A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_173920" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] On the corner of First and Main streets sits H&W Drug Co., open for nearly 130 years.[/caption] Five years ago, construction workers discovered wooden pipes underneath

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_173920" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] On the corner of First and Main streets sits H&W Drug Co., open for nearly 130 years.[/caption] Five years ago, construction workers discovered wooden pipes underneath

A Locals’ Guide to Downtown Newton

On the corner of First and Main streets sits H&W Drug Co., open for nearly 130 years. photograph by Revival Creatives

Five years ago, construction workers discovered wooden pipes underneath the intersection of Main and First streets in downtown Newton. And, surprisingly, large sections of the old municipal waterlines were still intact. They hadn’t deteriorated or splintered off. How’s that for circa-1855 engineering? The discovery of the lines came about as a result of the city’s multiphase revitalization project, which included revamping its streetscape. One piece of pipe, about two yards long, is now in an enclosed display at the Catawba County Museum of History. It’s unknown what kind of wood was used to make the pipe. Or how long it lay dormant before it was unearthed. Or to how many local households it provided water during its heyday. But there it is, hanging on the first floor of the museum with pride.

The discovery is a tangible reminder of the resourcefulness for which the county’s citizens — self-proclaimed Catawbans — have always been known, then and now: From the repurposed historic buildings that line the downtown square to golf cart parking that encourages new modes of transportation, locals are bringing Newton’s history into the future.

The old 1924 Catawba County Courthouse, now home to the county’s history museum. Just around the corner, a mural on the side of Callahan’s Café tells the town’s story. photograph by Revival Creatives


Catawba County Museum of History
Local: Susan Holbrook

Susan Holbrook is the executive director at the Catawba County Museum of History. photograph by Revival Creatives

Susan Holbrook grew up in nearby Conover, but some of her fondest childhood memories include visiting H&W Drug Co. in downtown Newton to get an orangeade and a hot dog. She’s worked at the Catawba County Museum of History for five years, but the executive director feels like working in the 1924 courthouse turned museum is part of the family business. Her great-grandfather Glen Noah Rowe Sr. worked in the county registrar’s office, once housed in the same building. She has a picture of him at work. While the picture isn’t a museum artifact, it is a reminder to Holbrook that most everything on display has personal significance, because it likely came from a local resident: “Everything we’ve received is special to someone, so it’s special to us,” she says. Most of the museum’s 60,000 items — not all of which are on display — are remnants of 19th- and 20th-century Catawba County history, including two full-scale parlors from the 1830s and 1840s, items from a 1920s medical office, and a 1939 jail cell.

Did you know? The museum keeps extensive records on Catawba County families. Individuals researching their genealogy are encouraged to use the museum’s documents.

30 North College Avenue
(828) 465-0383

I spy …

All of the items at the Catawba County Museum of History have a story. Use this checklist to guide your visit.

Catawba County Seal

The red rug in the museum’s lobby features the county seal, which is divided into four quadrants, each with a symbol — a cross for religion, a torch for education, a cow for agriculture, and a wagon wheel for industry — that highlights an area of life that’s important to Catawbans.

photograph by Revival Creatives

British Red Coat

Supposedly one of the few Revolutionary-era red coats to exist in the U.S., it was discovered by a family in Pennsylvania that has ties to Newton. They were going to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution, but that plan would have involved 30 pages of paperwork — the Catawba County Museum of History only required one.

The Gourd Lady

The quirkiest exhibit here tells the story of the late Margaret Sparkman, aka “The Gourd Lady” or “Sparky.” The display includes Sparkman’s pumpkin-and-squash print dress and jacket; a picture of Sparkman with Jay Leno, taken after she appeared on his show; and some of her painted gourd creations.


Even though the building officially transitioned from a courthouse to a museum in 1992, the courtroom on the top floor, which features two jury boxes, is still utilized when needed.

The Stivers are a proud Newton family: Jennifer and her mom, Rebecca, co-own 2 Pink Magnolias, and Jennifer’s father, John Stiver, serves as a member of city council and mayor pro tempore. photograph by Revival Creatives


2 Pink Magnolias
Local: Jennifer Stiver

Jennifer Stiver owns 2 Pink Magnolias. photograph by Revival Creatives

After walking through the hot pink front doors of 2 Pink Magnolias, shoppers in need of a gift browse the 4,000 square feet of retail space. Will they choose a T-shirt or a tote bag with bright letters proclaiming “Rootin’ Tootin’ Newton”? A sleeve of Moravian cookies from Dewey’s Bakery in Winston-Salem? Or maybe just a thoughtfully worded card for an upcoming occasion from the store’s Hallmark section — a sort of modern nod to the printing press housed here in the 1960s and ’70s? The choices — jewelry, handbags, outdoor decor, candles, baby items, gourmet food, and more — seem endless. When Newton native Jennifer Stiver teamed up with her mom, Rebecca Stiver, to open the shop in February 2010, locals didn’t have many choices for shopping — or doing much of anything — downtown. Now, after selecting a gift, customers can head across the street to eat at The Hen & Egg, purchase a six-pack of North Carolina-brewed craft beer from Pour Choices Bottle Shop, or head up the street to see a weekend movie at the renovated 1930s State Cinema. “I love that we were part of the catalyst for that change,” Stiver says.

