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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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)
Wow! Catawba County was chockful of little discoveries! This county is well worth the trip.
Catawba County, name after the Catawba River, was formed in 1842 from Lincoln County. The word “catawba” is rooted in the Choctaw sound kat’a pa, loosely translated as “to divide or separate, to break.” However, scholars are fairly certain that this word was imposed from outside. The Native Americans known as the Catawba people, a tribe of indigenous people who once inhabited the region, were considered one of the most powerful Southeastern Siouan-speaking tribes in the Carolina Piedmont. They now live along the border of North Carolina near the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. German and Scots-Irish colonial immigrants first settled in the Catawba River valley in the mid-18th century. The town of Maiden is home to the Apple iCloud data center and is the largest privately owned solar farm in the United States (operated by Apple).
P.S. If you’re a fan, you might want to check out the Catawba Valley Ale Trail.
Lookout Shoals Dam
We started our day at Lookout Shoals Dam on Lookout Shoals Rd. The story’s been told that during construction of the Lookout Shoals Dam in 1914, single young ladies from the area would stop at the site to check out the men working on the crews. One such worker, Walter Sipes, met his future bride when she visited, which began four generations of Sipes family members with connections to the now 107-year-old dam. Today, Lookout Shoals has three generating units with a capacity of 26 megawatts. It is one of 13 hydroelectric plants and 11 reservoirs operated by Duke Energy along the Catawba-Wateree River in the Carolinas.
Bunker Hill Covered Bridge – Claremont, NC
Located at 4180 E US Hwy 70, the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge at Connor Park is just a short walk from the parking lot along the Lyle’s Creek stream bed. One of a few covered bridges left in North Carolina, it is the only remaining wooden bridges in the United States with Haupt truss construction–and one of only two original covered bridges left in North Carolina. (See the future Randolph County blog for the Pisgah Covered Bridge and Lee County Blog for another covered bridge, though not original.) This covered bridge was built in 1895 by Andrew Loretz Ramsour in Claremont, North Carolina, and crosses Lyle Creek. The bridge is a National Civil Engineering Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge was constructed as an open span and was covered in 1900 by a 91-foot wood shingle roof, later replaced in 1921 with a tin roof. The bridge was then repaired in 1994. In a historical note, 531 British prisoners of war crossed at the Bunker Hill Ford on Lyle’s Creek following the Battle of Cowpens in 1781 during the Revolutionary War.
Claremont, itself, was originally known as Charlotte Crossing, and later as Setzer Depot. Claremont began using its current name in 1892, after Clare Sigmon, the daughter of an early settler, and was incorporated in 1893. Rock Barn Farm is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Settlers came to the part of Catawba County known now as Claremont in the early 1800s. It has been reported that land sold for fifty cents an acre. The Settlement was first called “Charlotte Crossing”. The Federal Post Office Department did not approve of the similarity with the Town of Charlotte, so the villages name was shortened to just “Crossing”. Some people called the village “Setzer’s Depot.” The Southern Railroad urged the people of the village to give their village a name.
So, the men agreed and took the name of “Clare” and added, “mount” to it. The “mount” was added because the village from the old Catawba Road side looked high as a mountain. On August 8, 1892, the town was officially called Claremont and listed this way by the United States Post Office Department and also by Southern Railroad.
Newton, named for Isaac Newton Wilson, a state legislator who had introduced the bill creating Catawba County, was established in 1845 and incorporated in 1855.
Cherie Berry (of Maiden?) Dennis Setzer, former NASCAR driver, Paulette Washington, Actress and wife of Denzel Washington are from here. (Some longtime North Carolinians may recall Cherie Berry’s name from being posted in every inspection form in every elevator in the state.)
INC Magazine has twice named the region as one of the top entrepreneurial areas in America in both traditional and high-tech industries. Business North Carolina magazine also ranked the region as having the second-best business environment of the state’s 50th largest communities. Newton is also home to the annual Soldiers Reunion, featuring almost a week of patriotic and entertaining activities for area residents, including a parade in downtown. The event is the oldest patriotic celebration in the nation that is not based on a holiday. (P.S. The oldest Fourth of July parade in the country takes place in Bristol, RI. Instead of solid yellow lines, the center lines along the parade route are painted red, white, and blue.)
