North Wilkesboro, North Carolina - Key to the Blue Ridge
History & Economy
North Wilkesboro, North Carolina was founded in 1891 when the Norfolk and Southern Railroad built a railroad line in Wilkes County. The line ended near the northern bank of the Yadkin River opposite from Wilkesboro, the county seat. The town of North Wilkesboro quickly grew near the railroad tracks.
North Wilkesboro has been and continues to be a vibrant economic center. The primary local industries include furniture, mirror, and textile production. It is also a community that is a leader in cultural and community attractions in the area. Due to the town's proximity to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and the numerous tourist venues associated with it, North Wilkesboro was nicknamed the "Key to the Blue Ridge" for many years.
North Wilkesboro is the home of the Carolina Mirror Company, which was the largest mirror factory in the country for many years. Although this is no longer the case, North Wilkesboro is still a major producer of mirrors with the Gardner Mirror Company, which operates in the former Carolina Mirror factory. Lowe's Foods, one of the Southeast's largest supermarket chains, had its beginnings in North Wilkesboro in 1954. Lowes Foods currently has its corporate headquarters located in Winston-Salem. Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, America's second-largest chain of home-improvement stores, originated in North Wilkesboro in 1946. Their corporate headquarters remained in North Wilkesboro until 2005, when it was relocated to the Charlotte suburb of Mooresville. Lowe's still maintains a significant number of corporate offices in the county. However, like many small towns in the South, North Wilkesboro has suffered the loss of many of its textile and furniture factories in recent years. Founded in 1951 as Wilkes General Hospital, the Wilkes Regional Medical Center is located in North Wilkesboro. It is the largest hospital in the northwestern part of the state and is currently the town's largest employer.
North Wilkesboro is the home of the North Wilkesboro Speedway, one of the first NASCAR tracks. The area benefitted from the publicity and revenue that the races generated from 1947 until 1996. Unfortunately, the track became a victim of the current trend where the historic and unique tracks are closed and their race dates transferred to newer tracks.
Events and Attractions
- Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro
- Battle of the Bands - An annual all-day rock concert
- Brushy Mountain Apple Festival - Annual celebration of the apple harvest from the nearby Brushy Mountains. Features include crafts, music, dancing, artwork, and traditional food of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It is one of the largest arts and crafts festivals in the Southern United States.
- Wilkes Playmakers - Local theater group. Each summer they stage a popular play based on the life and death of Tom Dooley, a local Civil War veteran.
- Yadkin River Greenway - Walking, jogging, and biking trails following the Yadkin River and Reddies River for several miles between the towns of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro.