A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Green bushes tucked into identical rows of sandy soil stretch toward the summer sun. Their limbs, laden with ripe berries, sway in the humid breeze that rolls across the Coastal

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Green bushes tucked into identical rows of sandy soil stretch toward the summer sun. Their limbs, laden with ripe berries, sway in the humid breeze that rolls across the Coastal

A Locals’ Guide to Burgaw

Green bushes tucked into identical rows of sandy soil stretch toward the summer sun. Their limbs, laden with ripe berries, sway in the humid breeze that rolls across the Coastal Plain. This patch of golden earth along NC Highway 53 heading toward Burgaw is blueberry country. And pride for Pender County’s signature crop is everywhere — from Burgaw’s town logo to blue ribbons tied around streetlamps each June to dishes featuring the berries at local restaurants. But blueberries alone didn’t build Burgaw.

The town was a stop for passengers traveling on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, the longest railroad in the world when it was completed in 1840. Photography courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina

In 1836, more than 40 years before the town was incorporated, the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Company began laying tracks through the area. Its depot, now the oldest in the state, served as a primary hub of activity throughout the Civil War and later as the last stop for travelers headed to Wilmington. Today, locals say that the railroad laid the foundation to their home, but blueberries have turned it into a destination.

NC Blueberry Festival — June 16-17

Don a blue outfit and join the fun at Burgaw’s 20th annual NC Blueberry Festival. Festivalgoers can enjoy live beach music, enter a blueberry recipe contest, eat barbecue from the whole-hog cook-off, take part in the Tour de Blueberry bicycling event or run a 5K, and more. Attendees interested in learning about the blueberry-growing process can sign up for a free tour of the research farm located in Castle Hayne that’s led by NC State Cooperative Extension researchers.

To learn more, call (910) 259-2007 or visit ncblueberryfestival.com.

Learn about Burgaw’s agricultural history at the Pender County Historical Museum. photograph by Matt Ray Photography


Pender County Historical Museum
Local: Jeanette Jones

Jeanette Jones grew up packing blueberries. Today, the wooden baskets she packed are displayed at the Pender County Historical Museum. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Jeanette Jones spent almost every summer of her adolescence carefully packing blueberries into palm-size wooden baskets and neatly wrapping them with cellophane. Every day, her father, Harris Saunders, picked up his workers from Maple Hill in a school bus and brought them back to his 30-acre farm, where Jones and her three sisters helped pack berries. By her estimate, they filled 100 to 150 crates a day. Now, as the volunteer coordinator at the Pender County Museum, Jones shows off the original equipment and tools that blueberry farmers like her dad used. In a building dedicated to the town’s agricultural history, the wooden baskets she packed are displayed alongside a black-and-white picture of her and her three sisters working on the farm with their father. “Then, a lot of the work was done by hand,” Jones says. “[These items] set an example of where we came from and how hard we had to work to get where we are today.”

Plan ahead: If you can’t visit during museum hours, make an appointment for a tour.

200 West Bridges Street
(910) 259-8543

The Burgaw Train Depot is on the National Register of Historic Places. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Local Landmarks

Burgaw Train Depot

Many say that the Burgaw Train Depot is the place where the town’s heartbeat began. In 1865, in the weeks following the fall of Fort Fisher, it was a Confederate headquarters for retreating generals and their troops. During the same year, it held 6,000 captured soldiers while a prisoner exchange was arranged near the Cape Fear River. At one time, the U.S. Postal Service operated out of the depot. Today, the restored building — now on the National Register of Historic Places — is often rented out for town events.

115 South Dickerson Street
(910) 300-6401

Pender County Visitor Center

Burgaw’s old jail, built in 1924, is today a welcome center for visitors. Its first floor — where the jailer and his family lived — has been renovated, but the second floor and its jail cells remain intact. The jail has often been featured in movies and TV shows. Most recently, it was part of the FOX comedy Welcome to Flatch, about a documentary crew that captures what it’s like to live in a small town.

106 East Wilmington Street
(910) 259-1278


The Pender House
Locals: Beth and Larry Owens

Beth and Larry Owens turned a historic home into a beautiful boutique hotel.  photograph by Matt Ray Photography

For years, Larry Owens would look out from his office across Dickerson Street at a traditional American Foursquare. The house had sat empty for 12 years. The floors on the left side of the structure were termite-ridden, but Larry saw potential. In 2021, he and his wife, Beth, purchased the property without a plan for its future use. Their first priority was “to save the house,” Larry says, “and then we had to decide what to do with it.” The couple soon discovered that the 1896 house had been operated by the Black family as the Black Hotel until the 1930s or ’40s, when it became a private residence. With that information in mind, the Owenses restored the home to its former glory. Now, as a boutique hotel, The Pender House contains five guest rooms — all named for Pender County municipalities — that are tastefully decorated by Beth, who’s an expert at finding vintage items at auctions, like a ’60s-era Sears, Roebuck and Co. couch in mint condition.

