A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_181299" align="alignnone" width="1140"] The Oregon State College Beavers score a touch-down at Duke Stadium (now Wallace Wade Stadium) during the 1942 Rose Bowl.[/caption] 1. Home Field Disadvantage [caption id="attachment_181300"

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_181299" align="alignnone" width="1140"] The Oregon State College Beavers score a touch-down at Duke Stadium (now Wallace Wade Stadium) during the 1942 Rose Bowl.[/caption] 1. Home Field Disadvantage [caption id="attachment_181300"

50 Things You Didn’t Know About North Carolina

The Oregon State College Beavers score a touch-down at Duke Stadium (now Wallace Wade Stadium) during the 1942 Rose Bowl.

The Oregon State College Beavers score a touch-down at Duke Stadium (now Wallace Wade Stadium) during the 1942 Rose Bowl. Photography courtesy of Oregon State University Athletics, OSU Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon

1. Home Field Disadvantage

Photography courtesy of Oregon State University Athletics, OSU Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon

In 1942, the location of the Rose Bowl game between Oregon State College and Duke University was relocated to Durham from Pasadena, California, because of fears of a Japanese attack. (Pearl Harbor had occurred just a month earlier.) Due to the demand for tickets, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering stepped up to provide additional bleacher seats. You could say that NBC announcer Bill Stern was the Beavers’ 12th man that day: He asserted that Duke could beat the Beavers by “throwing 11 helmets on the field,” a comment that caught the ear of Oregon State players. The angry Beavers beat the undefeated Blue Devils 20-16.

North Carolina native Georgia Ann Broadwick became the first woman to parachute from a plane into a body of water.

North Carolina native Georgia Ann Broadwick became the first woman to parachute from a plane into a body of water. Photography courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina

2. One Giant Leap for Womankind

What Georgia Ann “Tiny” Broadwick lacked in height (standing little more than four feet tall), she more than made up for in moxie. After she saw Charles Broadwick’s Famous French Aeronauts perform at the State Fair in Raleigh in 1907, she decided, “That’s for me.” Broadwick ultimately “adopted” the diminutive 15-year-old and named her “The Doll Girl.” She made her inaugural jump from a hot-air balloon at the North Carolina State Fair in 1908. “Tiny” went on to become a giant in the aeronautical world. She’s remembered as the first woman to parachute both from an airplane and into a body of water, and is often credited as the inventor of the “rip cord.” During her lifetime, she made more than 1,100 jumps.

3. Born in Bostic?

Folks in Rutherford County make a strong case that Abraham Lincoln was not, in fact, born in Kentucky, but rather in a log cabin near Bostic. They are so convinced of it that they opened a museum dedicated to the evidence that they’ve collected over the years.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd in Rocky Mount, North Carolina

The origins of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech surfaced less than a year before the March on Washington when he addressed a crowd in Rocky Mount. photograph by J.B. Harren, Courtesy of Andre Knight

4. Echoes of a Dream

On November 27, 1962, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed an audience of 1,800 in the gymnasium at Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount. It was one of the first times he used the phrase “I have a dream …” and included rhetorical devices and language that were further refined and ultimately became part of his famous speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

5. All That Glitters

illustration by Lisa Haney

America’s first gold rush was triggered by a young boy playing hooky from Sunday school. In 1799, Conrad Reed decided that he’d rather go fishing than recite Bible verses. As he dipped his line into Little Meadow Creek in rural Cabarrus County, he spotted a large, glittering rock. His father was less than impressed with the 17-pound specimen that his son lugged home: Dad used it as a doorstop for three years before showing it to a local jeweler, who had an instantaneous eureka! moment. Before long, Little Meadow Creek became the epicenter of a gold rush that preceded California’s by almost half a century.

