A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_131324" align="alignleft" width="228"] Stephanie May[/caption] When Stephanie May’s parents traveled to Granville County from Mexico to work in the tobacco fields in the 1970s, few tobacco warehouses still stood

Madison County Championship Rodeo

[caption id="attachment_131324" align="alignleft" width="228"] Stephanie May[/caption] When Stephanie May’s parents traveled to Granville County from Mexico to work in the tobacco fields in the 1970s, few tobacco warehouses still stood

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_131324" align="alignleft" width="228"] Stephanie May[/caption] When Stephanie May’s parents traveled to Granville County from Mexico to work in the tobacco fields in the 1970s, few tobacco warehouses still stood

A Guide to Downtown Oxford

Stephanie May photograph by Anagram Photo

When Stephanie May’s parents traveled to Granville County from Mexico to work in the tobacco fields in the 1970s, few tobacco warehouses still stood in downtown Oxford.

But evidence of the role that the industry played in shaping the town remained strong, and many of those clues can still be seen today. Some of the most impressive mansions in the historic district were built by tobacco barons. A sign reading “Oxford sells tobacco higher” hangs on the side of the Granville History Building — part of the Granville County Historical Society Museum, where May is executive director. The museum highlights the economic and cultural influence of tobacco. Even new businesses offer a nod to those agricultural roots. All of this, May says, makes the town “a quaint, friendly community that feels like taking a walk in the past.”


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Granville County Historical Society Museum. photograph by Anagram Photo

Granville County Historical Society Museum. Housed in an 1858 jailhouse, this museum features exhibits on education, military, and agricultural history. The Harris Exhibit Hall, a separate building adjacent to the main museum, showcases the work of local artists. “We want people to jump into history and not just read about it,” May says.

The Orpheum at Oxford. This historic Art Deco theater went from abandoned to reimagined. “For many years, people said, ‘Something needs to be done to save that building,’” May recalls. Local entrepreneurs stepped in to make it happen. Now, the neon marquee at the restored event venue is a beacon downtown.

The Orpheum at Oxford. photograph by Anagram Photo


Eat

Main Street Oasis. Regulars love the intimate atmosphere and dishes like steak, prime rib, and mahi-mahi. “It’s the place to go when you want to have a date night,” May says.

Strong Arm Baking. photograph by Anagram Photo

Strong Arm Baking. Julia and Thomas Blaine have been making doughnuts, cookies, brownies, breads, and other baked goods using ingredients sourced from local farms since 2014. The couple, regular vendors at several farmers markets, just opened their first brick-and-mortar location downtown.

Sunrise Biscuits. “In every town, there is a place that serves the greatest food you’ll ever try in your life,” May says. In Oxford, “that is Sunrise Biscuits.” The mom-and-pop restaurant serves ham, sausage, steak, chicken, tenderloin, and fatback biscuits, along with other breakfast favorites.

Uptown 101. Enjoy rib eyes, burgers, and comfort-food specials like fried catfish and meatloaf. May calls this modern bistro “the perfect place to wind down in the evening.”


Drink

Tobacco Wood Brewing Company. Mara Shelton opened the first female veteran-owned brewery in the state. Beers like Bulletstopper and False Motivation are a nod to her and her husband’s military experience and local military history. Sandwiches, flatbreads, tacos, and barbecue make this a great spot to grab a bite, too.

Tobacco Wood Brewing Company. photograph by Anagram Photo


Shop

Art & Antique Gallery of Oxford. This shop features a wide selection of antiques and collectibles, including a community gallery with a rotating selection of local art. Owner Peter Tocci has helped restore several historic homes and provided them with period furniture and decor.

The Hub on Main. Order craft beer or wine and shop the selection of art, accessories, and gourmet foods. “It is genius to allow someone to have a drink while shopping,” May says. Fourteen years ago, the North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest was created here when Julia Stovall Overton hosted an event featuring NC hot sauces in what was then Stovall’s Gifts and Collectibles.

Nan’s Young Fashions. This family-owned business opened in 1986. “If you are expecting a baby, you have a registry at Nan’s,” May says. In addition to adorable baby clothing and accessories, the shop also sells monogrammed clothing and gifts.


Some like it Hot

Since 2006, Oxford has been the home of all things spicy — at least during the Hot Sauce Contest in September. The festival features food trucks, art vendors, hot pepper eating contests, and a hot sauce competition, attracting those who like a little zip in their wine, beer, sauces, and snacks.

A self-guided walking tour of the Main Street and College Street historic districts includes homes dating back as far as 1820. For more information, visit oxfordhpc.org. photograph by Anagram Photo

This story was published on Oct 27, 2020

Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer

North Carolina-based journalist Jodi Helmer writes about food, farming, and the environment.