A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_163744" align="alignright" width="300"] Ed & Deb Fitts are bringing Littleton back to life.[/caption] Daphne Clark knew everyone in Littleton. Parents would bring their children to the local artist’s home

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_163744" align="alignright" width="300"] Ed & Deb Fitts are bringing Littleton back to life.[/caption] Daphne Clark knew everyone in Littleton. Parents would bring their children to the local artist’s home

A Locals’ Guide to Downtown Littleton

Ed & Deb Fitts are bringing Littleton back to life. photograph by Charles Harris

Daphne Clark knew everyone in Littleton. Parents would bring their children to the local artist’s home to have the little ones’ portraits painted. Ed Fitts, Daphne’s son, estimates that there are about 75 of those works, depicting a sizeable percentage of the town’s population in 1957, the year Ed graduated from Littleton High School. Ed knew everyone in town, too. His first job was delivering The News & Observer, and in high school, he played football and basketball for the Blue Jays. “We were pretty good,” he says with a smile, sitting in Daphne’s Coffee Shop on East South Main Street.

A portrait of Daphne is painted on the brick wall of the coffee shop named in her honor. photograph by Charles Harris

A portrait of Daphne greets customers from the exposed brick wall behind the shop’s counter. Her soft blue eyes are captivating. Ed has the same blue eyes. He and his wife, Deb, started the coffee shop in 2020, the first in a series of projects designed to bring new opportunities to the town. Shortly after Ed left home to study engineering at North Carolina State University, the main industries in town — tobacco and cotton — left, too. Ed continued to return to Littleton for high school reunions even after his mom died in 2000, and every time he did, it seemed like the town had fallen further into disrepair.

Three years ago, the Fittses bought a home in Littleton to spend time turning the town into a place that locals could be proud of again. Since then, they’ve established four businesses, including Ed’s mother’s namesake coffee shop. A brewery, specialty food market, diner, amphitheater, and boutique hotel are in the works. “There was never a reason for people to come here,” Ed says. “Now, there’s a lot more people moving in.” What would Daphne think of her small town now? Ed’s blue eyes take on a glassy sheen as he says, “She’d be blown away.”

Named for Chef Ashleigh Fleming’s grandmother, the Oysters Clara are a Blue Jay Bistro favorite, featuring crispy-fried Gulf oysters, collard green béchamel, bacon, and hot sauce. photograph by Charles Harris


Blue Jay Bistro
Local: Ashleigh Fleming

Chef Ashleigh Fleming changes the menu almost daily at Blue Jay Bistro. photograph by Charles Harris

Outfitted with plush leather booths, dark wood, and navy and gold accents, this restaurant offers a fine-dining experience like those you would find in a big city. “[Littleton] is a small town that has these things that don’t feel like a small town,” says Executive Chef and Managing Director Ashleigh Fleming. When she moved to Halifax County from Durham in 2021, she thought that the vendors she’d worked with in the Triangle would make the hour-and-a-half drive, but no one would. It gave Fleming, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, a new challenge — to forge relationships with small, local farmers. Almost every Monday and Tuesday, she’s out on the land with nearby growers, inspecting lavender frog eggplant, rainbow tomatoes, white truffles, mushrooms, spaghetti squash, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Because she secures small quantities of produce, she can change the menu almost daily, which excites a solid following of people who make reservations weeks in advance.

What to order: During the winter, Fleming usually has a dish involving mushrooms, like the mushroom tostada that’s made with a homemade tortilla, refried black beans, and barbacoa spices.

141 South Main Street
(252) 586-2399

Attend a tasting at Main Street Wines. photograph by Charles Harris

Food & Drink

Daphne’s Coffee Shop

Named for Ed Fitts’s late mother, this cozy spot serves coffee, sparkling water, baked goods, and other snacks.

137 East South Main Street
(252) 586-1781

Main Street Wines

This shop hosts wine tastings once a month that include three whites, three reds, hors d’oeuvres, and door prizes. Check out the next tasting on February 10.

