The town of Garner was intended to be a pit stop. Sometime before 1870, the North Carolina Railroad Company called the community, now a Wake County municipality, a “wood and
The town of Garner was intended to be a pit stop. Sometime before 1870, the North Carolina Railroad Company called the community, now a Wake County municipality, a “wood and water” stop on its Charlotte-to-Goldsboro route. But, by 1900, a new four-room train depot had become a popular gathering spot for local tobacco and cotton farmers, who caught up with each other in between shipping their crops, mailing letters, and picking up groceries. The depot became the center of town, and handsome brick buildings that housed the Bank of Garner, general stores, and other businesses began to pop up along Railroad Street, now Main Street, across from the train tracks and Old U.S. Highway 70 — North Carolina’s first paved road.
In the early ’50s, the highway was widened and rerouted to bypass Main Street, causing businesses to shutter or move. Although the historic downtown no longer served as Garner’s gathering place, locals’ camaraderie and pride for the town grew. When the 1987 Garner High School football team played in the state championship at Charlotte Memorial Stadium, it’s estimated that 10,000 of the 12,000 residents traveled to the game. In 2005, the Downtown Garner Association formed to pour new efforts into making Main Street a place where neighbors could socialize once more. Today, those handsome brick buildings are filled with new businesses, turning the former pit stop into a detour worth taking.
Wooden stairs lead up to the historic Garner Depot’s front deck, which was designed to look like a train platform. Like the deck, the inside of the restored depot and history museum — with its original wide-plank flooring and sliding front door — showcases the town’s past through exhibits comprising many locally donated items. In the main room, visitors can see the town’s first post office desk, decorated with vintage postcards from Southern Pines, Asheville, and other North Carolina destinations. On tours led by Garner Area Historical Society members Karen Padgett or Judy Bass, locals often reminisce about using a pedal sewing machine or the antique farming equipment on display. “They say, ‘Oh, I worked with cotton as a kid,’” Padgett says. “I love that we have things that people can make a personal connection with.” The museum also showcases more recent items, like trophies won during church league sporting events and the Garner High School warm-up jacket that country singer and American Idol winner Scotty McCreery wore to play baseball during his senior year.
Did you know? The cone-shaped buckets on display were used to extinguish sparks or flames from trains pulling into the Garner Depot. The buckets are easier and take less time to submerge in water than flat-bottomed ones.
Five years before the town is incorporated, the four-room Garner Depot is unveiled near Main Street, where “you could reach out and touch the railroad tracks,” Padgett says. Locals take the train to Raleigh for 10 cents.
Winds from Hurricane Hazel blow the back rooms off the depot. It’s relegated to use as a freight depot.
Garner is removed as a stop on the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The depot is moved into storage.
The dilapidated depot is moved back to its original location, which is now in close proximity to traffic. About 20 years later, a car crashes into the back of the building.
A circa-1951 Norfolk Southern caboose is donated to the town.
Bass, Padgett, and two other members of the Garner Area Historical Society ask the town to fund the renovation and relocation of the depot to the corner of Pearl and Main streets. In exchange, the historical society agrees to run the depot as a museum.
The historical society opens the museum. The donated caboose is moved to the museum property.
The library in the Queen Anne-style Banks Bed and Breakfast tells a story. The medical books belonged to Dr. Braxton Banks, one of the first physicians in town. He bought the home from Dr. George Montague in 1897. The legal titles belonged to Tom Banks, Braxton’s son, a staff attorney for Wake County. The contemporary books on the shelves, like the Harry Potter series, speak to current times, when Tom’s daughter lived in the home and raised her own child there before Mary and Curtis Smalling purchased it in 2018. “We’re suckers for old houses,” Mary says. “Anytime I see [them] being torn down for new development, a part of me cries.” The Smallings met as teenagers working on the Blue Ridge Parkway for the Youth Conservation Corps. The first house they lived in was an old tobacco barn in Boone that they refurbished. They followed their adult children to Wake County and spent four years renovating the Banks home into a four-bedroom bed and breakfast that opened in April. During the restoration process, Curtis joked that with the hard work they put into the house, it should last for “the next 125 years.”
Have a seat: The princess chair in the entryway and couches in the library and parlor belonged to the Banks family.
This 64-acre park offers a variety of recreational activities, including a dog park, two playgrounds, walking trails, two picnic shelters, and fishing access. Visitors can also pay their respects to service members at the Garner Veterans Memorial and Walkway of Honor.
One of the anchors of the downtown historic district, the Garner Performing Arts Center — located in the old Garner High School — hosts music, dance, and theater performances and classes.
This recreational area encompasses 96 acres of walking trails, an arboretum, five picnic shelters, and a 2,500-square-foot nature center, where you’ll find snakes, frogs, crayfish, beetles, turtles, and more.
As a Garner native, Patrick Byrd has had a front-row seat to the evolution of downtown, which is primarily a strip of businesses on Main Street. Because the street essentially dead-ends on both sides, “you have to want to come to downtown Garner,” Byrd says. For years, he ran his own media company in a downtown building. When his hobby for home-roasting coffee grew, he initially turned his passion into a business that roasted and shipped beans to customers, but he dreamed of more. “I wanted a place where people could come and gather and bring retail back to Main Street,” Byrd says. “I wanted it to be a beacon for downtown, and I wanted a place for people to try our coffee.” Part of his motivation was his family’s history in the service industry: His grandfather owned and ran a drive-in on the south side of Raleigh in the 1950s, and his father opened the Dairy King in Clayton in 1972. After stripping the former Bank of Garner building down to its studs and salvaging as much as he could — the original windows were restored by a revitalization company — Byrd opened the shop in July 2017. Since then, at least six more businesses have opened downtown.
Past and present: Full Bloom Coffee’s painted sign is an homage to the building’s history as the Bank of Garner, which had a painted sign in the same spot.
Angie Mikus spent nearly 20 years waiting tables in Garner, mostly at the Toot-N-Tell, a beloved family-style restaurant that closed in 2021. All that time, Mikus, a single mom raising two kids, held on to a dream of one day owning her own place. On September 12, 2011, she opened Angie’s Restaurant in the building where Green’s Garner Grill had served the community for years. Mikus got the keys to the restaurant 11 days before she opened, and people who knew her from her waitressing days showed up to power-wash, paint, and help however they could. A team of about 12 — most of them Mikus’s friends and family members — ran the restaurant in the early years, and many of the popular menu items, including chicken salad, are made using their recipes. Now, Mikus has 40 employees. They play music and laugh while rolling silverware after a long shift (breakfast is served on red-and-white checkered tablecloths starting at 5:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday). “I’m just a simple girl,” she says, “living the biggest dream I could possibly live.”
Don’t miss: Pork chitterlings — the Friday lunch special. They run out quick!
Since 2012, Mikus has organized a Thanksgiving outreach event each year for Garner locals. With the help of volunteers, she prepares and donates homemade meals — turkey, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, and other tasty fixings. The food is for families who don’t have the means to cook their own meals and for individuals seeking companionship during the holiday.
To learn more, visit facebook.com/angiesgarner.
Garner’s first legal distillery creates craft cocktails using its own vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon, and rum. Tours and tastings of Aristotle Spirits take place every weekend.
Inspired by her grandchildren, the owner of this sweets shop makes and serves custom cakes, cupcakes, cookies, scones, and more.
Pick up a potted plant and get your bicycle tuned up or repaired at this shop.
Order a drink and watch your sports team play on the screens in the building that once served as Garner’s town hall, library, and courtroom.
Yogis come to this studio for classes or private sessions, and afterward, they can enjoy a glass of wine in the lounge.