Venus flytrap

Native to the subtropical wetlands in North Carolina and South Carolina, the Venus flytrap has sparked inspiration throughout the horticultural and cinematic worlds. photograph by yenwen/iStock/Getty Images Plus

6. Feed Me, Seymour!

photograph by AJ Pics/Alamy Stock Photo

Charles Darwin rhapsodized that the Venus flytrap was “one of the most wonderful [plants] in the world.” Today, you’ll find an example of this fascinating carnivorous species in just about every botanical garden around the world — and on the big screen. A mutant version of the Venus flytrap starred in the 1986 cult classic film Little Shop of Horrors. For all of its widespread popularity, the Venus flytrap is native to only one very specific location. “Its worldwide range is within about a 100-mile radius of Wilmington,” says Peter White, former director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Sadly, that habitat is shrinking.

Photography courtesy of Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

7. Designed for a Horse, of Course

Judge Mitchell King didn’t ask for much when he donated 50 acres for the county seat of Hendersonville in 1841. His only specification to the French-born surveyor, Charles de Choiseul, was that Main Street be wide enough for a horse and carriage to make a U-turn without backing up. We can only imagine that de Choiseul said, “Oui, monsieur,” because he obliged with a generous 100-foot-wide thoroughfare.

Cadets at UNC's U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School in Chapel Hill, NC.

UNC’s U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School was one of only five in the nation during World War II. Photography courtesy of United States Navy Pre-Flight School (University of North Carolina) Photographic Collection #P0027, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

8. Off We Go Into the (Carolina) Blue Yonder

Future presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, as well as legendary baseball player Ted Williams, attended the U.S. Navy’s Pre-Flight School at Chapel Hill during World War II. In all, the UNC program trained some 20,000 Navy cadets and officers.

The Blue Ridge Parkway fits right into the natural landscape, winding past sweeping overlooks and clusters of mountain laurel. photograph by MargaretW/iStock/Getty Images Plus

9. Let’s Take the High Road

Were it not for the vision of one man, a large stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway would be located in Tennessee rather than North Carolina. In 1934, two competing routes vied for approval. The Tennessee proposal had the parkway turning west from Linville, skirting around Roan Mountain, and taking a more direct and lower-elevation route through eastern Tennessee. North Carolina’s proposal proceeded southwest from Linville and used a high-elevation route along the crest of the Blue Ridge. The North Carolina route was engineered by R. Getty Browning, an avid outdoorsman and the man who headed up the state’s highway locating department. Browning walked every mile of the proposed route and knew its features intimately. The Tennessee proposal won the approval of the Radcliffe Committee, which was convened to make a recommendation to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. Despite a second hearing in which the Tennessee proposal seemed to maintain the upper hand, Ickes embraced Brown’s vision of a “mountain top Parkway.” Browning “had an infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors, for the mountains, and for roadbuilding into challenging spaces,” says Anne Mitchell Whisnant, author of Super Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History. “He had a way of relating to people and coming across in a way that kept the project at its center. Without R. Getty Browning, you do not get the Blue Ridge Parkway we know today.”

In Gaston County, millworkers mass-produce “Cramerton Khaki” at Cramerton Mills, Inc.

In Gaston County, millworkers mass-produce “Cramerton Khaki” at Cramerton Mills, Inc. Photography courtesy of Millican Pictorial History Museum (millicanpictorialhistorymuseum.com)

10. Cackalacky Khaki

Ad for Cramerton Army Cloth/Khaki

“Army khaki” developed by Cramerton Mills was widely used to make military uniforms. Photography courtesy of Millican Pictorial History Museum (millicanpictorialhistorymuseum.com)

Stuart Cramer was a modest fellow. After becoming president of a spinning mill, he decided to rename Mayworth, the town in which it was located. In a flash of inspiration, he decided to call it … Cramerton. In 1922, he renamed the mill Cramerton Mills, Inc. Then, in the late 1920s, he hit the alliterative jackpot when he named the new cloth that the mill produced “Cramerton Khaki.” It became the standard basic uniform cloth throughout the armed forces, seeing service through World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. But Cramer wasn’t done. He became a pioneer in industrial ventilation systems and coined a name for his invention that we are all familiar with today: “air-conditioning.” Oh, wait, he actually called it “the Cramer System of Air Conditioning.”

11. A Fixture in Your Life

illustration by Lisa Haney

Minerals like mica, kaolin, quartz, and feldspar are so abundant around Spruce Pine that many of the raw materials used in plumbing fixtures come from the area. Sibelco, a Belgian company with two sites in Spruce Pine, is a leading global provider of High Purity Quartz, which is used in semiconductors, photovoltaic cells, and quartz lighting.

illustration by Lisa Haney

12. The Bellyache Heard ’Round the World

When Babe Ruth collapsed on the trip home from spring training in Florida, a media frenzy ensued. One news outlet reported that he had died. Others suggested that Babe had binged on hot dogs and beer. He did, in fact, collapse in the Asheville train station (the Yankees were scheduled to play an exhibition at McCormick Field that day). After spending a night at the Battery Park Hotel, the Bambino returned to New York and spent six weeks in a hospital recovering not from an overabundance of hot dogs and beer but from an intestinal abscess.

Photography courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum

13. The Unanswered Dinner Bell

More than a thousand ships have sunk in the treacherous waters off Cape Hatteras. In many cases, the crews were lost, too. But the tale of the Carroll A. Deering, a five-masted commercial schooner, is a real head-scratcher. The ship survived, discovered wrecked off Diamond Shoals in 1921. Intriguingly, dinner was on the stove in the galley, but the lifeboats were gone, and the men were never found.

Photography courtesy of © Ernie Barnes/Ernie Barnes Family Trust

14. A Man in Full

The term “Renaissance Man” could have been coined for Durham-born Ernie Barnes. Despite growing up in the Jim Crow era, he went on to distinguish himself as a professional football player, a groundbreaking Black artist, an author, and an actor. Barnes first gained an appreciation for art by visiting the home of his mother’s employer because local laws prohibited his admission to museums. After his football career, he devoted himself fully to his art and his signature style. His work has been seen on television (as part of the show Good Times), on album covers (Marvin Gaye’s I Want You), and as part of museum exhibits and permanent collections across the U.S. and U.K.


15. Sweet Magnolia

During the Jim Crow era, the Magnolia Hotel became a sanctuary for Black travelers visiting Greensboro. Its register reads like a who’s who of famous actors, writers, athletes, and musicians, including Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Gladys Knight, James Baldwin, and Jackie Robinson, to name just a few. For years, the hotel was featured in The Green Book, a guide that helped Black travelers find safe places to obtain food, lodging, and gas across America. Today, the Magnolia House has been restored to its former glory and is one of only 63 Green Book sites that still exist in North Carolina.

16. The Price of Freedom

photograph by Science History Images/Alamy Stock Photo

The story of Harriet Jacobs is one of bravery, hardship, and incredible endurance. Born into slavery in Edenton in the early 1800s, she was sexually harassed by her owner to the point that she fled in 1835. But Jacobs didn’t go far. For seven years, she hid in a tiny crawlspace under the roof in her freed grandmother’s house, within a block of the home of her owner. Finally, she escaped on a ship bound for Philadelphia. Jacobs went on to become a famous abolitionist and writer, penning Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. “Her first-person narrative account was one of the first opportunities to see what slavery and freedom-seeking really looked like,” says Adrienne Nirdé, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Jockey’s Ridge holds the distinction of tallest living sand dune system on the Atlantic Coast — “living” because it’s constantly changing. photograph by Chris Hannant

17. Sea Change

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is notable for many reasons, but did you know that its eastern terminus changes with the wind? That’s because the highest sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the trail’s official start/end point. Wind conditions shift the sands, making this eastern terminus a moving target. What else sets the trail apart? “The MST is also pretty unusual in that it offers a paddle route,” says Brent Laurenz, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, referring to the 170-mile Neuse River Paddle Trail option. “The trail also involves two ferries, which is unusual for a long-distance trail.”

Photography courtesy of Adolph Thierbach/Madison County Public Library

18. Little Germany

During World War I, sailors aboard the German ship Vaterland, which was harbored in New York when hostilities broke out, were brought to the Mountain Park Hotel in Hot Springs, along with crew and passengers of other German ships moored in various U.S. ports. In all, more than 2,200 passengers, crew, and officers were held in this internment camp. Officers were housed in the hotel with crew in makeshift barracks and tents on the lawn. Ultimately, the enterprising sailors created a miniature Bavarian Village using everything from scrap lumber to flattened tobacco tins. To complete the illusion of a quaint Alpine hamlet, a German band performed weekly concerts for the local residents each Sunday.

A 22-foot-tall wooden sculpture of Sequoyah — creator of the Cherokee syllabary — stands outside the Museum of the Cherokee People, just one place to learn about Indigenous history. photograph by Jack Sorokin

19. A Cultural Crossroads

The history of North Carolina’s Indigenous people is complex and profound. But perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of that history can be found in the community of Indian Woods, located in Bertie County. As early as the 1580s, this area was inhabited by the Tuscarora Indians, the English, and free and enslaved African Americans, resulting in an uncommonly rich and long-lived Creole history that is still in evidence today. Indian Woods became the first Native reservation in North Carolina in 1717, predating the Qualla Boundary around Cherokee by more than a century. In addition to Indian Woods, there are many places in North Carolina where it’s possible to learn about Indigenous tribes and culture, including Town Creek Indian Mound in Mount Gilead, the Museum of the Cherokee People and Oconaluftee Village in Cherokee, and the Museum of the Southeast American Indian in Pembroke.

Through efforts like the “Travelog, Lucy Morgan brought attention to Appalachian crafts, a tradition that today includes the work of potter Cynthia Bringle (below). Photography courtesy of Penland School of Crafts Archives

20. Road Show

photograph by Mercedes Jelinek, Courtesy of Cynthia Bringle Pottery

Lucy Morgan, who founded the Penland School of Craft, was a tireless advocate for experiential education and handmade crafts in North Carolina. In 1933, she and an associate, Howard Ford, drove to the Chicago World’s Fair in a pickup truck with a log cabin mounted on the chassis. It was filled with the works of North Carolina craftspeople. The “Travelog” was a big hit — as were the crafts. Thanks to Morgan, Ford, and others, North Carolina’s craft heritage — from Cherokee basket weaving to Seagrove pottery — has found acclaim across the globe.

Two decades after winning American Idol in 2004, High Point native Fantasia Barrino starred in the movie The Color Purple. Photography courtesy of Warner Bros.

21. Idol Worship

North Carolina boasts an impressive roster of famous singers who were born here — including Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and Ben E. King, among many others. Not surprisingly, the state is also home to more winners of the hit show American Idol than any other state. Fantasia Barrino, Scotty McCreery, and Caleb Johnson have all been winners, while Clay Aiken, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington, Majesty Rose, and Anoop Desai have taken finalist honors.

Smile! The former NASA facility in Rosman put forth a happy face for suspected Kremlin surveillance.

Smile! The former NASA facility in Rosman put forth a happy face for suspected Kremlin surveillance. Photography courtesy of Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute

22. A Satellite Operation

In the early 1980s, during the Cold War, the NSA ran a “listening post” at the site of a former NASA facility in Rosman. Accounts differ as to why, but for one reason or another, a smiley face was painted on the facility’s 4.6-meter radio telescope. The NSA suspected that the Russians were monitoring the Rosman site by satellite. Turns out, they were likely right: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, declassified documents from the Kremlin showed satellite-taken photographs featuring the cheerful visage of old “Smiley.”

23. One Hot Potato

illustration by Lisa Haney

It takes a special spud to make the grade for companies like Frito-Lay, Utz, and Wise. All three of these famous snack companies — and a host of others — source a good many of their prized potatoes from North Carolina farms. Producing more than 200 million pounds of potatoes each year, our state’s farmers know a thing or two about top-shelf taters.

A turn-of-the-century postcard shows off the Toxaway Inn in all its former glory as an elite lakeside retreat.

A turn-of-the-century postcard shows off the Toxaway Inn in all its former glory as an elite lakeside retreat. Photography courtesy of Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

24. The Lonely Innkeeper

When the Lake Toxaway dam failed in 1916, the famed Toxaway Inn closed and never reopened. The inn, which had hosted guests like Rockefeller, Edison, Firestone, and Ford, sat empty for the next 30 years. All the while, the table linens were kept clean and the silverware was kept polished by a lonely innkeeper, Tolvin Miller. Despite Miller’s care and attention, the old inn eventually succumbed to the passage of time and was razed in 1947, just 13 years before the dam was repaired and Lake Toxaway was refilled.