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 1⁄2-mile dirt track. Gwyn Staley won the first race at the speedway and later became the first track champion. Drivers such as Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett (Dale Jarret’s father), and Ralph Earnhardt (Dale Earnhardt Senior’s father) also became track champions in the 1950s, with Earnhardt winning five of them.
In 1953, NASCAR’s Grand National Series (later the NASCAR Cup Series) visited the track for the first time. Tim Flock won the first race at the speedway, which became a regular part of the Grand National schedule. After winning his track championship in 1952, Junior Johnson became the most successful Grand National driver at Hickory, winning there seven times.
The track has been re-configured three times in its history. The track became a 0.4-mile dirt track in 1955, which was paved for the first time during the 1967 season. In 1970, the Hickory track was shortened to a length of 0.363 miles.
Hickory was dropped from the Grand National schedule after the 1971 season when R. J. Reynolds began sponsoring the newly christened NASCAR Winston Cup Series and dropped all races under 250 miles from the schedule. It remained in use as a popular NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series venue. As more tracks began hosting Busch Series races, Hickory’s involvement was progressively reduced to two races a year by 1987, and then just the Easter weekend by 1995. By 1998, the Busch Grand National Series began adding more races at Winston Cup Series tracks, and Hickory was dropped from the schedule after 17 years.
Hickory is still used as a venue for NASCAR’s club racing division, the Whelen All-American Series, Pro All Stars Series South Super Late Models and the CARS Tour featuring late model and super late model touring series cars.
So, if you want a taste of something with real Southern roots, stop by the Hickory Motor Speedway for a good old-fashioned, short track car race. You can hear the cars burning around the track when you’re passing by, and the sound of the cars seems to call you in. So, grab your seat cushion, get a ticket, and head into the stands for a few hours of racin’ and snackin’.
Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum If you’re train lover–and even if you’re not–make a stop at the Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum (1123 North Main Ave.) that was restored from 1997-2005. You’ll discover indoor and outdoor attractions, including historic railroad artifacts and a museum gift shop. And be sure to stop at the Railroad Center at the building next door (same parking lot) while you’re there to see nine operating model railroads–fun for adults and kids alike.
The Vineyard & Winery at Catawba Farms This vineyard/winery/brewery/B&B/market and animal farm (Yes!) is a must-see in Catawba County–definitely a destination here (1670 Southwest Blvd.). Grab your glass of wine and head outside to stroll among the horses, goats, peacocks, pigs, and more. On the weekends, you’re likely to find a food truck and musical entertainment in the barn venue outdoors. You may even want to stay at the attached The Peacock Inn at Catawba Farms during your Catawba County visit/ they boast superlative B&B accommodations. Savor the charm of the farm!
The City of Conover began to develop in the mid-1800s as a “Y” intersection of the railroad traversing North Carolina. Although originally called Wye Town, legend says the name “Canova” was adopted, but transposed to Conover over several years. The City of Conover was chartered in 1876 and incorporated in 1877. The Bolick Historic District and George Huffman Farm here are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conover is also home to NASCAR’s Morgan Shepherd and the Jarrett (Ned and Dale) family.
Hickory is a city located primarily in Catawba County, with formal boundaries extending into Burke and Caldwell counties.
The origins of Hickory’s name stems from a tavern made of logs beneath a hickory tree during the 1850s. The spot was known as “Hickory Tavern.” In 1870, Hickory Tavern was established as a town. Three years later in 1873, the name was changed to the Town of Hickory, and in 1889 to the City of Hickory.
The first train operated in the area of Hickory Tavern in 1859, and the first lot was sold to Henry Link for $45 in 1858. His house is now known as “The 1859 Cafe,” a restaurant (closed in 2011). Hickory was one of the first towns to install electric lights in 1888 and a complete sewerage system in 1904. And in 1891, Lenoir–Rhyne University (then Highland Academy) was founded by four Lutheran pastors with 12 initial students.
Hickory is home to one of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the United States, still located and operated on the original site. Hickory White, formerly known as Hickory Manufacturing Company, was built in 1902 and has been in continuous operation ever since. During World War II, the factory made ammunition boxes for the U.S. military instead of furniture.
