North Wilkesboro, North Carolina

North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Motto: Key to the Blue Ridge
Location of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Coordinates: 36°10′15″N 81°8′31″W / 36.17083°N 81.14194°W / 36.17083; -81.14194Coordinates: 36°10′15″N 81°8′31″W / 36.17083°N 81.14194°W / 36.17083; -81.14194
Country United States
State North Carolina
County Wilkes
 - Mayor Robert Johnson
 - Total 5.1 sq mi (13.3 km2)
 - Land 5.1 sq mi (13.3 km2)
 - Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 756 ft (305 m)
Population (2010)
 - Total 4,245
 - Density 803.9/sq mi (710.4/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 28656, 28659, 28674
Area code(s) 336
FIPS code 37-47880[1]
GNIS feature ID 0991280[2]

North Wilkesboro is a town in Wilkes County, North Carolina, United States. The population was approximately 4,116 at the 2000 census and is now 4,245 as of the 2010 census. North Wilkesboro is the birthplace and original home of Lowe's Home Improvement, which continues to have a major presence in the community. The town is also known as one of the birthplaces of the sport of stock-car racing, and the North Wilkesboro Speedway was the first NASCAR-sanctioned track. North Wilkesboro's major industries include furniture and textile production, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. Due to the town's proximity to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and the numerous tourist venues there, North Wilkesboro has been nicknamed the "Key to the Blue Ridge".



North Wilkesboro was founded in 1891 when the Norfolk and Southern Railroad built a railroad line into Wilkes County. The line ended on the northern bank of the Yadkin River opposite Wilkesboro, the county seat. The Town of North Wilkesboro quickly developed around the railroad tracks. North Wilkesboro was the home of the Carolina Mirror Company, which for many years was the largest mirror factory in the United States. Although this is no longer the case, the town remains a major producer of mirrors through Gardner Glass Products Inc. Lowe's Foods, one of the Southeast's largest supermarket chains, was started in North Wilkesboro in 1954. Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, the nation's second-largest chain of home-improvement stores, was started in North Wilkesboro in 1946. The Town does continue to host large corporate offices including Gardner Glass Products Inc., Window World, and ECMD. In addition, two local businessmen recently won prestigious awards for entrepreneurship. Julius "Jay" Howell was recognized as the Small Business Administration's 2010 N.C. Minority Small Business Champion of the Year.[3] Jason Carlton, founder of the GoNC Network, which includes,, and, has been recognized by Business Leader Magazine as one of the “Top 50 Entrepreneurs” in North Carolina for his significant business innovation, leadership, industry, and community involvement. The Town of North Wilkesboro is focused on their mission of improving the lives of its citizens through economic development by establishing the Wilkes Industrial Park, which is North Carolina's second largest certified industrial park with a developable area of 552 acres. The Wilkes Industrial Park has water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, and has the potential to access the Yadkin Valley Railroad to the south. Thanks to an $800,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Wilkes Industrial Park will have a new access road on the southwest side, which is scheduled to be completed by early 2012. In addition, the main transportation corridor serving the site (NC-268) will be widened from 2 lanes to 4 lanes by 2015.

While one of NASCAR's original speedways shares the name of North Wilkesboro with the town it is important to note that the speedway is not located inside of the town's limits. The North Wilkesboro Speedway predates the founding of NASCAR; the speedway held its first race on May 18, 1947[4] and from there it grew in popularity. On October 16, 1949 the Speedway held the 8th and final race of the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Division; when the race was over Robert "Red" Byron had become the first NASCAR-sanctioned champion.[5] The North Wilkesboro Speedway held NASCAR races for 50 years; on September 29, 1996 Jeff Gordon would win the final race to be held at the speedway. In 1995, following the death of long-time owner and track founder Enoch Staley, the speedway was purchased by two new owners, Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith. Soon after their purchase, both men announced that they were closing the speedway and moving its two NASCAR race dates to their new tracks in Texas and New Hampshire. The decision met with strong criticism from race fans. Since 1996 several unsuccessful attempts have been made to purchase and reopen the speedway to racing; most recently a group known as "Save the Speedway" has been working to provide historic markers and collect memorabilia from the speedway's rich racing history. In 2010 the speedway reopened and already has races booked.

