was a sunny day, one day post-Hurricane Dorian which hit our state both as a Category 2 and Category 3 storm. Most of the damage was on the coast, with more than 20 tornadoes touching down both on the shore and inland as far as Pender County. The worst of the tornadoes hit Emerald Isle. The Piedmont was only mildly affected, with some wind and a little rain. So, it was a beautiful day here to set out.

Monroeton

My first stop was an accidental discovery in the Monroeton area. I was passing by the cemetery at Fairgrove United Methodist Church. I’ve never been in this area, so it was a complete surprise to stumble upon this lovely old cemetery surrounded by a stone wall and with 1830 iron gates marking both entrances. That means this cemetery is still standing after 189 years!

Upon getting home, I did a little research and found a few interesting details. Fairgrove was originally two words (Fair Grove), and it was originally a log church. Conference members from miles around would often camp on the church property in wagons and tents. In 1966, the brick church building that exists today was built. It is not known when the church’s name became one word.

Tombstones date back to 1833, including a few Civil War veterans. And graves for slaves were marked by individual stones. It is believed that the rock wall was built by slaves before the Civil War using stones from the Cunningham Plantation. It’s amazing to think of the people, amazing craftsmanship, and hard labor that went into building this beautiful wall–which has survived nearly 200 years! And here’s another little gem: head to the field across the street and you’ll find a marker noting the remaining mounting stone where women in the 1800s would dismount and mount their horses when attending church.

I’ll close this stop with a story that’s been passed down through generations. Legend has it that Eliza Chilcutt, the church’s last surviving member (who is also buried at the cemetery), had read through his entire bible 122 times. One cloudless day, the church caught fire and he was praying over the burning church when a large rain cloud appeared and put out the fire–and the church was saved.

In Monroeton, you’ll also find a historical marker for Troublesome Creek Ironworks (at US 158 and SR 2422), originally called Speedwell Furnace, an iron furnace archaeological site. After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, General Nathanael Greene (for whom Greensboro was named) and his troops camped at the ironworks to plan their second attack on Cornwallis. George Washington also visited the ironworks in 1791.

Reidsville

Reidsville is the established county seat and the largest city in Rockingham County. Incorporated in 1873, the city was named for the Reid family, who settled there. Here you’ll find a variety of downtown shops and historic homes, including the Penn House (now used as a wedding and event venue), the Jennings-Baker House, and Governor Reid House.

Governor Reid House

This Victorian structure (located on the corner of Market Street and Lawsonville Ave.) dates to 1881 and was the home of Governor David Settle Reid, son of Reuben Reid and Elizabeth Williams Settle, the family for which the city was named. In addition to serving North Carolina as governor, David was also Reidsville’s first postmaster and a U.S. Senator. This home was the first structure in Reidsville to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Call in advance to schedule a tour, available Monday–Friday.

While in Reidsville, you can also visit The Reidsville Visitors Center (140 South Scales St.) open Monday–Friday) and the Museum Archives of Rockingham County (MARC) is open Monday–Saturday, 10am-4pm. So, feel free to stop in; it’s just $5.00 (1086 NC Highway 65). This museum is housed in the county’s old courthouse and contains exhibits displaying a snapshot of the county’s history.

Chinqua Penn Planation used to be a big draw and tourist attraction for the area; however, financial woes for the former owners put the plantation in dire straits. Artifacts inside the home were auctioned off to buyers around the world in order to pay more than $3 million owed to creditors. It is now a private residence and was closed to the public in 2012.

Eden

Not far from the Virginia border, my visit to the Eden began with a stop at the Eden Historical Museum (656 Washington St.), just $1 for a walk-through and a walk by the quaint, historical Bullard-Ray-Harrington House next door, a two-story Greek Revival home. It has been enlarged and remodeled in the Colonial Revival Style with a lovely wrap-around porch and Doric order columns. You’ll probably find an odd vehicle parked in front (perhaps an old, rusted station wagon with a bike mounted on top). It’s my understanding that the owner of the Bullard-Ray-Harrington House is a lady set to turn 93 in October of 2019!

The Boone Road Historic District contains a variety of delightful historic homes. In town, you will also find the Dempsey-Reynolds-Taylor House (now a law office) and Dr. Franklin King House (Ildewilde), which is set up on a hill. Perhaps the town’s largest employer, Karastan Rugs, offers factory tours mostly on Wednesdays.