139 East South Main Street
(252) 586-2141

Cathy Wiggins and her daughter Olivia own Frank’s Fine Arts where they sell Cathy’s hand-dyed leather sculptures and lead local art enthusiasts in leather molding and dyeing workshops. photograph by Charles Harris


Frank’s Fine Arts
Locals: Olivia & Cathy Wiggins

Olivia & Cathy Wiggins. photograph by Charles Harris

Olivia Wiggins and her mom, Cathy, opened Frank’s Fine Arts in December 2021 and named it after Olivia’s late grandfather, an accomplished woodworker. The gallery occupies the building where Paul Howard Rose, founder of Rose’s Dime Store, opened his first department store. The front desk of the gallery was made with Frank’s planer and router tables. “We wanted to carry his spirit through [the space],” Olivia says. The works of eight artists are represented, including Cathy’s leather sculptures. Olivia is excited to share her love of art with the community that she and Cathy have been a part of for more than 20 years. “I think it’s the coolest experience,” she says, “because each person I talk to has their own perspective.”

What to do: Find a $5 piece of art in the gallery’s Art-O-Mat — a repurposed cigarette machine. 

133 East South Main Street
(252) 532-6268


The Village Market

This quaint shop sells home decor, prepared foods, and community cookbooks. Owners Joe and Lisa Kronner, who also run the town’s Once Upon a County Line Emporium, got their start selling salsas and jams made with jalapeños and tomatoes from their garden and locally sourced blackberries and peaches.

104 East North Main Street
(252) 629-2077

Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. David Johnson strives to celebrate local heroes at the Roanoke Valley Veterans’ Museum. The faces along the walls and the medals on display tell stories of the sacrifice and bravery of Halifax County veterans. photograph by Charles Harris


Roanoke Valley Veterans’ Museum
Local: Brig. Gen. David Johnson

Brig. Gen. David Johnson. photograph by Charles Harris

The walls of the Roanoke Valley Veterans’ Museum are covered with a total of 1,805 photographs of men and women in uniform, all veterans from the Roanoke Valley area. The photographs in gold frames represent those who were killed in action. “We want to honor veterans who have served honorably and well,” says Brig. Gen. David Johnson, chairman of the museum’s board of directors and CEO of the museum. In 2008, Dallas H. Jones, a Navy veteran and a survivor of the Pearl Harbor bombing, founded the museum. Johnson — who served in the Air Force for 30 years, commanded the Bosnia food drop from 1993 through 1995, and was in the Pentagon during the September 11 terrorist attacks — doesn’t like to talk about himself. Instead, he and the museum’s dedicated volunteers share stories about those lining the walls.

What to see: Stop by the display case in the center of the museum to see an array of donated memorabilia, including Medals of Honor and meal rations that Johnson dropped in Bosnia.

102 East North Main Street
(252) 586-1900

In addition to the plays and musicals performed on the main stage, the Lakeland Cultural Arts Center also shows movies — a welcome addition, as the closest movie theater is 30 minutes away. photograph by Charles Harris


Lakeland Cultural Arts Center
Local: Peter Holloway

This community theater has operated out of the former Littleton High School building for more than 40 years. In 2020, the Ed Fitts Charitable Foundation purchased the building and grounds to completely renovate them, including a 15,000-square-foot addition. Executive Director Peter Holloway moved to Littleton to head up the project in 2019 after running a children’s theater in Louisville, Kentucky, for 15 years. Holloway says that he’s excited about bringing a state-of-the-art facility to an arts community that has previously been run with limited resources. The building includes a large sitting area decorated with fine art and a concession stand that sells wine and beer in addition to candy and popcorn. Designed to be a space for everyone in the community, the facility includes a wheelchair-accessible, 305-seat main-stage theater, complete with LED lights and top-of-the-line digital sound and projector systems.

411 Mosby Avenue
(252) 586-3124

To see showtimes for classic movies and new releases, visit lakelandcac.org/movies.

This story was published on Jan 30, 2023

Chloe Klingstedt

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