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The days of bootleggers racing down winding mountain roads with gallons of illicit ’shine may be long gone, but the places where you can learn about them — and our

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The days of bootleggers racing down winding mountain roads with gallons of illicit ’shine may be long gone, but the places where you can learn about them — and our

3 Places to Discover North Carolina’s Moonshining Past

The days of bootleggers racing down winding mountain roads with gallons of illicit ’shine may be long gone, but the places where you can learn about them — and our state’s incredible history — are not. Here are three places where you can get a taste of North Carolina’s moonshining past, explore the communities where bootleggers once thrived, and see remnants of old whiskey stills.


Stone Mountain State Park is known best for its namesake granite — but it holds secrets, too. Photography courtesy of NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Hike Past Moonshining Stills at Stone Mountain State Park

Along the Alleghany and Wilkes county line, trails in Stone Mountain State Park transport hikers across streams and creeks and into North Carolina’s moonshining past: A submarine-style still emerges through lush mountain thickets, coal-fired stills rest on the forest floor, and five-gallon jerry cans lie abandoned on the hillsides. Hikers Joe Mickey and Bob Hillyer have discovered nearly 200 former moonshine stills in the park’s 14,000-plus acres — some of which operated a century ago — over the past two decades.

Check out beautiful waterfalls at Stone Mountain State Park. Photography courtesy of NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

With little pastureland for cattle and stubborn Piedmont soil, this area was ineffective for farming in the 1950s. But nearby creeks were unrivaled, in convenience and accessibility, for making corn liquor. Plus, stills were easy to conceal in the hills. Thousands of gallons of moonshine were made weekly, some in wood or coal-fired stills and others in gasoline-powered stills to limit overhead smoke that could expose moonshine operations. Most of the old metal from the stills remains in the area, some of which feature visible scars from being discovered by revenuer officers during bootlegging busts.

Today, Stone Mountain State Park offers guided two-mile hikes along Garden Creek for visitors who want to explore the past and see remnants of these former moonshine stills — which flourished in the area until the 1960s. Treks to the stills are off-trail, so it’s recommended that visitors call in advance to find out when the next guided hike will take place. The park also features beautiful waterfalls, 18 miles of hiking trails, bountiful streams for trout fishing, and campsites.


The Museum of the Albermarle in Elizabeth City features exhibits on northeastern North Carolina. Photography courtesy of Museum of the Albermarle

Explore the Bootlegging History of North Carolina’s Swamps at the Museum of the Albemarle

Forested swamps in North Carolina’s Coastal Plain provided backwoods bootleggers near-perfect destinations for distilling and stowing jugs of non-taxed hooch. During Prohibition, revenuers gathered in Elizabeth City — the springboard for federal raids in the Albemarle region. The area’s rich moonshining past is highlighted expertly at the Museum of the Albemarle, a three-story destination in downtown Elizabeth City overlooking the Pasquotank River, which features exhibits spanning centuries of northeastern North Carolina history.

A sprawling, 6,200-square-foot exhibit with more than 700 artifacts on display, “Our Story: A Life in the Albemarle” pays tribute to the generations of natives, explorers, farmers, and watermen who made a home in this coastal region. The main exhibit includes the legacy of Alvin Sawyer, dubbed “The Moonshine King of the Great Dismal Swamp,” known for his un-taxed whiskey-making in the 1930s. The Pasquotank County native made moonshine beginning at the age of 15 and earned local notoriety for being one of the best distillers in the region. In 1987, Sawyer was busted for running a 2,000-gallon still in a marsh near the Pasquotank River, holding the record as the largest moonshine still ever seized in the Dismal Swamp. He retired from bootlegging years later and turned to selling miniature non-working stills around the county.

The Museum of the Albemarle ensures that every visit comes with a new discovery. In addition to the permanent “Our Story” exhibit, a range of traveling and online exhibits are available for visitors to enjoy. One traveling exhibit, “Temperance & Bootlegging: A Nation Under Prohibition,” includes informational panels discussing the effects of Prohibition on northeastern North Carolina. Admission for all the museum’s exhibits is free, but don’t forget to swing by the gift shop, which offers local handcrafts, books, and other keepsakes that represent the region and its history.


Discover the History of “The Harricane” Moonshining Community in Wake County

Encompassing parts of Wake, Granville, and Franklin counties, the rural community of “The Harricane” gets its name from a fierce storm that traveled through parts of the area in the 18th century. Historians consider “The Hurricane” the intended name, but Southern accents prompted it to be colloquially known as Hair-kin or Hair-a-cun. The Piedmont’s dense red clay made it difficult to grow crops in this area — but corn was an exception, and resourceful farmers took to converting the grain into a profitable commodity in northern Wake County: moonshine.

Folklore surrounding The Harricane community is widespread. Well known for being a dangerous area brimming with renegades, those who lived in The Harricanes were said to have been suspicious of outsiders. The area was so ominous, in fact, that some suspect local revenuers didn’t like to wander through looking for moonshiners. And rumor had it, if you heard about moonshine from The Harricane, you’d be hard-pressed to get your hands on a jar unless you had a connection. Those born in the area, however, considered it an intimate community. Folks stuck together, and come Sunday, church was a mainstay.

Some say Falls Lake — created to control flooding and act as a reservoir for surrounding communities, including Raleigh — had been a part of The Harricane community in the early ’70s, around the same time moonshine stills were legalized in Wake County. Today, locals and visitors interested in discovering more about the once-thriving bootlegging community can stop by The Harricane exhibit at the Wake Forest Historical Museum. The four-acre museum complex features artifacts, historical documents, and memorabilia collections that depict the life of the community and other surrounding areas.

This story was published on Feb 01, 2024

Tamiya Anderson

Tamiya Anderson is a Concord-based writer and former Our State intern who is proud to call The Tar Heel State home.