The Pea Island Life-Saving Station was the first and only station in the United States operated by an all-Black crew of service members.

The Pea Island Life-Saving Station was the first and only station in the United States operated by an all-Black crew of service members. Photography courtesy of Outer Banks History Center

25. Keeping the Faith

Richard Etheridge was the first in a long line of Black keepers of the U.S. Life-Saving Station at Pea Island. He was appointed to his position in 1880 and assembled an all-Black crew that earned a reputation for valor, discipline, and professionalism. In 1896, he and his team saved everyone aboard the E.S. Newman, a three-masted schooner, during a raging hurricane. The Pea Island station remained an all-Black unit for almost 70 years.

This post-style windmill in Buxton — listed in records as early as 1869 — was photographed by H.H. Brimley circa 1903, the year before it was destroyed in a storm. Photography courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina

26. Everyone Knows It’s Windy

If you’d found yourself on the coast in the 1800s, you might’ve encountered a surprising sight: A series of post windmills whirled in places like Nixonton, Swansboro, Marshallberg, and Beaufort. These windmills were different from the iconic design used in the Netherlands, where they were often used to pump water and manage water levels. Here, enterprising North Carolinians used them to power their gristmills.

Plate of Lexington Barbecue

A plate of Lexington-style barbecue is not complete without the signature red slaw and crinkle-cut fries. We’ll take ours with extra sauce, thank you. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

27. ’Cue & A

photograph by Jeremy Markovich

Who gave Lexington one of its first brick-and-mortar barbecue joints and helped turn the city into the ’cue capital of the world? That would be Alton Beck. After many years, Beck sold his restaurant, another proprietor took over, and the establishment eventually closed and was forgotten. Decades later, a remodel of City Hall uncovered something surprising: The pits from Beck’s restaurant were hidden behind its walls. For lovers of Lexington barbecue, the holy grail had been found.

28. Digging Up History

Starting in the 1960s, more than 60 years of archaeological exploration in Burke County confirmed an extraordinary find: evidence of a fort established by the Spanish explorer Juan Pardo, predating the earliest English settlement at Roanoke by 18 years. Even more intriguing? The site, called Joara, was also long known to have been inhabited by the largest settlement of the Mississippian culture in North Carolina, dating from around 1000 AD. Here on this spot, two cultures — one Indigenous, one European — coexisted for a moment in time.

29. Striking Gold

In the 19th century, the Bechtler Mint in Rutherford County gave miners a local alternative to the federal mint in Philadelphia. photograph by Emily Chaplin

The first $1 gold coins in the United States were minted in Rutherfordton in 1832 by Christopher Bechtler, who was originally a German metalworker from the Grand Duchy of Baden. The U.S. had declined to establish a federal mint in the area, so Bechtler (with the encouragement of prominent citizens) decided to undertake the creation of gold coins himself. His pioneering $1 gold coin was struck 17 years before the U.S. Mint got around to doing so. In all, the Bechtler Mint produced $2.24 million in gold coins.

Redwood trees in Wilson, NC.

Think you have to travel to California to see towering redwood trees? If you’re in Wilson or Raleigh, think again — just look up. photograph by Geoff Wood

30. They Might Be Giants

Most of us associate coastal redwoods almost exclusively with one place: the Pacific Northwest. But thanks to some enterprising North Carolinians, we have a community of these mighty trees right here in our own backyard — literally. Willie T. Lamm, a passionate gardener, planted two coastal redwoods in his backyard in Wilson in 1942. Over the years, he donated seedlings to family and friends, allowing the species to flourish in our state. But Wilson isn’t the only place where you’ll find redwoods in North Carolina. Raleigh boasts a growing community of redwoods thanks to a variety of sources: David Thome, a landscape designer in Raleigh, brought several redwood seedlings from Oregon two decades ago and gave them away, while the Raleigh Garden Club planted 40 dawn redwoods in Pullen Park in 1976 to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial.