.Hckory was known in the years after World War II for the “Miracle of Hickory”. In 1944, the area around Hickory (the Catawba Valley) became the center of one of the worst outbreaks of polio ever recorded. Residents who were then children recall summers of not being allowed to play outside or visit friends for fear of contracting the disease. Since local facilities were inadequate to treat the victims, the citizens of Hickory and the March of Dimes decided to build a hospital to care for the children of the region. From the time the decision was made until equipment, doctors, and patients were in a new facility, took less than 54 hours. Several more buildings were quickly added. A Red Cross official on the scene praised the project “as the most outstanding example of cooperative effort he has ever seen.”
Hickory has one sister city: Germany Altenburger Land, Germany. Notable people from Hickory include Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook; Eric Church, country music singer and songwriter; and Dale Jarrett, former NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Hickory has been named an “All-America City” three times. The All-America City Award is given annually to ten cities in the United States. It is an award that represents a community’s ability to work together and achieve critical local issues. Hickory won this award in 2007, as well as 1967 and 1987. The Hickory metro area has been named the 10th best place to live and raise a family in the United States. In 2014, Smart Growth America identified the Hickory MSA as being the country’s most sprawling metro area.
Early industries such as wagon-making know-how, proximity to expansive forests, and excellent transportation via two intersecting railroads provided fertile ground for the emergence of the furniture industry. Today, 40% of the world’s fiber optic cable is made in the Hickory area. And it is estimated that 60% of the nation’s furniture used to be produced within a 200-mile radius of Hickory.
Hickory Museum of Art Browse through three floors of open art galleries, including pottery, modern sculpture, paintings, statement and children’s exhibits, and more. Established in 1944, the Hickory Art Museum (243 3rd Ave NE) has been creating artistic visions in Catawba County for more than 75 years. Founding director Paul Whitener vowed to make Hickory and art center in NC. The museum’s focus is on American art, celebrating artists across NC and the US. Membership here is reciprocal in 250 museum nationwide (ROA) plus 150 museums in the Southeast (SERM).
Catawba County Firefighter’s Museum Sadly, this was another missed opportunity as the museum was closed early on the day of our visit due to a funeral. But we did get some photos outside and one at the front door. (3957 Herman Sipe Rd.)
Long View, NC
Originally known as “Penelope,” Long View incorporated in 1907. The legend is that the Town of Long View was thought to have been named by Sam D. Campbell a prominent contractor and real estate dealer who helped build the old Piedmont Wagon Company factory building in Hickory. The story goes that one day while standing at his former home where the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company building is today, Mr. Campbell gazed down the Southern Railway track toward Hickory and remarked, “It’s a long view.” The name stuck.
There has been some confusion as to whether Long View is one or two words. “Longview” one word, is commonly used today in connection with the town. However, as of March 8, 1907, Section 1 of Chapter 430 of the original charter ratified by the North Carolina General Assembly in an act to incorporate the Town of Long View in Catawba County states: “That the Town of Long View, in Catawba County, is hereby incorporated by the name of Long View, and said town shall be subject to all the provisions of law now existing in reference to incorporated towns.” According to original charter, Long View when dealing with the town name is two words.
Hart Square Village Hart Square Village (5055 Hope Rd) boasts the world’s largest collection of historic log structures–surrounding a large, picturesque pond complete with a very large community of geese, that seem to be year-round residents. Hart Square Foundation preserves the log structures, trades, and culture housed at Hart Square Village. Through preservation and sharing, the foundation inspires the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and resilience of our pioneer ancestors.
There is so much amazing history on this property–and every building has a story to tell. From the old Post Office with a hidden space under the house for the family to hide, as the property was frequently robbed to the jail, or “calaboose,” with an actual whipping post (found about 2 miles from its current location) to an actual cotton gin (invented by Eli Whitney) to St. Mark Chapel with a stained glass window and working organ (which the owner will gladly play for you) to a doggie treadmill/butter churner–Yes, I gave that one away.
Peruse through this landscape of historic log buildings all picked up from their original locations throughout the state then moved here and reconstructed. The property’s owner was an avid pilot, so he maintained a landing strip on the backside of the property for landings and takeoffs. In fact, during his many flights, he would keep an eye out for log structures from the air, make a note of where they were, then seek out the owners to purchase the buildings and bring them here to Vale. In all, Hart Square Village has XX structures on property. (The landing strip is used today for large event parking.)