Check out: The hotel’s sunroom and back deck are new additions that the Owenses made to the home. The back deck was built around the house’s towering magnolia tree so that guests can bask in filtered sunlight under its limbs.

214 South Dickerson Street
(910) 408-6000

Beyond the offerings at MeMa’s Chick’N’ & Ribs — like pulled pork, coleslaw, green beans, fried mushrooms, and hush puppies — owners Myra and James McDuffie are proud of the work they do for the community. photograph by Matt Ray Photography


MeMa’s Chick’n’ & Ribs
Locals: Myra and James McDuffie

Myra and James McDuffie donate food to the local women’s shelter, provide scholarships, and feed veterans every Thanksgiving. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

When Myra and James McDuffie, a traveling respiratory therapist and Marine Corps veteran, respectively, moved to Burgaw from Charlotte, they were inspired to continue doing what they built their careers on — serving others. Only this time, they did it with food. In 2017, they opened MeMa’s Chick’n’ & Ribs in a strip mall less than five minutes from downtown. Diners are greeted with a warm “welcome to MeMa’s” as soon as they walk through the door. The menu is a combination of barbecue — slow-smoked pulled pork, ribs, and chicken — fried seafood, and an array of signature sides, including the lightly breaded fried mushrooms and okra that have a dedicated following. Everything is made fresh daily: Early every morning, James and his mother, MeMa, the restaurant’s namesake, visit local farms to choose fresh vegetables to prepare.

What to order: Don’t miss out on a side of MeMa’s BBQ Sauce, which is sold in 30 Lowes Foods stores in North Carolina.

602 U.S. Highway 117 North
(910) 300-6139

Order a latte and a baked good at Brown Dog Coffee Company. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Food & Drink

Brown Dog Coffee Company

Order coffee made with house-roasted beans — or a smoothie, shake, or specialty drink — and sip it while walking around the town square.

103 West Fremont Street
(910) 259-3349

Burgaw Brewing

Downtown Burgaw’s newest addition offers a range of house-brewed beers, including a blueberry honey ale that’s made with local ingredients.

103 South Wright Street

Fat Daddy’s Pizza

Enjoy a blueberry pizza followed by blueberry knots: balls of dough dipped in freshly smashed blueberries that are baked and served with icing.

103C West Fremont Street
(910) 300-6350

Olde Carolina Eatery

This breakfast and lunch spot serves hot dogs, burgers, and barbecue, but don’t leave without tasting one of their scratch-made pies or cakes.

113 West Fremont Street
(910) 300-6571

A Chris-Craft Constellation model sits next to a case of fudge at Burgaw Antiqueplace. The 18-inch vessel, which Johnny Westbrook purchased years ago, reminds him of his boating days on the Chesapeake Bay. photograph by Matt Ray Photography


Burgaw Antiqueplace
Local: Johnny Westbrook

Johnny Westbrook grew up in Burgaw and returned to his hometown later in life. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Johnny Westbrook was born in a Victorian house across from Burgaw’s train depot in 1943. He grew up biking around town and spending time at the five-and-dime store that his dad ran. But he wasn’t intrigued by his parents’ lifestyle: “All they did was work and go to church,” he says. “I applied to North Carolina State University thinking I was going to design houses like Frank Lloyd Wright.” Westbrook went on to graduate with a master’s degree in architecture and eventually moved north, working as chief of urban design for the Baltimore City Planning Department and for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, with extensive projects in Bethesda, Maryland. He initially returned home in 1999 to take care of his mother and to run his dad’s shop. Twenty-four years later, he and his wife, Carolyn, are running an antiques shop out of the same building that his dad’s store was located. He uses his keen eye to connect shoppers to one-of-a-kind items, like two circa-1600s wooden chairs that have Bacchus, the Greek god of grapes and wine, carved into the backs. “I want to preserve the best of Burgaw,” Westbrook says. “It’s walkable, it’s community-based, it’s religion-based. It’s the best place to grow up.”

101 South Wright Street
(910) 259-7070


The Glass Cloche

Browse a wide variety of eclectic vintage dishes, home decor, clothing, and jewelry, as well as new, locally made items like candles, teas, and pet accessories.

109 South Wright Street
(910) 264-2002

The Old Farm Shed

This boutique features Western- and bohemian-style handbags, jewelry, hats, and clothing, and it’s best known for its selection of cowboy — or perhaps cowgirl — boots.

111 West Fremont Street
(910) 300-6172

This story was published on Jun 05, 2023

Chloe Klingstedt

Chloe Klingstedt is an assistant editor at Our State magazine, a Texan by birth, and a North Carolinian at heart.