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Wilkesboro NC


Wilkesboro NC “Where the Mountains Begin”

 Wilkesboro North Carolina

Town of Wilkesboro

With an elevation of 1,047 feet, the town of Wilkesboro North Carolina is located along the Yadkin River in the foothills and lower elevations of the Blue Ridge and Brushy mountains. Wilkes County is known worldwide for MerleFest, a diverse roots-music festival dedicated to the memory of Merle Watson. Wilkes County also offers a wide variety of activities for everyone, from adrenenalin pumping BMX racing and mountain biking, to wine tasting at a local vineyard.


 History of Wilkesboro North Carolina
Oldest Building in Wilkesboro
Wilkesboro Federal Building
Wilkesboro Courthouse Building

History of Wilkesboro NC
In 1799, the North Carolina General Assembly appointed a committee headed by Thomas Fields, a surveyor, to acquire 50 for a permanent courthouse and other official county buildings and to organize the town. Fields and his committee bought the 50 acres, twice, because it was claimed by both the Moravians who had acquired it from Earl Granville in 1754, and by settlers who considered the Moravian claim invalid after the American Revolution. The Wilkes County court, chaired by General William Lenoir, a hero of the Battle of Kings Mountain, took the Fields committee deeds and divided the land into a grid of streets and lots with a public square in the middle for the courthouse and public facilities.

During the American Revolution, Col. Ben Cleveland brought captured militant Tories (loyal defenders of English colonial rule) to a hanging tree near the courthouse, the “Tory Oak.” Capt. Robert Cleveland’s Revolutionary period log farm house has been recently reconstructed near the courthouse.

No major Civil War battles were fought in this area, but several Confederate leaders came from Wilkesboro and its surrounding farm country. There were also many people living here who opposed secession and supported the Union.

The old courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with 12 other buildings in Wilkesboro. Since a new courthouse was completed in 1998, the old courthouse is presently the Wilkes Heritage Museum.

Wilkesboro business and industry grew from very modest beginnings – general merchandising, textiles, glove, shoe, farm, wood, pottery, and tobacco products. Today, there are factories producing wood products and food products, among other things. Tyson Foods operates a major chicken processing plant in Wilkesboro and Suncrest Farms operates a pork products plant. East Coast Mouldings operates a wood trim plant that produces a beautiful array of more than 1,000 different moulding profiles to transform the look of any home. Northwestern Bank, then the state’s fourth largest bank, built its headquarters here before a larger bank and other mergers bought it out. Lowe’s Companies oversees a nationwide home improvement business from its headquarters in Wilkesboro. We have a variety of shoppes, shopping centers, restaurants and hotels from the small proprietorship to the national retail chain. We are proud to say that we have the perfect climate for several vineyards and the late world known NASCAR Legend “Benny Parsons” Family are among these vineyards.

 Merlefest music festival in Wilkesboro North Carolina
 Huge Crowds Merlefest music festival in Wilkesboro North Carolina

Annual Merlefest Music Festival

MerleFest, attracts 81,000 fans and participants every year to take part in the festival of American Music. The inaugural MerleFest takes place in April  at the Wilkes Community College. Merlefest brings together the very best of bluegrass, contemporary acoustic, blues, folk, old-time, Cajun, jazz, and singer-songwriter music. MerleFest also provides family activities, heritage crafts, food, dance, and shopping in a safe, alcohol-free environment. MerleFest has evolved into the most important annual ticketed event in northwest North Carolina and the world’s foremost Americana music festival. MerleFest, which starts on the last Thursday in April, takes its name from Merle Watson, who died in a tractor accident in 1985. A noted finger-picking guitarist in the folk, blues, and old-time country styles, MerleFest performed with his legendary guitarist father, Doc, from 1965 until his death. MerleFest has evolved to no less than a dozen stages spread across the 151-acre Wilkes Community College campus. Each year, many performers visit the public schools in the area to further educate and cultivate the musical interest of young people. MerleFest performers over the years have included Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss + Union Station, Robert Lockwood, Jr., the Chieftains, Natalie MacMaster, Linda Ronstadt and hundreds of others.