English language lovers can revel in the historic origins of phrases such as “keep your nose to the grindstone,” while visiting the grist mill (originally located on Miller’s Creek) and more.
Plus, the owners recently built an amazingly fabulous event hall to host weddings, corporate events, family reunions, and more on the property. They even offer co-working spaces to local business entrepreneurs. Stop by for several annual festivals: the annual Hart Square Village festival where you can see 500 pounds of cotton being baled throughout the day with the still-running cotton gin. Hart Square Village also hosts an annual Sunflower festival in the fall where you can pick your own sunflowers and a Christmas Festival in December at night complete with lighted pathways and a beautifully lit covered bridge. This village is truly an amazing find–and so worth the tour.
Maiden was the first public high school in the state with an observatory and is currently home to an Apple iCloud Data Center, covering 500,000 square feet. “The Biggest Little Football Town in the World,” as it has long called itself, was incorporated on March 7, 1883 as a cotton mill site and a trading center. The name “Maiden” most likely is Native American in origin. Historians claim that the town was named after the native-grown “Maidencane” grass, which is found throughout the township to this day.
Sherrills Ford, NC
Sherrills Ford is named due being the site of the fording of the Catawba River from east to west by Adam Sherrill et al. ca. 1747. The apostrophe in “Sherrill’s Ford” was inadvertently dropped. The Sherrills, of English ancestry, had come from northeast Maryland, most probably trekking through modern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. Many Sherrill descendants still reside in Sherrills Ford.
Long Island, NC
Previously a milling town, the area was flooded when a dam was built on the Catawba River to create Lake Norman in 1959. John J. Shuford and Avery M. Powell built Long Island Mill in the early 1850s. Brothers Columbus and Wilfred Turner bought the mill in 1881. It was located “on a mile-long stretch of island in one of the river’s wider spots.” Columbus Turner built a house nearby which he called Mont Beaux, which the mill workers pronounced Monbo. Eventually, the Turners called their company Monbo Mill Company. In the late 1880s, they sold Long Island Mill to English businessman Jim Brown and focused on Monbo Mill.
The idea for a dam on the Catawba River dated back to before 1900. Buck and Benjamin Duke saw dams on the Catawba as a way to help industry.Duke Power had planned for a dam in this area since the early 1920s, when the company bought Long Island Mill, Monbo Mill and other properties to prepare for the building of a new lake.
Catawba, which was selected as an early railroad station, is one of the oldest towns between Salisbury and Asheville, NC. Trains ran to the town before the War Between the States, beginning around 1859.
Murray’s Mill Historic District
In Newton, you’ll find this quaint little picturesque mill and surrounding landscape (1489 Murray’s Mill Rd.) along side a 28-foot waterwheel dam beside a restful pond on the banks of Balls Creek, complete with geese and a trickling waterfall. You can park in a field just up the hill, then head down to shop in the 1890’s Murray & Minges General Store, visit with a few local crafters outside, picnic alongside the waterwheel and mill dam (closed in 1967), and even hike on a nature path and part of the Carolina Thread Trail. Tour the 1913 grist mill and 1880s Wheathouse as well as the 1913 John Murray House and numerous outbuildings run by three generations of the Murray family. Grab a soda from the old-timey Coca-Cola refrigerator at the general store and shop for some country goods and snacks, candy, toys, and gifts. When in operation, the mill ground corn with the original one-ton French millstones and wheat to make flour with roller mills. Today, the Annual Harvest Farmers Market is held each year on the last Saturday of September.
Historical Museum, Veterans Garden You’ll find these two right across the street from one another (101 First St SW). The Veterans Garden is a lovely tribute to Catawba County residents, men and women, who have perished while serving their country. Take a few minutes to pay your respects, then head across the street to the Historical Museum. If it’s not open, you can at least peer through the windows.
Established in 1986 in response to the naming of the Catawba Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, TCHA, Inc. adopted the restoration of the oldest brick building, Dr. Q. M. Little House ca. 1873, to showcase local history.
The Museum opened to the public in 2003. The Federal-style building contains five rooms of unique local history and a room dedicated to the National Little Family Archives. The structure itself is quite remarkable as well, featuring a two-tier porch, exterior stairway, six front doors and vintage handmade brick construction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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, 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.
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.
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.