Check it out: 2 Pink Magnolias can monogram your bag, shirt, hat, or item of your choosing.

211 North College Avenue
(828) 466-1976

In 2010, The Green Room Community Theatre turned the old Newton Post Office into a performance space used for plays and children’s camps. Signs of the building’s former life still remain. photograph by Revival Creatives


The Green Room Community Theatre
Local: Cathy Banner

Cathy Banner is the executive director of The Green Room Community Theatre. photograph by Revival Creatives

When patrons pay a visit to the Old Post Office Playhouse to see a show, they pass by a gallery filled with brass mailboxes and a walk-in safe on the way to their seats. These touches remind locals of the building’s original life as a New Deal-era post office before it was transformed into a performance space in 2010. Prior to the renovation, Executive Director Cathy Banner — originally hired as an administrative assistant — helped the Green Room Community Theatre produce shows at what is now the Newton Performing Arts Center. In fact, she took the stage in her first Green Room show, Grease, in 1988, one year after the organization was established. Back then, it produced two shows a season. Now, with the help of a dedicated staff, Banner heads up 12 productions each season, including main stage and black box shows, and a free Shakespeare in the Park production, among other programs. Banner and her team focus on mounting family-friendly shows that help kids get involved in the arts. “It’s a wonderful outlet for young people,” she says. “The theater gives them self-confidence and the ability to speak in public.”

10 South Main Avenue
(828) 464-6583

photograph by Revival Creatives

See a Show!

The Tempest, Sept. 29-30; Oct. 6-7

Pack up a lawn chair or blanket and prepare to enjoy a free evening of Shakespeare at Newton’s Southside Park. This show follows main character Prospero, who, while stranded on a mysterious island, uses magic to get back at those who have wronged him.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Oct. 13-15, 19, 20, 22, 27-29

Mounted in the Sherry Butler Black Box Theatre, a smaller performance space in the Old Post Office Playhouse, this production follows the life of Vera Stark, an African American housekeeper and actress reckoning with racial stereotypes in the golden age of Hollywood. Stark finds herself in a complicated relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood star, and the repercussions last for decades.

B-52s co-owner Mitchell Ball, the son of a Vietnam veteran, pays homage to local veterans through the restaurant’s Wall of Honor. Many of his dishes have military-themed names, like the Spitfire Shrimp. photograph by Revival Creatives


B-52s American Bar & Grill
Local: Mitchell Ball

Mitchell Ball owns B-52s in downtown Newton. photograph by Revival Creatives

During the ’80s, Mitchell Ball and a group of his buddies would ride their bikes all around Newton’s downtown square, taking breaks to visit the local arcade. Later, as a student at Newton-Conover High School, he played center and defensive tackle on the football team, sporting the number 52 on his jersey. “During the time that I was a young man, businesses in downtown Newton had a downturn,” Mitchell says. “It wasn’t until about five or six years ago that we started to see some growth back in downtown.” Mitchell and his wife, Amy, became a part of that growth in August 2019 when they opened B-52s, named for the initial of their last name and his old number. To Mitchell, serving a crowd-pleasing menu that includes burgers, barbecue, salads, sandwiches, and incredibly crispy — and tasty — pub chips is his way of giving back to the community that raised him. “There are so many moms and dads and people who I’ve worked with and gone to church with,” Mitchell says. “To have a place for them to come together with friends or families or coworkers — it really does our heart good.”

Don’t miss: the Wall of Honor, composed of pictures of local veterans and service members. Mitchell’s father is a Vietnam veteran, one of his grandfathers served in World War II, and his other grandfather served in the Korean War. Other family members served in conflicts from Korea through Afghanistan.

206 North College Avenue
(828) 994-4355

Food & Drink

Novel Taproom

Newton natives Jeff and Sandy Allen moved back to their hometown from Charlotte to open this beer garden that primarily serves North Carolina-made brews.

12 North Ashe Avenue
(704) 576-0603

H&W Drug Co.

The oldest — and only — place in Newton to grab an orangeade, this old-fashioned soda shop also sells cherry soda, simple sandwiches, and ice cream.

12 East First Street
(828) 464-0881

Callahan’s Cafe

Patrons enjoy breakfast and down-home lunch entrées like a bologna sandwich or livermush plate along with daily specials at this downtown staple.

11 North College Avenue
(828) 465-0059

The Hen & Egg

Wake up with a hearty breakfast, featuring eggs made any way you like, and a hot cup of coffee. Lunch options are available, too, but the first meal of the day gets all the attention here.

204 North College Avenue
(828) 994-4159

3 Little Birds Corks & More

Owned by three sisters, this shop sells wine by the bottle to go, or by the glass to enjoy over a charcuterie board with friends. Beer and other beverages and light bites are also available.

19 North College Avenue
(828) 469-6066

This story was published on Sep 25, 2023

Chloe Klingstedt

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