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The History and Terrain of the High Country Featured in October Issue of Our State Magazine

By Colby Gable

          In Our State Magazine’s Annual Mountain Issue released in October this year, a variety of highlighted areas used to show the wide-ranging beauty and diversity of North Carolina’s mountains were spots around the High Country and Watauga County in general. Natural scenery, history, and how the two fall hand-in-hand, are shown throughout the issue in a way that connects the grandiose nature of physical space in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the past and the people who have made a life among them.

Marvels of Linville

            Perhaps some of the most important scenery, photography, and overall aesthetic capturing of the High Country in this Mountain Issue came from the town of Linville as the primary focus, including the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Linville Gorge. The issue features a beautiful six-shot panorama from the top of Hawksbill mountain displaying the almost entirety of the 12,000-acre expanse with cartographed depiction by illustrator Dan Williams. The piece goes on to mention the “natural wonder” of the gorge itself as it has geological shifts in the topography to thank for its formation

            Apart from the mapping out of Linville and detailing the various aspects which make up the gorge such as Wiseman’s View, Table Rock, Shortoff Mountain, etc., another image which was wonderfully illustrated and highlighted was the architecture of the town itself. The “Linville Look,” as it is referred to the magazine’s writer, Robyn Yigit Smith, as “elegant rustic bark shingles that give this mountain town its character are as fashionable today as they were more than a century ago when a famous architect introduced them.” Specifically, one building upon Beech Street was designed by architect Henry Bacon, who also went on to design grandiose works such as the Lincoln Memorial.

          As the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright once commented, “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” Looking at the photos of selected homes throughout this Mountain Issue, it is easy to see how Wright’s idea of incorporating nature into the housing environment is a consistent idea within the development of this “Linville Look.”

Eseeloa Lodge

         Indeed, flipping through the pages that specifically exhibit architectural qualities like that of the Eseeola Lodge, with its, as Smith says, “expansive verandas, and formal dining with fine linens and china plates, making it both grand and out of place in a budding resort town that still has more tree stumps than people,” goes on to shows the diversity of inspiration that went into creating these structures in a way that makes them aesthetically unique, characterlike, even. Such architectural ideals truly do make these spaces somewhat timeless in a way, and it becomes vastly apparent how these featured buildings are able to truly speak to the identity of a place as reflected in their construction. Images of wooden shingles and hardwood floors combine for an elevated sense of connectedness to the High-Country outdoors.

        This design is a constant theme for a variety of buildings are Linville and are not only limited to homes, but as Smith says, “the type of bark-and-branch design used in Linville’s All Saints Episcopal Church inspired by Marty and Chris McCurry’s business, Bark House.” At the church itself, “The chestnut bark and wooden beams used by Henry Bacon in his Linville design proved to be both beautiful and durable: All saints Episcopal Church is one of the two Bacon structures still standing in Linville today. Extending further than the High Country, and even North Carolina, this style is also used for the high fashion Christian Louboutin store placed in Miami which was made of the popular wooden shingles from the Linville area.

        While headed back to Linville and Newland, Smith describes the stretch of Christmas trees lining upon the side of the road which spread across the way. One of the last but certainly not least worthwhile finds which comes a little down this stretch of the Highway, as Smith writes, “At one point, on the right-hand side of the road, rows, rows of Frasier firs are replaced by rows of grapevines, a signal to take the turn in Linville Falls Winery.”

       The Winery is a 40 acre vineyard situated just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Linville Gorge in a fertile valley between hills filled with rows of lush, green vines. Some of their grape varieties include Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Noiret, Marquette, Petit Verdot, Marechal Foch, and their flagship grape, Riesling. Across the farm you’ll also find blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, heirloom apples, pumpkins, corn, and Christmas Trees which they take particular focus in. 

     At an elevation of 3,200 feet, the grapevines thrive in the mountain climate as cool nights and low humidity allow the grapes to ripen slowly while also developing fresh, vibrant, flavors, giving way to wonderful wines. It’s unlike anything some folks have ever tasted, because it’s the first time it’s being done in our corner of the world, as Linville Falls Winery is part of the newly established Appalachian High Country, one of _ American Viticulture Areas in our country, with the hopes and beliefs that our area will be a recognized as a fine and unique wine growing region for generations to come.”