Affordable Healthcare

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Wilkes Regional Medical Center

Wilkes Regional Medical Center, founded in 1951 as Wilkes General Hospital, is located in North Wilkesboro. It is the largest hospital in northwestern North Carolina and is currently the town's largest employer. West Park, formerly a large shopping center built in the 1970s, has recently been transformed into a large medical park with numerous offices for physicians, medical specialists, pharmacies, physical therapists, and other medical and health-related fields. Recently, Wilkes Regional Medical Center was honored with the Four Star Inpatient service award by Professional Research Consultants, Inc.

Wilkes Regional Medical Center was established to care for the sick and injured. Its mission is to strive to provide comprehensive, high quality and cost effective health care to the citizens of Wilkes County and surrounding areas. Wilkes Regional Medical Center recently expanded their services by establishing an Urgent Care Center in West Park Medical Center and plans to expand the Emergency Room beginning in 2011.

Wilkes Regional Medical Center is fully accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The seal of accreditation is accepted nationwide as the highest standards of medical care in personnel, equipment, and organization. Since the Joint Commission considers accreditation maintenance as an ongoing education activity for review, inspection and updating you have the added assurance that Wilkes Regional Medical Center will consistently give you the most modern medical care available. Physician specialties at Wilkes Regional Medical Center include:

Anesthesiology Cardiology Emergency Medicine ENT Family Practice
Gastroenterology Internal Medicine Medical Imaging Nephrology Neurology
OB/GYN Ophthalmology Pathology Pediatrics Psychiatry
General Surgery Orthopedic Surgery Vascular Surgery Urology **


North Wilkesboro is the home of both media sources for Wilkes County: the Wilkes Journal-Patriot and The Record of Wilkes. Founded in 1906, the Journal-Patriot is Wilkes County's largest and oldest newspaper[citation needed]; it is published three times per week. The Record of Wilkes is published once per week; it usually focuses on the local arts scene in Wilkes.

Wilkes County's two largest radio stations are broadcast from North Wilkesboro. WKBC-FM (97.3 FM), broadcasts Adult Contemporary (hot AC) music as well as the football games of nearby Appalachian State University[citation needed]. In 2006 it was rated the best radio station in the Charlotte listening area by the music critics of Charlotte's Creative Loafing magazine. The station can be heard as far away as Rock Hill, South Carolina and Johnson City, Tennessee. WKBC (AM) (800 AM) broadcasts American Country music.

North Wilkesboro is also home to, a well-recognized internet media source that allows residents to discuss current events and local happenings in real time. was voted the 2004 Small Business of the Year by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

Local Events

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Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro Banner

The downtown business district of North Wilkesboro became a recognized Main Street Town in 2000. The Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro, a non-profit group that has worked to revitalize the downtown business district, led the effort to have the town recognized as a Main Street Town; the group also sponsors other events to attract people to the downtown area. For example, Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro is the founder of the annual Battle of the Bands, an all-day rock concert with more than 20 rock bands performing. This is one of the few rock concerts that include a separate competition for amateur bands and professional bands. Bands play in the concert by invitation only. Previous shows included a performance from Waylon Reavis, now the lead singer of Mushroomhead. The concert has steadily grown in popularity since its inception, and draws thousands of music fans each year. The concert is held on the last Saturday in September.

Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro is also the founder of the annual 'Shine to Wine Festival. Over the past 20 years, numerous local farmers have moved into the winemaking industry and the wine festival gives local wineries and vineyards a chance to display and publicize their wines. The festival also traces the historical development of Wilkes County liquor from moonshine to wine. The 'Shine to Wine festival is held on the first Saturday in May. Other downtown North Wilkesboro festivals include the Downtown Concert Series and Light Up Downtown.

North Wilkesboro is the home of the annual Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, which is held to celebrate the apple harvest from the nearby Brushy Mountains. Crowds of over 160,000 people usually attend the festival, and it is one of the largest single-day arts and crafts fairs in the Southern United States. The festival features music, dancing, artwork, crafts, and food traditional to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The streets of downtown North Wilkesboro, NC are filled with over 425 arts and crafts, 100 food concessions, and 4 different music stages consisting of Blue Grass, Country, Folk, Gospel, and Appalachian Heritage. Cloggers, folk dancers, rope skippers, and square dancers provide additional entertainment venues for festival goers. Appalachian Heritage crafts such as woodcarving, chair making, soap making, pottery throwing, and quilting are highlighted. Local apple growers set up throughout the festival selling their apples, apple cider, and dried apples.