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 3, The Conjuring, We’re the Millers, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, One Tree Hill, Dawson’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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
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.
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 is comprised of three island communities: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher.
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.
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.
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.
Just northwest of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, you’ll find the lovely country atmosphere of Lincoln County, with eastern parts of the county bordering manmade Lake Norman.
The county was formed in 1779 from the eastern part of Tryon County, which had been settled by Europeans in the mid-18th Century. The county was named for Benjamin Lincoln, a general in the American Revolutionary War. During the American Revolution, the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill occurred near a grist mill in Lincolnton. And you’ll see the mill commemorated in a beautiful town mural near Lincolnton’s center (to the left of the county courthouse).
In 1782, the southeastern part of Burke County was annexed to Lincoln County. In 1841, parts of Lincoln and Rutherford Counties were combined to form Cleveland County. In 1842, the northern third of Lincoln County became Catawba County. And in 1846, the southern half of what was left of Lincoln County became Gaston County.
The day begins with a leisurely ride along the shores of Lake Norman. Then we head to Denver, NC — know as the Denver of the East and formerly known as Dry Pond. In 1873, in an attempt to attract a railroad spur and thinking that the moniker “Dry Pond” didn’t present a nice enough image for the railroad planners, headmaster of the local Rock Springs Academy, D. Matt Thompson, led the effort to have Dry Pond renamed for the capital of Colorado, which was just then petitioning for statehood.
For a brief period during the 1890s–1910s, Denver was home to small-scale gold prospecting, particularly in the area near the former Triangle School and the community now known as Westport. Having failed to elect a local government for many years, Denver lost its official incorporated status in 1971 by vote of the state legislature.
Good Karma Ranch Alpacas
Iron Station, near Lincolnton, was named for its history as an iron mining town with a train station. Here, you’ll find a quiet community that includes an alpaca farm Good Karma Ranch (1041 Brevard Place Rd, Iron Station, NC) offering school and farm tours and a variety of events: group and private Alpaca Yoga classes and barn quilt classes plus an on-site gift shop full of apparel and other items made from ultra-soft alpaca fiber.
You may be asking yourself, What’s the difference between a llama and an alpaca. They get asked that a lot. The short story is that both are part of the same animal family. However, llamas are used more as a work animal (able to transport heavier loads) while alpacas are bred for their soooo soft fur, which is way softer than sheep’s wool.
At the center of Lincoln County is the county seat of Lincolnton, the only legally incorporated municipality wholly within the rural county. Lincolnton consists of the Lincoln County Courthouse surrounded by a circular road and several businesses, retail shops, and restaurants. It’s a quaint area to spend an afternoon perusing through quaint downtown area, local antiquity and craft shops and stopping for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat at one of the area restaurants (like The Meating Place, known for its meats).
As the county seat and center of the textile industry, city residents prospered on the returns from cotton cultivation for many years. The city has numerous properties, including churches, which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the late 20th century. It has three recognized historic districts: Lincolnton Commercial Historic District, South Aspen Street Historic District, and West Main Street Historic District. These were centers of the earliest businesses and retail activities. There was much activity around the Lincoln County Courthouse on court days, when farmers typically came to town to trade and sell their goods.
Residences, churches, and other notable buildings marked the development of the city, including residential areas expanding outward from the city’s center. In 1986, Lincolnton expanded by annexing the nearby town of Boger City.
***Be sure to stop by for the Apple Festival always held the third Saturday every September in Downtown Lincolnton. It’s free–and fun–to attend.
South Fork Trail While visiting Lincolnton, be sure to trek down the South Fork Trail (2648 Laboratory Rd). Not too far down the trail, you’ll come upon a large waterfall on the right. (You’ll hear it before you see it.) And this waterfall comes with a bonus… a very short trail to the right will lead you to the top of the falls for a super close-up experience.
The South Fork Rail Trail is a combination of natural surface and crushed gravel trail, providing nice terraced views of the South Fork of the Catawba River. Enjoy biking or hiking along the 2 miles of trail located on the the 324-acre Rhyne Preserve and protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy.
Visitors to the trail can experience one of Lincoln County’s finest natural areas, including mature floodplain forests along the South Fork Catawba River, a bald cypress swamp, rock outcrops, and lovely wildflowers. The preserve also provides important habitat for migratory songbirds and other wildlife species.