31. Charlton Who?


In 1947, the Asheville Community Theatre hired an unknown young actor to be its next director. Along with his wife, Lydia, the tall, handsome man earned $100 a week during the 1947-48 season and performed in some of the productions, including The Glass Menagerie. Charlton Heston only spent one season in Asheville, but the experience served him well. He went on to star in several Hollywood classics, including Planet of the Apes and The Ten Commandments. His performance in Ben-Hur earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor — and a salary of $250,000.

32. Stranded

About 250 million years ago, Africa collided with North America. Sandwiched between those two mighty continents were a series of volcanic island chains. When the African continent receded, those islands were left behind as a permanent part of North America, notably part of North Carolina. What do we call those former islands today? The Piedmont.

Painting of Sir Archy

The record-setting Thoroughbred Sir Archy sired many racing champions over his 28-year-long life. Photography courtesy of Miscellaneous Subjects Image Collection #P0003, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

33. A Galloping Success

Sir Archy the horse is considered to be America’s “first great Thoroughbred champion.” But his reputation as a winner truly began to grow after he was purchased by famed North Carolinian William Davie (Revolutionary War general, governor, and founder of the University of North Carolina). In 1809, Sir Archy was retired to stud in Halifax. In all, he sired 31 racing champions, and his descendants include equine icons like Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, and Secretariat. The National Museum of Racing elected Sir Archy to its inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1955.

34. Clap for the Wolfman

The famous gravelly-voiced radio DJ Wolfman Jack — who also starred in the hit film American Graffiti — spent the last years of his life in the Perquimans County community of Belvidere (near the famed Yankees pitcher Catfish Hunter, who lived in Hertford). Reportedly, the Wolfman is buried in the front yard of his home.

After a B-52 broke up over Goldsboro, Air Force personnel worked to recover a pair of nuclear bombs that were dropped, including one found buried in a muddy field. Photography courtesy of U.S. Air Force

35. Too Close for Comfort

“Broken Arrow” is the code phrase for a lost nuclear weapon. Late on the evening of January 23, 1961, the military issued that code twice after a B-52 that had taken off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base experienced a serious fuel leak. The pilot tried to return to the field, but the aircraft began to break up, and he gave the command for the crew to bail out. Two 3.8-megaton hydrogen bombs fell from the aircraft just before it crashed. In the post-crash analysis, fail-safe measures designed into the weapons to prevent accidental arming were found to be deficient. However, enough of those measures worked to prevent the bombs from exploding. Five members of the crew parachuted from the stricken craft and survived. Tragically, three were killed.

Cherry Bounce

Renowned for his boozy, sweet-tart libation, Amos Owens was known to host a Cherry Bounce Festival each year. photograph by Mindstyle/iStock/Getty Images Plus

36. The Cherry Bounce King

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, enterprising moonshiners created all kinds of unique libations to entice prospective customers. Amos Owens was one such operator. His “Cherry Bounce,” a mixture of whiskey, honey, and cherries, obviously hit the spot. Its renown was such that people traveled great distances to Owens’s Cherry Mountain home in Rutherford County to avail themselves of the potent potable.

The Blowing Rock stands 4,000 feet above sea level — and atop more than a billion years of geologic history. photograph by Douglas Hurdle/douglashurdle.com

37. Rock of Ages

Our state has lots of famous rocks: Chimney, Looking Glass, Sliding, and Jump Off, to name a few. But the distinction of oldest rock goes to the Blowing Rock. The geologic unit of gneiss that underlies it represents the oldest reliably dated rocks in North Carolina. Geologists estimate its age at around 1.1 billion years, give or take a few million. These rocks aren’t just the oldest in the state; they’re some of the oldest in the Appalachians.

38. Mother of All Counties

Even though Bladen County is the fourth-largest county in North Carolina by area, it’s a mere shadow of its former self: Of North Carolina’s 100 modern counties, all or part of 55 were formed from Bladen’s original land.