Light Up Downtown is an annual downtown event focused on the beginning of the Christmas season and the inaugural first day of decorative lights in downtown North Wilkesboro. Santa always makes an appearance to listen to all the children's Christmas wishes. Free pictures are always available to take with Santa. Hayrides are also available to ride around the downtown and enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations. In addition, many food, craft, and merchandise vendors are lined down Main Street. Downtown retailers are always open late to kickoff the Christmas shopping.

President Barack Obama announced that he may visit North Wilkesboro on October 17, 2011, as part of a tour of North Carolina and Virginia. He visited West Wilkes High School and received a very enthusiastic crowd according to WXII12 NEWS .[6]


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Wilkes Art Gallery

The Wilkes Playmakers, an active local theater group, are based in North Wilkesboro; each summer they stage a popular play based on the life and death of Tom Dooley, a local Civil War veteran who was tried and hanged in 1868 for the murder of his fiancée, Laura Foster. The murder trial received national publicity at the time, and the belief of many that one of Dooley's jealous ex-girlfriends murdered Foster and that Dooley was innocent made his story into a folk legend. The play usually attracts sold-out audiences during its summer run.

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Wilkes Art Gallery Mural Project

The Wilkes Art Gallery was founded in 1962 in the parlor of art patron Annie Winkler's home and in 2004 moved into the renovated North Wilkesboro Post Office building located in the heart of downtown North Wilkesboro. The Gallery's 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) facility includes over 3,500 square feet (330 m2) of exhibition space, an education center with a complete ceramics studio, painting and drawing studios, two multi-purpose classrooms, and a Gallery Gift Shop. The Gallery provides quality educational experiences through exhibits, classes and workshops for all ages. The Gallery also sponsors several "Gallery Crawls" per year, which bring both citizens and tourists downtown to enjoy good wine, good friends, and great art. Recently, a group of local students painted a cultural mural on the back of the Gallery. Below, is a picture of the recent Mural Project in the back of the Gallery.

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Yadkin River Greenway

North Wilkesboro recently welcomed the Yadkin River Greenway which was created through the cooperative efforts of citizen volunteers, landowners, and the governments of Wilkes County, North Wilkesboro, Wilkesboro, and the State of North Carolina. The effort began in 1994, and the first phase of the greenway was opened on May 18, 2002. The Yadkin River Greenway Council, a non-profit community organization, provided coordination and leadership. The Greenway is a natural area between urban communities where wildlife, vegetation, and streams are preserved and enjoyed. The Greenway contains biking, jogging, and walking trails which follow the Yadkin River and Reddies River for several miles between the towns of North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro. The Yadkin River Greenway offers over 1.7 miles (2.7 km) of paved trails to form over 5.1 miles (8.2 km) of current trails with more extensions to come in the near future.[7] One of the most popular spots on the Greenway is a 156-foot (48 m)-long bridge which spans the Reddies River at its mouth, where it joins the Yadkin River.

Wilkes County School System

US News & World Report named Wilkes Central High School and West Wilkes High School in their 2010 list of "America's Best High Schools.[8]" Wilkes Central High School was awarded a Silver and West High a Bronze. Wilkes County Schools (WCS) meets the educational needs of 10,169 students, with over 1,500 employees including 20 technology support staff. WCS has thirteen elementary schools, four middle schools, four high schools, and an early college high school. WCS is committed to excellence in teaching and to the belief that all students can learn. WCS has provided the school infrastructure necessary for 21st Century technology. Accomplishments include:

  • All classrooms have high speed internet access and wireless connectivity;
  • Currently all 4th and 5th graders are provided Personal handheld computing devices;
  • Currently 600 classrooms are identified as Smart Classrooms (SMART Board, laptop for teacher, and data projector);
  • Students in 6th and 7th grades issued mini-laptops;
  • Students in high school are issued laptops;
  • WCS Combined SAT Scores were higher than the state average for the last three years.
  • WCS offers a hybrid 162-day calendar-with school days 45 minutes longer than normal - in which students actually spend more hours in class than they did with a traditional 180-day calendar.