Before leaving Eden, I have two more stops: Governor Morehead Park and Matrimony Creek Greenway–both have waterfalls. Governor Morehead Park (422 Church St.) is the site of the original Old Stone Mill built by Governor John Motley Morehead (Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill) in 1839 and destroyed by fire in 1893. It was rebuilt and used for several decades, but eventually torn down. The original foundation wall of the Leaksville Cotton Mill still stands, and you can take a very brief hike to see the hidden waterfall, which you can hear from any spot on the site.

Remaining foundation wall of Leaksville Cotton Mill, Governor Morehead Park

My final stop in Eden is the Matrimony Creek Greenway (1335 Washington St. next to Hampton Heights Baptist Church), a 1-mile, paved nature trail leading to a delightful waterfall, including 1/2-mile and 3/4-mile markers along the way. Once at the falls, you can take your shoes off and step in or sit on side-by-side benches in perfect view of the falls.

One little bit about Eden’s history: Eden was originally a 70,000-acre estate owned by William Byrd II. He originally called his estate “The Land of Eden”. When he died, he left his estate to his son William Byrd III, who had no dreams as his father did to develop an industrious community. He only wanted to live well, so he sold off 26,000 acres to Simon and Francis Farley, two merchant brothers from the island of Antigua. Long story short, William Byrd III’s daughter Elizabeth Hill Byrd married James Parke Farley, son of Francis Farley, who took over the land and called it Sauratown. Elizabeth’s father committed suicide and James died in the American Revolution, leaving her a widow with four daughters. Elizabeth later married Reverend John Dunbar, who attempted to manage Sauratown but failed. Two of their daughters, Maria Farley and Rebecca Parke Farley, later sold their land shares to Patrick Henry of Virginia. On his deathbed, Henry gave the land to two of his sons, Alexander Spottswood Henry and Nathaniel West Henry.

Stoneville

Named for brothers Thomas and Pinkney Stone, Stoneville was incorporated in 1877 and is home of the Deep Springs Plantation, the former land now comprising a country club and golf course and surrounding residential neighborhood. The original plantation house, built by James Madison Scales and his wife, Elizabeth Leseur, still stands as a private residence. Scales’ brother, Alfred Moore Scales, owned nearby Mulberry Island Plantation, built in 1850 and no longer exists.

Deep Springs Plantation was named after a deep spring on the property, which supplied water to the house. In 1846, a 25-pound meteorite landed near the house. It is now on display at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.

Memorial Park in honor of a tornado victim, where a 100-year-old building stood before the storm


The statue above is in honor of one of the victims of the March 20, 1998 tornado, which caused tremendous destruction in the downtown area. This little memorial park with the mural, clock, statue, and water feature is located where a 100-year-old building housing a ceramic shop, once stood before the tornado. The town had little warning, and 3 people died. A clock on the outside of one of the buildings stopped when the tornado struck at approximately 3:35 pm, and it was never repaired–left frozen in time.

You’ll also find a little antique store downtown.

Mayodan

Travelers will soon discover that Rockingham County is a land of rolling hills and bucolic farmscapes dotted with aged tobacco barns, rivers, forests, and small villages.

Named for both the Mayo and Dan Rivers, Mayodan’s downtown consists of just a few blocks of brick buildings, including Mayodan Arts Center (207 West Main St.) that’s open during the week. But before you get to thinking, there’s not much to this town, be sure to catch two gems: Autumn Creek Vineyards and Fall Creek Fall in Mayo River State Park.

Autumn Creek Vineyards (364 Means Creek Rd.) is a vineyard, but not a winery. Many of their wines are bottled by Childress Vineyards. Gather on the front porch, then enjoy a tasting at the large, rustic wood bar. Sit out on the covered patio or out on the large back deck, overlooking the expansive rolling hills of the vineyard. They are open 11am-6pm on Saturdays, and sometimes host events and live music. This vineyard has its regulars, and while I was there I was told about another hidden gem in the county–which just happened to be my next stop. So, it was great to get a nod in advance.