39. Promised Land

Following the Civil War, a group of formerly enslaved people made their way out of Mississippi in search of the “Promised Land.” The travelers added members along the way until they reached Tuxedo, in Henderson County. While they didn’t find the Promised Land, they did find a fertile opportunity to create their own. Purchasing 180 acres from a struggling plantation widow, they created the Kingdom of the Happy Land, modeled on the tribal traditions of their African past, even crowning a king and queen. Adopting an “all for one, one for all” ethos, everyone shared equally in the labor and rewards of the community. For more than 30 years, the Kingdom thrived as a self-sufficient hamlet of freedmen and -women who embraced the past to ensure their future.

To create the perfect environment for his hunting lodge, George Vanderbilt kept the woods surrounding Buck Spring Lodge stocked with deer, bears, and turkeys.

To create the perfect environment for his hunting lodge, George Vanderbilt kept the woods surrounding Buck Spring Lodge stocked with deer, bears, and turkeys. Photography courtesy of The Biltmore Company

40. Glamping, Vanderbilt-Style

George and Edith Vanderbilt

George and Edith Vanderbilt Photography courtesy of The Biltmore Company

Upon completion of his Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt set his sights on a more rustic mountain home. Located a short distance from Mount Pisgah, the resulting hunting lodge (which also encompassed several additional buildings, including a guest cottage) was decidedly more intimate than the 250 rooms of his beloved Biltmore. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, who also designed Biltmore, and built by Hunt’s son Richard Howland Hunt, it came to be known as Buck Spring Lodge. The remnants of this woodland escape can still be seen today near the overlook at Milepost 407.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


41. Road Hogs

Developed in the early 1800s, the Buncombe Turnpike helped farmers from Tennessee and Kentucky bring their livestock (pigs, turkeys, horses, cows, ducks, and geese) to lucrative markets in South Carolina and Georgia via the French Broad River valley. An estimated 60,000 hogs a month would make the journey during the drover season, from October to December. Several waystations sprang up along this “Drover’s Road” to help feed and shelter the farmers and their flocks overnight. Of these, the most notable remaining is Sherrill’s Inn near Fairview, which was located on what is now U.S. Highway 74A and served as an offshoot of the Buncombe Turnpike.

Seven of Operation Bumblebee’s eight photographic towers still stand — now an iconic part of the landscape on Topsail Island. photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

42. What’s the Buzz?

For a brief period, from 1946 to 1948, Topsail Island was home to a hush-hush Navy program devoted to the development of guided missiles. In that short time, Operation Bumblebee, as it was known, launched more than 200 experimental missiles. Ultimately, too much ship traffic and weather that was unsuitable for testing scuttled the Topsail project. But buildings and towers from the program still stand. You can learn more about Operation Bumblebee at the Missiles and More Museum located at Topsail Beach.

Astronauts in training study the stars from equipment designed to mimic the view from a spaceship at the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill.

Astronauts in training study the stars from equipment designed to mimic the view from a spaceship. photograph by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

43. Thank Your Lucky Stars

For 16 years, NASA relied on the team at Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill to provide training in celestial navigation and star recognition to astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz programs. James A. Lovell Jr., commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13, credits this training with helping the Apollo astronauts plot a safe course home.

44. All Shook Up

illustration by Lisa Haney

Minor earthquakes are not uncommon in North Carolina, but what happened in Sparta on August 9, 2020, was historic. The 5.1-magnitude trembler was the second-strongest in state history. But what truly set it apart was the fault that can be traced 1.5 miles over the countryside. “It was the first documented surface rupture earthquake east of the Rocky Mountains,” says Tyler Clark, a hydrogeologist for the NC Department of Environmental Quality and the former chief geologist for the state. “You can still see the uplift.” The exposed rift was named the Little River Fault.

On clay sourced from the Cherokee Nation, this Wedgwood china bowl depicts native tribe members.

On clay sourced from the Cherokee Nation, this Wedgwood china bowl depicts native tribe members. Photography courtesy of North Carolina Museum of History

45. Nothing Could Be Finer

Some of the first Wedgwood china was made using a clay mixture produced by the Cherokee Nation. Josiah Wedgwood procured a sample of the soil for his workshop in Staffordshire, England, and was so taken with it that he dispatched an agent, Thomas Griffiths, to the New World in 1767 to gather as much as he could. After a dangerous journey, Griffiths returned with five to six tons of “Cherokee clay” that was transformed into precious Wedgwood china.