Wilkes Community College

Wilkes Community College is one of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina's community college system and is a public, two-year, open-door institution serving the people of Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany counties and surrounding areas. Wilkes Community College provides programs, resources, and services which create quality educational and economic development, and cultural opportunities. Wilkes Community College (WCC) enhances the quality of life through:

  • quality education and workforce development, including basic skills, occupational, technical and pre-baccalaureate programs;
  • economic development services to business and industry, both public and private; and
  • community development through a variety of services, cultural activities, and recreational opportunities.[9]

Wilkes Community College is also the venue for MerleFest, which is an annual Americana music festival on the WCC campus. The festival, which is held the last weekend in April, is hosted by guitar player Doc Watson and is named in memory and honor of his son, Eddy Merle Watson, who died in a farming accident in 1985. The festival, founded in 1988, now attracts crowds exceeding 85,000 in number, making it the largest folk music festival in the United States. The music is spread across 15 different stages and four days, which promises non-stop excitement for festival goers. MerleFest offers a generation and genre crossing mix of traditional and contemporary roots music, which the organization calls "traditional-plus." It brings together the very best of bluegrass, contemporary acoustic, blues, folk, old-time music, Cajun, jazz, and singer-songwriter music.[10]

Notable people


North Wilkesboro is located along the Yadkin River at the mouth of the Reddies River. North Wilkesboro has long been known as the "Key to the Blue Ridge" and is adjacent to the Brushy Mountains, Stone Mountain State Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Located a few miles away, the W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir offers its visitors a pristine wilderness to go mountain biking, boating, swimming, camping, picnicing, hunting, and fishing around its 55-mile (89 km) shoreline. The Town of North Wilkesboro is located in the heart of Wilkes County, North Carolina in the northwestern corner of the state. Wilkes County is bordered by eight (8) counties. These include the counties of Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell, Iredell, Surry, Watauga, and Yadkin; thus making the town conveniently juxtaposed to eight county seats and economic hubs; all within a 45-minute drive from town. The town corporate limits cover approximately 7.5 square miles (~ 4,800 acres) of contiguous property with approximately 300 acres in satellite territories.[11] The Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) encompasses roughly 16 square miles (41 km2) or 10,240 acres. The town is bordered to the south by the Yadkin River and the Town of Wilkesboro. Running through the eastern portion of the town is the Reddies River which flows from North to South and unites with the Yadkin.


US 421.svg US 421 NC 268.svg NC 268 NC 115.svg NC 115 NC 16.svg NC 16 NC 18.svg NC 18

The town serves as the junction point for NC State Highways 18 and 268 and is within one mile (1.6 km) to the north of US Highway 421.[12] US 421 passes by the town and allows transportation to the nearby cities of Winston-Salem (to the east) and Boone (to the west), the home of Appalachian State University. The town is also served by NC Highway 115 and is close in proximity to NC Highway 16.


North Wilkesboro rests in the foothills to the east of the Blue Ridge escarpment; which encompass the western edge of Wilkes County. The town’s position in relation to the abutting mountain system accounts for the mild, yet wet winters and summers. The average annual maximum temperature is 68.9 degrees Fahrenheit with a corresponding minimum annual temperature average of 42.8 degrees.[13] Average annual rainfall (50.0 inches) for the town falls just short of the typical average of the Southern Appalachian region (60.0+ inches). As winter clouds approach from the west and migrate across the Blue Ridge, an orographic effect ensues which releases an amount of snow in the Western high country, leaving little for central and eastern Wilkes County as the systems passes over. The result is more of a wintry mix of sleet and frozen rain, hence the 9.9 inches of average total snowfall, but the lack of any snow depth.


As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 4,116 people, 1,639 households, and 942 families residing in the town. The population density was 803.9 people per square mile (310.4/km²). There were 1,837 housing units at an average density of 358.8 per square mile (138.5/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 74.47% White, 17.90% African American, 0.36% Native American, 0.73% Asian, 0.49% Pacific Islander, 4.25% from other races, and 1.80% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race was 11.27% of the population.

There were 1,639 households out of which 45.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.1% were married couples living together, 15.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.5% were non-families. 39.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 3.01.

In the town the population was spread out with 23.7% under the age of 18, 10.0% from 18 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 20.5% from 45 to 64, and 16.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 98.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 97.0 males.


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