Our Story, Our Heritage
Caldwell County and Lenoir is a community of craftsmen. From our industry to our arts to the natural beauty carved out of the mountains, there is an appreciation, a recognition of tradition and a vibrant wonder, a daring anticipation for what comes next. Whether it is furniture, music, sculpture, or outdoor adventure, the legacy is rich, the heritage strong, and the future is promising.
A Legacy of Master Craftsmen
Drawing from their German, English and Scots-Irish heritage, dedicated furniture craftsmen began creating wood-carved pieces here in the 1880s. This tradition of fine-furniture making and high quality craftsmanship would forge the beginnings of a furniture industry in Caldwell County and Lenoir. Furniture companies grew with the hands of highly-skilled craftspeople, and furniture brands such as Bernhardt, Broyhill, Fairfield Chair, Hammary, and Kincaid established headquarters in Caldwell County.
More than a hundred years later in the late 1990s and early 2000s, global competition forced many of the furniture manufacturers overseas, but the industry continues to be one of Caldwell County’s leading employers. Thousands of people visit the area annually to purchase furniture along a 20-mile stretch of highway dominated with furniture stores called the “20 Miles of Furniture.”
Today, entrepreneurs are crafting new ideas such as allergy immunotherapy, compression-molded plastic, airplane and advance composite manufacturing, fiber optics, packaging, fabric tape, and Web-based applications. Industry leaders such as Google, AMP Research Technology Incubator, Greer Laboratories, Bemis, Sealed Air, Neptco, MDI, VX Aerospace and others are shaping a new direction for Caldwell County.
Sculpting a Reputation
During the last century, the furniture factories refined craftsmen possessing the same artistic abilities that today’s artists reflect. This appreciation for precise handwork formed the basis for a community of artists and art lovers. Since the 1980s, the Caldwell Arts Council has sponsored the Annual Indoor/Outdoor Sculpture Celebration, a competition that brings 75 to 80 national artists to Lenoir each September. In its humble beginnings, the organizers of the Sculpture Celebration used private donations to purchase several pieces from the competition to place in the community. Eventually, the collection grew to 77 pieces of sculpture, 49 of which are outdoors.
Save Outdoor Sculpture!, a joint program of the Heritage Preservation and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, along with the North Carolina Arts Council have verified that Caldwell County has the largest collection of permanent public outdoor sculpture of any county of its population in the United States, ranking it in the top 3% of collections in the United States. What began as a simple way to enhance the environment of Caldwell County and surrounding areas has proven economically and visually important to the growth of the community.
Sculpted by Mother Nature
In the same way that craftsmen and sculptors have crafted with their hands, Mother Nature has carefully carved out some of the most serene and tranquil places located in Caldwell County.
Nearly half of northern Caldwell County is located within the rugged terrain of Pisgah National Forest. Wilson Creek, a federally designated Wild and Scenic River, is a remote and rugged stream, flowing through the Blue Ridge Mountains beginning atop the 5,920-foot high Grandfather Mountain and plunging into a 200-foot deep gorge of granite bedrock.
In eastern Caldwell County, historic Happy Valley has been carved by the headwaters of the Yadkin River, creating pristine beauty that remains untouched even today. The scenic byway through Happy Valley takes you through a leisurely drive of winding roads and picturesque views.
To the south, Caldwell County is composed of several diverse, yet close-knit communities, clustered along U.S. 321, and other important thoroughfares such as N.C. 18 and U.S. 64. Created by the Catawba River, Lake Hickory and Lake Rhodhiss border the southern tip of the county.
Caldwell County is blessed with a rich musical heritage with roots in American bluegrass folk style as well as classical music. String band music and folk ballads have been passed down orally through the generations.
Classical music was learned in Caldwell County in academic settings. The former Lenoir High School Band was known throughout the nation for its legendary accomplishments, which included playing each year for the NC gubernatorial inaugurations from 1933 to 1977. Today, the legacy of the Lenoir High School Band exists through the James C. Harper School of Performing Arts which offers high-quality private instruction to students of all ages.
The first settlement in Caldwell County was known as Tucker’s Barn, named for the family who settled in the area around the 1760s. Tucker’s Barn became a large meeting place for many gatherings and became so popular a fiddle tune was composed and written titled "Tucker’s Barn." Doc Watson eventually recorded this tune in 1964 on an album titled, "The Watson Family Tradition."
Local residents and visitors alike enjoy music venues throughout Caldwell County as well as during festivals, at the Happy Valley Fiddlers’ Convention, and at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center.