Rutherfordton is a town of firsts. It was the home of western North Carolina’s first U.S. Post Office, first public school, and first newspaper. It’s where the country’s first $1 gold coin was minted. Founded in 1787, it was even one of the first towns in the region.
Walk through downtown today, and that sense of history is apparent in the century-old buildings and the regal antebellum houses lining the streets, and in the Rutherfordton natives whose families have been here for generations. For visitors to this small foothills town, it’s a chance to step back into the past, to unplug in a place where time slows down. For those who live here, though, Rutherfordton is a place that’s constantly reinventing itself.
An entrepreneurial spirit feeds collaboration among businesses, government, and citizens who want to be involved in making their town a better place to live, work, and play. When someone has a big idea, people band together to make it happen, like the monthly “First Fridays in Ruff’ton,” or the obstacle course fund-raiser for the renovation of Kiwanis Park. Now, centuries after it established so many firsts, Rutherfordton is still blazing trails when it comes to building a community.
photograph by Emily Chaplin
Yellow Sun Pizza and Pints. Rutherfordton natives Kim and James Nichols are constantly experimenting with beer and pizza. The Jungle Girl IPA and topping combinations like spicy sopressata and Peppadew peppers have become local favorites.
Copper Penny Grill. Housed in a former maintenance shed, the Copper Penny serves burgers, sandwiches, steaks, and craft cocktails in an industrial-chic setting. Don’t miss the pennies that cover the bar.
Small Town Coffee Roasters. Monte Vega and his late father, Enrique, both blacksmiths by trade, restored a 1915 roaster to make their signature coffee. Peek through the window on the deck to see Vega at work — and breathe in the delightful aroma.
KidSenses. With 10,000 square feet of exhibit space (and growing), this interactive children’s museum is the town’s pride and joy. At “Gears and Gadgets” (left) and other themed play areas, kids unleash their creativity.
Visual Arts Center. More than 100 artists from Rutherford County sell paintings, pottery, wood and fiber art, jewelry, and more, in addition to hosting art classes, demonstrations, shows, and meet-and-greets.
Michelle Parisou. In her factory outlet on Main Street, watch Michelle Parisou and her team design, print, and sew their high-end apparel, then browse the small outlet selection, including bags made from excess fabric.
Hill’s Hardware General Store. Since 1947, Shellie Heaton’s family has sold hardware — and now outdoor decor and locally made artisan goods, too — in the former Southern Hotel. Check out the historical photos and the original 1920s grand staircase, and say hello to the store cat, Reese’s Cup.
Carrier Houses Bed & Breakfast. Russell Knight and Jim Masek welcome guests to their two-house inn with a walk through the main house, built in 1835. Not spending the night? Pop in for an unofficial tour. But if you do stay there, be prepared for multicourse breakfasts, cozy rooms, and friendly hosts.
The Firehouse Inn. Interior designer and Rutherfordton native Kitty McCammon opened her showroom and six-room inn in the 1924 town hall and firehouse. Kids can spend the night in the loft where firemen once slept, and one room even has an evidence vault that serves as a closet.
One of the last old-school fish houses in Onslow County stands sentry on the White Oak River. Clyde Phillips Seafood Market has served up seafood and stories since 1954 — an icon of the coast, persevering in pink.