You can see the historic Laboratory Mill across the South Fork River which is now an event venue. This site was known as Lincolnton Cotton Factory 1819-1863.
South Fork Rail Trail is a part of the Butterfly Highway. The Butterfly Highway is a statewide conservation restoration initiative that aims to restore native pollinator habitats to areas impacted by urbanization, land use change, and agriculture across North Carolina. From backyard Pollinator Pitstops to large-scale roadside habitat restoration, the project is creating a network of native flowering plants to support butterflies, bees, birds and other pollen and nectar dependent wildlife.
Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail Lincolnton boasts its own rail-trail conversion. This 1.6 mile-long trail converts an old rail line into a walking and biking path meandering through downtown Lincolnton. The paved trail is lined with trees, flowers, and benches (from East Pine St to Motz Ave) and includes several public art murals paying homage to the former rail line. The former rail station has been converted into a grassy play area and public bathrooms.
The Marcia H. Cloninger Rail-Trail, known locally as the Lincolnton Rail-Trail, is a 1.6-mile paved trail, is especially popular with walkers, joggers, bikers, and parents pushing baby strollers. Benches line the route, inviting you to pause and take in this enchanting town and trail.
The trail offers a chance to search the heart of this small Southern town, highlighted by a stately courthouse, model Main Street, thriving arts scene, and nearby lakes and mountains. Once an eyesore covered in kudzu and debris, the former Norfolk Southern Railroad corridor is now the pride and joy of “Lovable Lincolnton.”
Marcia H. Cloninger was influential in the early Lincolnton Rail to Trail movement. Mrs. Cloninger served on the Lincolnton City Council and worked tirelessly to make the rail trail a reality. In 1999, it was recommended that the rail trail officially be named the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail.
Burton Farms General Store Burton Farms General Store (317 W Main St) is a must-stop in Lincolnton. They are a family-owned business. While providing fresh and local produce, they also offer many locally sourced items, including jams/jellies, honey, meats, cheese, and artisan/craft items. We were there in early fall, so the outside area was filled with tons of pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks, hay bales, Indian corn, yard decor, and more.
While downtown, be sure to also stop at Rising Sun Pottery (209 South Academy St), Southern Charm Winery (235-D East Main St), and the Lincoln County Museum of History/ Lincoln Cultural Center (403 E Main St), which was still closed at the time due to COVID.
The Lincoln Cultural Center is the center of arts and history in Lincoln County. The former Baptist Church, built in 1923, now provides a performance venue for theatrical productions by the resident Lincoln Theatre Guild, concerts presented by the Lincoln Community Concert Association. and other local and national acts.
The Cultural Center is also home to the Arts Council of Lincoln County, featuring rotating visual art exhibits and public community art classes. The Lincoln County Historical Association operates the Lincoln County Museum of History, housed in the center along with its archival libraries, donated collections, research areas, and offices.
NanBrook Farm Primitives & Antiques If you like crafty, country goods, NanBrook Farm Primitives & Antiques (1580 Andy Logan Rd) is your place. It’s just slightly outside of Lincolnton, and is chockful of gift items and home decor.
P.S. They close down around Thanksgiving for about a week every year to transform the entire store for Christmas.
Vale was the destination of 50 African American families during the Great Migration. Most migrated from Half Acre Township in Putnam County, Georgia. They established three migration churches and three black elementary schools. They moved out of Vale by 1978 and were replaced by Mexican laborers.
Vale is now home to the annual Cat Square Christmas Parade, started in 1974, known as the “Best Little Christmas Parade in the Country.” The parade festivities included electing the Mayor of Cat Square. (The mayor is strictly a figurehead, with his or her only duty being to ride in the parade.)
The Reinhardt-Craig House, Kiln and Pottery Shop was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
While visiting Vale, stop by Woodmill Winery (1350 Woodmill Winery Lane) for a wine tasting and wine slushies. Relax indoors, on the wrap-around porch outside or peruse the grounds with your glass of wine. You can watch the process of muscadine wine being made from the five acres of vines to the bottling area and wine cellar in the winery’s basement.
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.
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
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
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 & 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
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.)
Boyette Brothers Sweet Potatoes Farm
Stop by this farm for a tour and a few sweet potatoes to bring home (when in season).
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.
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.
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.)
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).