Linville Falls Winery


Rock Climbing at Spencer Ridge

            Continuing in Linville, “Joey Henson cannot keep his eyes on the road. They’re scanning the mountains along NC Highway 105, searching for stone.” This rather elegantly written piece by Leigh Ann Henion introduces the continuing journey of Joey Henson, “the godfather of Linville Gorge climbing found that the best way to protect this wild and vital landscape is to conquer it.” Originally finding his passion while taking climbing classes at Appalachian State University, he is now heralded as one of the “most seasoned and storied climbers in Appalachia.” Henion’s piece also features photographs from Andrew Kornylak and shows Henson attempting climbs and, “navigating a problem called ‘A Good Day’s Work’ as fellow climbers Ian Dzilenski and Robbie Beeland look on. Henson had penned a map opposite to the gorge’s bouldering routes.”

The write-up also includes a shot of a stylized map drawn by Henson of the Linville gorge including parts such as the Spence Ridge Trail, utilized for navigation when searching for locations to consider a climb at.

Apart from Henson’s amazing story of conquering the natural giant of the gorge, Henion continues speaking to the flora and vegetation that surrounds the cliffs of the gorge itself. These included plants such as “Michaux’s Saxfriage,” named after the French Explorer and botanist Andre Michaux who climbed numerous Appalachian peaks and “recorded many of North Carolina’s highest-elevation plants.” Such as the Saxfriage, many of these displayed hold interesting links to not only North Carolina, but the country as a whole. Some examples include Rock Tripe Lichen which were rumored to have help George Washington’s troops fight against starvation. Both the Twisted-Hair Spikemoss and Mountain Golden Heather are distinct to the North Carolina region, with the Golden Heather, “only known to grow on the east rim of Linville Gorge and on hard-to-access cliff faces, particularly around Chilhowee quartzite.”           

221 South Highway

            Another attraction accentuated in the High Country and parts of Linville as well is the 20 mile stretch along Highway 221 South. As Sheri Castle summarizes, “The winding, scenic route through Linville may not be a long drive – it’s only about 20 miles – but it becomes a journey when you stop to shop, eat and see the sights.” Apart from its fundamental mountainous-curvy-roads and scenic views, Castle takes the reader through the drive itself, being sure to include notable sights and buildings.

            Among these is Crossnore School, which Castle refers to as “the first of the drive’s must-stops.” She goes on to say, “Here, renowned artisans weave silky-soft shawls, scarves, blankets, and table linens in the Weaving Room, also known as Home Spun House, which is a working museum with large wooden looms that date back to the 1920’s…these days, artisans weave to keep their art alive, and they’re happy to answer questions while you watch them work.” Even just up the way from the school the E.H. Sloop Chapel where the public can see frescoes by renowned fresco artist Ben Long.

            The next stop on Castle’s list is the Linville Mercantile, situated in a crook of one of those sharp curves among those which, “some drivers joke that the old road curves so tightly in spots that the front of your car might meet the back of your car coming around the bend.” Yet, in this almost-hidden corner of the trip, images from Emily Chaplin and Charles Harris show the idealized façade of what one might imagine a mountainous mercantile shop might look like: a front porch seats and tables surrounded by antique furniture, shrubbery, and of course, big white signs in red lettering displaying apple butter, apple cider, hot chocolate, cakes, pies, and more for sale, all homemade of course.

High Country Cuisine

            Another part of the journey down Highway 221 are a variety of restaurants along the way such as Louise’s Rock House restaurant which was featured as one of the “busiest and most beloved” in the area. The fireplace sat inside, as Castle mentions, “is the exact spot where Burke, McDowell, and Avery counties meet, which means you can visit all three by walking across the dining room.”

            An earlier mention of High Country cuisine spreads beyond Linville and throughout the whole of Watauga County. Sheri Castle, a Watauga County native, writes about the historical and economic importance of cabbage throughout the history of Watauga.