 The Tory Oak Tree in Wilkesboro NC

The Tory Oak
For two and a half centuries the Tory Oak grew strong and stately in the center of Wilkesboro, a symbol of the revolutionary struggle that led to the founding of our county. Some leaders called this old tree the Liberty Oak, but it became famous because several enemies of the American Revolution, know as Tories, were hanged on its limbs when the tree was still young.

 Moravian Fall in Wilkesboro North Carolina

Moravian Falls

Moravian Falls in Wilkesboro North Carolina is a must see attraction when visiting the area, and is a 2 mile hike from Hidden Hollow Lane. The 35 foot waterfalls are located within the small town of Moravian Falls.

   Wilkes Heritage Museum Wileksboro NC

Heritage Museum
The Wilkes County Heritage Museum is an informative way to learn about the early settlers in this area and the history of moonshine and how it led to a beloved national sporting event called NASCAR. Wilkes Heritage Museum, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization formed in 1968.Wilkes County Courthouse celebrates its unique heritage as it seeks to preserve the past of Wilkes County. Since its official opening in November 2005, the Wilkes Heritage Museum, Inc. has undoubtedly contributed to the education and culture of the county’s present and future. Through a collection of artifacts and images, numerous stories of early settlement, military history, industry, agriculture, medicine, communication, education, entertainment, and transportation are told.

   Mountain Biking in Wilkesboro-Lake Kerr Scott

Mountain Biking Trails

Some of the best outdoor recreation mountain biking trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains are located along the W Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir in Wilkesboro North Carolina. The Lake at W Kerr Scott is host to three major mountain biking trail systems; the Over Mountain Victory Trails, Warrior Creek Trails, and the Dark Mountain Trails. These trails were built by mountain bikers and include long runs, different elevations, scenic views, and variety of skill levels.


Wine Tasting & Tours

With the declining tobacco and cigarette manufacturing in the area, local farmers look to another profitable crop and becoming vineyards in the Yadkin River Valley. Currently there are over 23 wineries covering over 400 + acres of vineyards in the region. Experience the South’s finest vines and most creative winemakers in Wilkes County and surrounding counties.

Click here for a list of the wineries in the area.


Brushy Mountain Apple Festival

The Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, presented by the Brushy Mountain Ruritan Club, is one of the largest one-day arts and crafts festivals in the Southeast. Over 100 civic, church and other non-profit organizations participate in the festival. Over 160,000 people visit this festival during the day and it’s FREE. The festival is held on the first Saturday in October.

 Birth of Nascar at Wilkesboro North Carolina Speedway
 Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina

Birth of NASCAR and Ben Parsons
During the years of prohibition many young Wilkes County males made their living by delivering moonshine to North Carolina’s larger towns and cities. Wilkes County was a leading producer of illegal homemade liquor, developing the title as the “Moonshine Capital of the World”. The operation of transporting the bootleg liquor spread farther than North Carolina; many Wilkes County distillers ran white liquor as far as Detroit, New Jersey, and South Florida. Drivers would modify their cars for speed and better handling being that bootleggers often had to outrun local police and federal agents on their deliveries. As a result of these high speed chases, the sport of stock-car racing was born. The North Wilkesboro Speedway was the first NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) track. The track held its first race on May 18, 1947, but the first NASCAR sanctioned race wasn’t until October 16, 1949. Many of the early superstars of NASCAR were Wilkes County natives. Junior Johnson, a legendary moonshiner from Wilkes County, won five races and finished sixth in the 1955 NASCAR Grand National points standings. Johnson gained celebrity status when the writer Tom Wolfe featured him in a 1965 Esquire magazine article. The article was later turned into the 1973 movie, The Last American Hero, which starred Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine. Another prominent figure in the NASCAR circuit from Wilkes County is Benny Parsons. He is known for winning the NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) in 1973. Parsons went on to be an announcer on TBS, ESPN, NBC and TNT. He is internationally known and has been inducted into many Motor Speedway Hall of Fames. Jimmy Pardue, whose life was tragically cut short in a racing accident, was also from Wilkes County. After two new owners moved North Wikesboro’s NASCAR races to their tracks in different states, The North Wilkesboro Speedway was closed following the 1996 NASCAR season. Though Speedway Associates, Inc., obtained a three-year lease and began running races at the speedway, in May 2011 they announced that funding had fallen through and they were ending their lease.