A Little Wild and Out of the Ordinary
Following a long, narrow dirt road along Wilson Creek, you’ll find one of North Carolina’s most unknown rugged areas. Wilson Creek, a 23.3-mile mountain stream, starts atop the 5920-foot high Grandfather Mountain, just 100 yards above the Blue Ridge Parkway. Twenty miles later, the headwaters rush through the Blue Ridge Mountains into a 200-foot deep gorge of granite bedrock. Wilson Creek was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 2000, and much of it lies in the Pisgah National Forest. From its boulder-strewn headwaters, kayakers plunge through rapids with names like Boatbuster and Thunderhole in what is recognized as one of the most challenging runs in the southeastern United States. Twenty-five miles of wilderness trails offer hikers and backpackers striking views of small waterfalls and forests intertwined with laurel and rhododendron. Pristine trout waters are pursued by avid fishermen while mountain bikers find single-track systems creating opportunities for all abilities. Thirty-four miles of trails are open to all-terrain and off-highway vehicles in the Brown Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle Area. If you’re seeking the ultimate outdoor transformational experience, take a trip to Wilson Creek.
Having a Berry Good Time
Bouncing down the street in a purple glittery suit sewn with drupelets the size of watermelons, comes a Lenoir icon who, at first glance, seems to be from the Fruit of the Loom factory. But it is Mr. Blackberry, mascot of the Annual North Carolina Blackberry Festival. For the past five years during the last weekend of July, residents and visitors have made a mad rush to downtown Lenoir searching for the perfect blackberry. Blackberry connoisseurs can find blackberry-stained t-shirts, syrup, wine, juice, fritters, ice cream, and every possible variation of blackberry product. Bluegrass music, parking lot “pickin’” competitions, and a Miss Blackberry Princess competition are highlights of the day. There’s even a blackberry eating contest, where participants try to stuff down a quart of blackberries, only to be left with the casualties of the dreaded blackberry stain.
Beach in the Mountains
So, you’re thinking about hitting the sand, but the thought of hot, crowded beaches has you thinking twice. Surrounded by a thicket of oak and maple trees and soothed by the waters of Wilson Creek, sand lovers can sink their toes in the sand at Brown Mountain Beach Resort. Located just 30 minutes from Blowing Rock and 20 minutes from Lenoir, Brown Mountain Beach is a 78-site campground with bath, shower house, laundry facilities, water, power, and full hook-ups. Eight cottages, built circa 1910, provide accommodations for the weary traveler with stunning views of thick forests and rushing mountain waters. Four cabins have been completely remodeled with three bedrooms, a dining area, a kitchenette, hardwood floors, a fireplace, deck, and a private hot tub. Coming in 2007, owners Ron and Wendy McDaniel plan to remodel the former game room into a coffeehouse. For the less adventuresome soul, the resort offers a shallow water area and sandy beach, where you can go tubing, swimming, or sunbathe. The resort bares the name of the same Brown Mountain that’s world known for the mysterious lights, the Brown Mountain Lights. So what could be more refreshing than the cool mountain air?
A Driving Passion for Downtown
Chip Strickland, a local car enthusiast, started a small car cruise-in to help revitalize downtown Lenoir. In 2003, Strickland started the Lenoir Cruise-In to encourage a rediscovery of downtown. From its modest beginnings of 20 cars, numbers grew to 300-400 cars per event. With hundreds of visitors shopping and eating in downtown, merchants have seen enormous benefits, and participants come from Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Strickland hopes to reach 600-1,000 cars per event in the near future.
Town Inside a Gallery
Thirteen outdoor sculptures adorn downtown Lenoir’s streetscape in a new outdoor sculpture gallery known as Tucker’s Sculpture Gallery (named for the first settlement in Lenoir: Tucker’s Barn). Art is usually found inside buildings or art galleries, but Tucker’s Sculpture Gallery displays pieces in an outdoor setting among downtown shops, restaurants, and craft stores. Tucker’s Sculpture Gallery exhibits sculptures by local artists throughout the downtown district for a period of six months, after which they are replaced with new pieces. The artwork is available for sale, with new pieces being installed as sculptures are sold. Visitors can see everything from an iron pea pod to a 7-foot-tall steel banjo player. The idea of the downtown gallery came from the sculpture collection already found throughout Caldwell County. Since the 1980s, the Caldwell Arts Council has added to its collection using pieces purchased from its Annual Indoor/Outdoor Sculpture Celebration. To date, 77 pieces of sculpture have been installed across Caldwell County. The Caldwell Arts Council’s collection has gained state-wide attention, being in the top 3% of collections in the United States as confirmed by Appalachian State University.
Fort Defiance on the Yadkin
“Where’s the fort?” is the first question most people usually ask Executive Director and tour guide Becky Phillips about Fort Defiance. Fort Defiance, the 18th century home of Revolutionary War hero William Lenoir, is a fort in name only. Construction on the house began in 1788 and was completed four years later. Six generations of the Lenoir family lived there until January 1961. When the family left in 1961, the home was restored to its original state using William Lenoir’s extensive notes. Fort Defiance boasts more than 300 original pieces of furniture and artifacts. It is very unusual to have it all in one place. The grounds of the property feature a 200-year-old English boxwood garden, a 200-year-old oriental chestnut tree, and the largest beech tree in North Carolina.