         Born and raised in Boone, Castle is known for blending storytelling, culinary expertise and humor. She not only writes her own features that frequently appear in some of the country’s most reputable publications, she also edits, collaborates, consults and ghostwrites for other writers, chefs and clients. She teaches classes, helps others learn to cook with confidence and enthusiasm, and also develops and tests recipes for cookbooks, magazines and other media, both for her own titles and for clients. She writes books, magazine articles, guest blog posts, and is always open to “unusual assignments,” she said.

        A resident of Pittsboro, Castle was just this year named among Twenty Living Legends of Southern Food by the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has been described as “The Storyteller” and “one who has revealed herself to be our best advocate for the rich history of Southern home cooking.” Most of her stories are about food she said, —” from recipes to essays on the roles that our foodways play in our families, lives, history and culture.”

Castle is the author of several books, which include the following:

  • “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Recipes for Enjoying the Best from Homegrown 
Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands and CSA Boxes,” (The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.) Accolades for this book include the 2012 Cookbook of the Year by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance;
  • “The Southern Living Community Cookbook: Celebrating Food and Fellowship in the American South,” (2014 by Oxmoor House with foreword by Matt Lee and Ted Lee). This book was a finalist for a 2014 International Association of Culinary Professionals excellence award.
  • “Rhubarb, Short Stack Editions, 2016.” Short Stack is a series of small-format cookbooks authored by America’s top culinary talents, each edition a collectible, single-subject booklet packed with recipes that offer ingenious new ways to cook our favorite ingredients.
  • “Instantly Southern: 75 Fresh Takes on Southern Favorites Using Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot.” (Clarkson-Potter, Fall, 2018). This book distinguished itself from among the crowded field on this topic and appeared on several Best of the Year lists for 201

           She begins this piece discussing the personal importance of the vegetable saying, “For several generations on both sides, my family farmed cabbage. A few of my cousins still do,” but then transitioning to the historical nature the plant played in the cultivation of Watauga’s agricultural world. “Cabbage was an essential crop for mountain families, both for gardeners who hoped to grow all they could eat and farmers who hoped to sell all they could grow.

            The economic benefits of the crop were apparent and somewhat crucial for the county as well, as Castle continues, “cans of Watauga Chopped Kraut were shipped to stores all over the South…By the early 1970’s, the NC State Canning Company was producing nearly 3,000 tons of kraut per-year, canning 24,000 cases per day.” While the facility is closed today, many like Castle remember its role in the early production of agricultural development here in the High Country.

Old Hampton Store

Old Hampton Store Barbeque and Tavern

            Situated a little bit outside of the more popular areas of Linville and a few turns from the Grandfather Mountain sign sits a building of a similar strain to the Linville Mercantile store is the classic Old Hampton Store Barbeque and Tavern “In an old trading post and gristmill near Grandfather Mountain, an artist has created a community of locals and tourists who come together over pulled pork and fried pickles, High Country Cocktails, and traditional Appalachian art and music,” writes Susan Stafford Kelly in her summation of the Old Hampton Store. Before its now “contemporary” style, the Store used to carry various amounts of assorted goods from cabbage to clothing which could be bartered for with items such as a chicken. Once again, we are able to see how such a specific physical space may hold cultural importance for a people, as “The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad from Johnson City delivered products -and summer homeowners- by way of a track right behind the Old Hampton Store,” placing the Old Store in a prime location for commerce and trading.

            Nowadays, the store is run by Abigail and Steve Sheets who after moving to Linville from Southern Pines and having established careers in golf course management and art gallery curation, “jumped at the opportunity, and transformed the historic four-acre site with blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of my youth.” Stafford Kelly also goes on to say, “Abigail Sadler Sheets, the owner of Old Hampton Store Barbeque and Tavern, is also an artist who is eager to support fellow local artists of all kinds. One of them is Linville musician Nate Harris, who serenades the lunch crowds from a stage where musicians set up and perform every day in season, at noon and 6 p.m.

Old Hampton Store entrance


            Our State Magazine is located in Geensboro, NC, and more information on their Mountain Issue for October 2019 can be found here : https://www.ourstate.com/issue/the-october-2019-issue/