Fall Creek Fall, dome rock waterfall

The Mayo River State Park is a nature preserve with a series of interior trails, some that lead nearly to the Virginia border. This park makes for a great day of hiking. Possibly the greatest treasure in this tranquil park is the Fall Creek Fall, a dome rock waterfall about 9-12 feet high. Head to Deshazo Mill Road (which turns to gravel) and follow to the gravel lot at the trailhead. From there, it’s just a short 1/4-mile at most hike to the falls. You’ll start hearing the falls soon. Take your shoes off and dip your feet in the refreshing water.

Madison

My last stop of the day, in my opinion, was the best treasure of my trip. I found Madison to be a quaint town at the meeting of the Mayo and Dan Rivers. Madison just celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018. You’ll find tall bridges passing over the rivers in this former tobacco mecca that had as many as 44 tobacco factories at one time.

You can’t miss the Town Clock (corner of Dalton and Murphy Streets), which towers over all other structures. After World War II, local citizens contributed money toward purchasing the clock in honor of the men who served and died for the U.S. The clock was purchased from Boston for about $600, believed to have been shipped by boat to Wilmington, then by rail to Madison. Engraved on the clock are the words “All Those Who Served” as well as on the clock bell, cast in Baltimore by McNeely and Son. The attached building has had many owners over the years, including the Gem-Dandy Company (originally Gem-Dandy Garter Company) whose owner officially transferred the rights to the clock to the Town of Madison. In 1968, a gear broke and silenced the chimes, but the clock still kept time. In 1997, the clock’s timing mechanism failed, and the clock was finally fully repaired later that year. In December 1997, the clock’s chimes rang again for the first time in almost 30 years.

Be sure to check out the Academy Street Historic District, with mid-19th and mid-20th century homes of various architectural styles. Many of the original homes from the 1800s still stand, including those of Federal, Victorian, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow styles. You’ll also find the Jordan Cabin (211 Decatur St.) just passed a snug little underpass. The former log cabin is covered in clapboards and dates to at least 1799, according to an engraving on a brick in the cabin’s chimney. And the Alfred Moore Scales Law Office (Academy St.) is just a few streets away beside an aged Presbyterian cemetery. Alfred Moore was governor of North Carolina from 1885-1889 and served as a Brigadier General in the Army of the Confederacy among many other positions.

Madison Dry Goods Store
Note: The back wall is a local artist’s rendering of Rockingham County, complete with current and former landmarks.

Before you leave Madison, be sure to check out the Madison Dry Goods Store (104 West Murphy St.) a former hotel and mortuary at the same time! This shop is a community staple and the cutest old country store with modern apparel and a general store with soaps, natural foods, mixes, jams, sauces, honey, treats, and much more. Check out the small museum upstairs before 5:00 p.m. The shopkeeper has a wealth of knowledge about the building and will surely point out its interesting facets, including one of three rope elevators still remaining in the town. Across the street, you’ll find the Eclectic Calico shop (109 West Murphy St.), full of good-vibe home and local artisan goods. Don’t leave without petting Bella, the docile store kitty who has her own Instagram following: @bellastorekitty.

A few other notes about Rockingham County. It has a few interesting communities (not townships): Happy Home, Matrimony, and Intelligence. And you can also explore the Rockingham County Quilt Trail with 31 displays of Americana barn art throughout the county’s rolling hills.

Happy exploring!

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Journey through Yadkin County, NC

A Journey through Yadkin County

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Henry Miller

August 24, 2019

I hemmed and hawed the night before my departure about whether or not to go. Earlier in the week, the weather had looked pleasant for Saturday. But by that night, it looked like definite rain… no chance for a ray of sunshine all day… periods of light rain and sprinkles. But it was my inaugural outing and I had planned it for about two weeks, so off I decided to go into the North Carolina countryside–Yadkin County–rain or shine. After a quick stop to fill up my tank, I was on my way…

Huntsville


On a cloudy, slightly rainy Saturday morning, there wasn’t much traffic on the road. I arrive in Huntsville about 9:20 a.m. with two things on my list to see: The Big Poplar Tree and the H.H. Sofley House. The Big Poplar Tree was the site of the 1780 Battle of Shallow Ford, an American Revolution skirmish on October 14, 1780. Six hundred Loyalist militia attempted to cross the Yadkin River to join General Cornwallis in Charlotte. A battle ensued and Loyalist militia fled. One Patriot died in the skirmish: Henry Francis, who is buried at the site of the Big Poplar Tree, believed to have been shot out during battle. I stopped at the local Battle Branch Café to ask for directions to find the tree, but was told that the tree is now on private land and the owner doesn’t much like people trespassing to find the tree. So, the best I can offer you is this photo from the Yadkin County Historical Society Facebook page, which has not been kept up for years.