Following the Yadkin River Valley through green hills and a rolling countryside, you’ll find Historic Happy Valley, a rural community in northeast Caldwell County dotted with historic sites, old barns, and plowed fields. Its history is rich with stories of Daniel Boone and Tom Dooly, the area’s best-known resident thanks to the Kingston Trio’s song “The Ballad of Tom Dooley.” Revolutionary hero and statesman General William Lenoir came to build his homestead in the area, and the Overmountain Men, on their way to battle at Kings Mountain in 1780, used the dirt road that still exists in some places. Thirteen sites in the Valley are on the National Register of Historic Places, including The Patterson School Historic District which is only one of two rural historic districts in North Carolina. Many of the families of the Valley who have roots dating back to the early 1700s still practice traditions of their ancestors, like canning, quilting, woodworking and molasses boiling. Art and tourism groups have taken notice of Happy Valley. These groups are working to preserve the area’s heritage before it’s too late. Folklorists have spent the past two years documenting the Valley’s people and culture. These groups hope to use resources gathered by folklorists to create an iPod audio driving tour along N.C. 268, the main road through the Valley.
Music Meets Mysterious Murder
Being a fiddler himself, Tom Dooley would have felt at home at the Happy Valley Old-time Fiddlers’ Convention on the Jones Farm, the final resting place of Laura Foster. Tom Dooley, a local man who served during the Civil War, was accused in 1867 of murdering a neighbor, Laura Foster. The events surrounding this crime, and Dooley’s subsequent trial and execution, live on in North Carolina’s best-known murder ballad and in stories passed down in local families. Each year during Labor Day weekend, visitors pay homage to the legends and stories of this 28-mile Yadkin River Valley known as Happy Valley. Happy Valley and the areas along N.C. Highway 268 are worth celebrating because little has changed in generations. The Happy Valley Old-time Fiddlers’ Convention offers cash prizes for fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin as well as Bluegrass and Old-time band competitions. Along with the instrument playing, the event offers folk singing, instrument making, old-time dance demonstrations, hayride tours, corn shucking, flat footing, and local home-cooked delicacies.
Not Your Ordinary Country Cuisine
The Patterson School, Fort Defiance, Tom Dooley, and Daniel Boone are all claims to fame for Happy Valley; but two neighbors located in this scenic valley have made a name for themselves for their savory taste buds. Joe Doll, partner of La Paz LLC, is raising Atlantic sturgeon, a very rare species used to make caviar. His neighbor, Liza Plaster, opened Ripshin Dairy, a goat dairy that sells a variety of goat cheeses at local farmer’s markets.
Mowing and Plowing Down the Valley
Cultivating the land is important to the history of Happy Valley. Several farmers of this Yadkin River Valley today are descendants of early settlers and some carry on occupational traditions of their ancestors. Each year, the Jones Farm comes alive with Plow Day in April and Mow Day in June. Event organizer, Tommy Winkler, a genuine blacksmith and wheelwright, has been organizing the events since 2004. Winkler is one of the few remaining craftsmen in America who can build an entire Concord Coach.
Since the 1980s, the Caldwell Arts Council and the Tri-State Sculptors Association have sponsored the Annual Indoor/Outdoor Sculpture Celebration, a competition that brings 75 to 80 national artists to Lenoir each September. Through private donations each year, the Caldwell Arts Council purchases pieces from the show to place throughout the community. To date, 77 pieces of sculpture can be seen in Caldwell County. There are all types of sculpture scattered across Caldwell County, and the Caldwell Arts Council hopes to create a self-guided driving tour with separate routes. In the meantime, local artists have created a convenient opportunity for visitors to see sculpture in a new outdoor gallery in downtown Lenoir called Tucker’s Sculpture Gallery.
20 Miles of Furniture
Within the furniture state of the nation, there lies a stretch of highway that is dominated by discount furniture, the 20 Miles of Furniture. Thousands of people visit U.S. Highway 321 to seek out over 50 discount furniture outlets stretched over a 20-mile area. Nearly all major manufacturers including Bernhardt, Broyhill, Fairfield Chair, Hammary, Kincaid, and Thomasville can be found along with lesser known companies that also produce top-quality furnishings. Especially keen shoppers can sometimes find one-of-a-kind items or deeply discounted samples. A furniture hotline is available to aid shoppers in their quest for finding furniture.
A toe-tapping good time
Looking for unique food, fun and toe-tapping entertainment? If so, look no further than Sim’s Country BBQ, a cozy little place just off-the-beaten path in southern Caldwell County. Equipped with picnic tables and benches, diners will feel right at home, where you’ll be treated with a smile. Open every Friday and Saturday evening, Sim's offers live bluegrass music and a large dance area to whirl around the floor with that special someone or a complete stranger, and even Doc Watson is known to be a frequent unannounced performer. Square dance lessons for all ages will cap of the night. Of course Sim’s is known for its barbecue, but its true claim to fame is being home of one of the best clogging teams in North Carolina. The Sims Country Cloggers are a talented group of young people heralded around the state for being one of the top teams every year.
Granite Falls native Allan Huffman has a life-long passion for vintage machines that he remembered as a child. For only a quarter, Huffman could choose from one of 12 flavors from a gravity-fed soda machine. Over the years, Huffman has acquired over 1,000 machines in what is one of the world’s most complete collections. Huffman started collecting machines through his business, Antique Vending Company. Allan now displays his collection in a renovated textile mill in downtown Granite Falls complete with a banquet facility named Club Cola.
100 Miles of Pure Hill
Since 1989, close to 1,000 cyclists from all over the country have converged on Caldwell County for the Bridge to Bridge Incredible Challenge on the third Sunday each September. Athletic abilities of the riders range from cycling professionals to weekend warriors, each with their eye one a common goal—to conquer Grandfather Mountain. The 100-mile ride begins in Lenoir at an elevation of 1,080 feet and rises to a climax of 5,280 at the Mile-High Swinging Bridge atop Grandfather Mountain. What makes so many cyclists train all year for this great event? Grandfather Mountain is only open to cyclists during this one event, so training for the last 2.5 miles of Pure Hill is impossible. The unique finish makes the Bridge to Bridge Incredible Challenge one of the top rides in the nation, according to Bicycling magazine.