Denison Olmsted’s survey of North Carolina displays eight geologic divisions from the east coast to the Smoky Mountains.

Denison Olmsted’s survey of North Carolina displays eight geologic divisions from the east coast to the Smoky Mountains. Photography courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina

46. Survey Says …

For centuries, geological surveys have helped us understand the topography, geology, and mineral resources of our world. And North Carolina has been at the forefront of this work for longer than any state in the nation. In 1823, Denison Olmsted convinced the state legislature to establish the North Carolina Geological Survey, making it the oldest geological survey in the United States. Olmsted traveled from one end of the state to the other by horseback and produced the first geologic map of the state — a hand-drawn and -colored masterpiece that lives in the North Carolina Division of Archives and History in Raleigh.

The Dismal Swamp, North Carolina

Photography courtesy of Dismal Swamp State Park/North Carolina State Parks

47. The Great Escape

Prior to and during the Civil War, the Great Dismal Swamp was a viperous, vaporous world of hidden dangers. But for enslaved people seeking freedom, it became both a home and an escape route as part of the Underground Railroad. “It was inhospitable, wet, dangerous,” says Dr. Arwin Smallwood, chair of the department of history and political science at North Carolina A&T State University, “but they felt it was better to live free in a swamp than be enslaved.”

48. Buried Treasure

We have Joffre L. Coe, known as the “father of North Carolina archaeology,” to thank for dramatically expanding our understanding of prehistoric Indigenous people. Based on the work of Coe and a group of like-minded scientists at the Hardaway site in Stanly County, the team’s discoveries pushed back the timeline for the earliest existence of Indigenous cultures in the area from 300 AD to 10,000 BC — an astonishing revelation. “In 1995, Alcoa, which originally owned the site, donated 1.3 million artifacts to UNC Chapel Hill,” says Jeff Davidson, superintendent of Morrow Mountain State Park. “And they are still being studied to this day.” Although now a national historic landmark, the Hardaway site is off-limits to visitors. But you can learn more about it from the rangers at Morrow Mountain State Park and the Badin Historic Museum.

Newbold White House

Built by Abraham Sanders, the restored Newbold-White House now features a seasonal garden full of herbs and flowering plants that would have been used by early settlers for culinary, dyeing, and medicinal purposes. photograph by Sara Brennan

49. Built to Last

There’s a lot of history inside the walls of the Newbold-White House in Hertford — and that includes the walls themselves. The home was constructed in 1730 and built entirely of brick. Now almost 300 years old, it holds the distinction of being the oldest brick structure in the state.

50. It’s Always About You, You, You

Illustration of people dancing around a North Carolina may-pole

illustration by Lisa Haney

In North Carolina, there are festivals devoted to just about everything, including music (MerleFest), international folk traditions (Folkmoot), beer (Brewgaloo), ne’er-do-wells (PirateFest), flowers (Bloomfest) and even furry rodents (White Squirrel Festival). But the oldest festival in the state isn’t a tribute to any one thing — it’s a tribute to everybody. Thomasville’s Everybody’s Day Festival got its start as a fun way to bring the community together with food, music, art, and games. It turns out that a festival devoted to inclusiveness is an idea that never goes out of style. The Everybody’s Day Festival has been around since 1908 and is still going strong. It can be your day, too, if you’re in Thomasville on the last Saturday in September.

Brad Campbell is a regular contributor to Our State. He wishes to thank Tyler Clark and Rob Holliday for their help with this piece.

Coming in May: Next month, we’ll kick off a new department devoted to North Carolina’s hidden history. Follow along as writer Brad Campbell delves into dusty archives and uncovers forgotten artifacts. Got an idea for an upcoming column? Email us at editorial@ourstate.com.

This story was published on Mar 22, 2024

Brad Campbell

Brad Campbell lives and writes in Fairview.