Big Poplar Tree, Huntsville, NC
Photo credit: Yadkin County Historical Society Facebook page

The H.H. Sofley House, or the White House as it is also called, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Built in 1795, the house is representative of Early Republic/Late Georgian style with a Quaker plan. This home is also now a private residence, so no tours and no photo to show.

Yadkinville

A short jaunt from Hunstville is Yadkinville, at the center of the county. It appears that Unifi is the main employer in town with one very large production plant and another building, possibly a trucking facility nearby. I was expecting a larger town, but the downtown area was just a few blocks, and nothing happening on a rainy Saturday. I’m planning on heading back here on a future weekday when I get the chance, and I’ll write a minipost for you then.

First named Wilson, for Louis D. Wilson, a legislator who died in the Mexican War, Yadkinville was chosen as the county seat with the founding of Yadkin County in 1850. The town’s name was changed to Yadkinville in 1852 after it was discovered that another NC town was already named Wilson. Yadkinville was incorporated in 1857. It’s first courthouse was made from bricks handmade on a farm north of town.

The Yadkin Cultural Arts Center’s (226 E. Main St.) modern design juxtaposes against the small-town backdrop. Harboring the Welborn Gallery with artist exhibitions and several art studios in the surrounding spaces as well as the Willingham Theater (shows year-round), it’s quite kitchy. Regular hours are Monday–Friday, 9am-5pm. They boast “Big City Excitement, Small Town Charm.”

Wall Mural across from Yadkin Cultural Arts Center gifted by Jo and Tom Dorsett

Before leaving Yadkinville, I’ve got two more things on my list. Shallowford Farms popcorn is also only open Monday–Friday; however, you’ll find their popcorn sold at the local Food Lion: butter, cheese, and kettlecorn flavors. Look for it in the deli section.

Next comes my first of three winery visits of the day: Hanover Park Vineyard (1927 Courtney-Huntsville Rd.), a lovely old restored home located on a former tobacco farm, surrounded by rows of grape vines. It’s the first bonded winery in Yadkin County since prohibition. Stop by for a wine tasting of their European varietals and enjoy a glass on their porch, or picnic on the lawn under the breezy canopy of old, majestic oak trees. And be sure to say hello to Pearl, the owners’ so-adorable cocker spaniel, who also has a rosé named for her.

Then… what a find! A beautiful waterfall at Shore-Styers Mill Park (photo at top of post). It was the highlight of my visit to Yadkinville. It’s truly not much of a park… just a small parking area and few meandering trails along side the waterfall’s runoff. I suppose you could also picnic under the canopy or on the rocks on a pretty day. But a beautiful discovery nonetheless.
P.S. There is a few inches of a drop-off between the road and the parking lot. However, there is one small section that does meet the road pretty well.

Hamptonville

I found another sweet surprise a few miles down the road in Hamptonville: an area with a quiet Amish settlement established in the 1980s. Just after passing into town, I saw an honest-to-goodness Amish buggy passing in the other direction! And the kind gentlemen even waved! I had never seen an Amish buggy in person before. So, for me this was the highlight of my day. I still get excited just writing about it. I know, some of you may not think this is a big deal. But I’ve come to appreciate the small things in life. And for me this was a small joy; hence, a big joy.

Just around the corner, I found my next destination: Shiloh General Store (5520 St. Paul Church Rd.), an Amish-run market, which is apparently a big destination because the parking lot was packed… people coming and going, folks sitting on the porch chatting and snacking. Inside, you’ll find a large variety of jarred goods, soup mixes, baked goods, cheese, spices, and so much more. The line at the register snakes around the corner continuously, but moves quickly. And of course, the gentlemen at the registers are oh-so-kind. I purchase four soup mixes, chocolate ice cream cookies (a treat for my daughter), nonpareils ( a treat for me), and some Dutch Kettle blackberry jam. I plan to stop by The Dutch Kettle (5016 Hunting Creek Rd.) afterward for a photo, but I know they are closed on Saturday, so I pick up a jar here. Incidentally, you’ll find Dutch Kettle jam at local stores too and even at a gas station all the way up in Jonesville (my next stop).

Amish-run Shiloh General Store, Hamptonville, NC

A few interesting tidbits… The Hampton House is believed to be the oldest residence in Yadkin County. And at one time, the town’s well was located in the middle of a street, but it was paved over when U.S. 21 was constructed in 1940.

Jonesville

Jonesville is by far, the largest town in Yadkin County. In less than a mile stretch, you’ll find a small Best Western hotel, a Cracker Barrel, a large gas station, a variety of fast food chains, and a few local restaurants as well.

I did dig up this little bit of history on Jonesville. Back on December 21, 1912, a the Jonesville High School second floor auditorium collapsed during a Christmas concert. More than 300 people were present when people fell to the first floor when the floor collapsed. Two elderly women and a young girl (Nancy Swaim, Mrs. William Smith and Lexie Luffman, a 12-year-old girl) were killed and nearly 100 people injured. Sam Ray extinguished a stove fire in the auditorium as the floor began to collapse, also saving many lives.

I decide to peruse through the Antique Mall, then head to Lila Swaim Park with a beautiful tunnel of trees to drive through. You may also want to take a walk on the Jonesville Greenway.
P.S. You’ll find some Dutch Kettle jam at the gas station here beside the Subway restaurant.

East Bend

My final two stops of the day are two more wineries. The Yadkin River Valley is a rich, fertile area. So, you will find many local wineries here: Brandon Hills Vineyard, Cellar 4201, Divine Llama Vineyards (Yes, they have llamas!), Flint Hill Vineyards, Dobbins Creek Vineyards, Hanover Park Vineyard (see above), Laurel Gray Vineyards, RagApple Lassie Vineyards (the newest), Shadow Springs Vineyard, Windsor Run Cellars, Sweet Home Carolina Vineyard & Winery, and Sanders Ridge Winery, Restaurant & Cabin and The Big Woods Zip Line.

I hadn’t planned on stopping at Flint Hill Vineyards–a quaint yellow 1800s restored farmhouse and gardens that sit among century-old oaks–but I had passed by it twice and decided to head in. The owners, Brenda and Tim Doub, are Dutch, hence the windmill motif on the labels and inside as well. A friendly crowd was already into their tasting, so I joined alongside and headed out with a bottle in tow. Quite interestingly, they have a white wine Viognier variety that is aged in stainless steel. Enjoy their wine on the porch, patio or picnic area.

My last stop before heading home was… drumroll please… Divine Llama Vineyards. Yes! That’s what you were hoping for, right? This delightful winery opened in 2009 and sits on 77 acres, boasting views of Pilot Mountain from various spots on the property.

Now, whereas the other two wineries I visited were rather laid back with merely a small crowd, Divine Llama was rocking. In fact, the parking lot was packed and the tasting bar was packed too. The wait, about 10-15 minutes, was well worth it. I left with no less than three bottles–and *blush* the first bottle of red wine I’ve every bought. (I guess I wasn’t born with a palette for red wine, so I surprised myself in finding a red wine that I liked.) Enjoy your wine in the rustic farmhouse, on the rocking chair porch, or at the picnic tables under the trees.

Before you head out, be sure to walk the gravel path past the llama statue to visit the real llamas on the farm. In spring, fall, and winter (when weather is more temperate) you can head out on a two-mile trek with your very own llama (and feed them too).
P.S. You get a 10% discount if you buy three bottles… twist my arm. And many of the wines are named after their llamas.

Llamas at Divine Llama Vineyard
Photo credit: Matt Everhart

Other areas of interest:
East Bend
Donnaha Site (archeological significance)
Morse and Wade Building (100 E. Main St.)
Kitchen Roselli (105 E. Main St.), open 12-2p.m. and 5:30-9p.m.

Richmond Hill
Richmond Hill Law School and Nature Park (tours of the Law School on certain Saturdays)

Nebo
Lake James Antique Mall (2420 Harmony Rd.) Open 10a.m.-5p.m. on Saturdays

Enon
Glenwood Plantation (1820 Taylor Rd.), private residence
Durrett-Jarrett House (0.35m north of jct. NC 1605/1569)

Do you live in or have you visited Yadkin County? What do you love about the area?