Thursday, November 23, 2017

McGill's General Store - Bethany, SC

McGill's Store is one of the rare rural general merchandise store's that is still in operation.  Since 1888, this family owned and operated store has been a part of the small community of Bethany, South Carolina.  Located at the intersection of South Carolina Highways 55 and 161, McGill's has a full service grill, hardware store, feed shop, groceries, work clothing, and more.  Basically, everything that you'd expect from a general store! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Skid's Drive In

Along North Church Street (US 70) in Burlington since 1947, Skid's Drive-In is one of the few remaining car hop drive-in restaurants (that's not a Sonic) in North Carolina.  Originally operated by J.E. Skidmore, the Katsoudas family has been operating the restaurant since the early 80s.  Known best for their burgers and hot dogs.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

North Carolina Whirligig Festival & Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park - Wilson

I am sure a number of you when reading this feature are asking, what's a whirligig.  Think of a very decorative windmill. Now put nearly 30 of these creations in one park - and you get one of North Carolina's newest attractions, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson.

Vollis Simpson

Considered a great American folk artist, Vollis Simpson's story is not one of a typical artist.  Born in 1919, Simpson was a World War II veteran who didn't start building the beloved structures until after his retirement in the 1980s.  Simpson ran a machine shop in Lucama and near and during his retirement would run to local salvage yards for cast off items that he could use for his creations.  Simpson did nearly all the work himself erecting the sometimes over 50 foot whirligig's at his Lucama farm.

His work would start off as a local attraction.  Local residents would go out to see the whirligigs especially in the evening and at night where the reflected light off car headlights earned his display the nickname, "Acid Park."

Simpson's work would soon become more than a local attraction.  Travelers and those just that were just plain curious would venture off of Interstate 95 and US 301 onto Wilson County backroads just to see the display.  His work became so well-known that he was commissioned to do pieces for the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics (his work can still be seen on the I-75 Courtland Street overpass), and also in Albuquerque, Manhattan and Raleigh.  In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly declared whirligig's as the official folk art for the State of North Carolina.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

As Simpson grew older, there was a movement to preserve his numerous structures.  By 2010, many of his whirligigs were starting to show age and disrepair, as Simpson, now into his 90s, was unable to maintain them.  That same year, the City of Wilson, announced its plan to create the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in their downtown.  Simpson was able to sell his creations to the city's non-profit group responsible for the park where they would begin the long process of carefully restoring each creation. Simpson would pass away at the age of 94 in 2013, but not before he could provide guidance on the restoration of each piece.

For Wilson and Wilson County, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is a symbol of great civic pride.  The two acre park is located on Goldsboro Street in Downtown Wilson.  30 of Mr. Simpson's whirligigs are proudly on display here.  The park officially opened on November 2, 2017.  The park is envisioned to be a central community gathering point for the city.  Surrounded by the restored whirligigs, the park is home to a covered stage and large grassy area for concerts and other events and a covered pavilion for farmers market and other similar type events.  A museum and visitor's center are also planned.

North Carolina Whirligig Festival

The first weekend of every November since 2005, Wilson has been home to the North Carolina Whirligig Festival.  This two-day festival not only celebrates Simpson's work but also folk artists throughout Eastern North Carolina.  Over 30,000 visitors come to Wilson for this event that has three stages for entertainment, numerous locally made crafts, amazing food and more.  With the addition of the new park, the festival is set to grow even more in the coming years. 

My family had a great time at this festival.  We were able to play at the new park and look up in amazement at all of the restored whirligigs.  The level of detail and the uniqueness of each one is simply amazing.  There are activities for all ages - my oldest son loved the chance to make his own whirligig out of Legos.  If it gets a little to crowded for your family - or if your kids are getting a little over rambunctious - Wilson's Imagination Station sits along the festival and offers a discounted rate during the festival.  It's a quieter and easier way to let your kids run around.

Sources & Links:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Smith Creek Bridge

The Smith Creek Bridge is located just north of Wilmington and still carries vehicular traffic today. Built in 1931, the Warren through truss swing span no longer operates as a swing bridge.  Even though it is no longer operating, the bridge is one of the rare swing truss bridges still standing within North Carolina.  The bridge once carried NC 133 and US 117 into Wilmington. These photos are from 2008. Unfortunately, I do not know when the swing bridge stopped operating.

Though the bridge had stopped operating at some point, the operator's equipment was still on site.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Woolly Worm Festival - Banner Elk

You probably remember from when you were a kid, the tales of how you can predict the upcoming winter's weather just by interpreting the 13 distinct segments on a woolly worm caterpillar.  Depending on the amount of black or brown on the worm, residents could expect a mild (more brown) or cold (more black) winter.  What if there was a festival that held races to determine which woolly worm to be used to make that winter prediction?

For 40 years, the High Country town of Banner Elk has celebrated the end of fall and coming of winter at its Woolly Worm Festival.  Held annually over the third weekend of October, the Woolly Worm Festival attracts thousands to the Avery County town.  The highlight of the festival is the full slate of woolly worm races on Saturday.  Beginning at around 9:00 am on Saturday, races will begin on the main race stage on the festival grounds.  The worms race up a string - and the first to make the top advances.  Around 1,000 participants will compete in heats of 25 each to earn their way to the final race - typically running at 4:00 pm.

The main attraction is the 4:00 Saturday final race.  This is the highlight of the festival.  The finalists from the earlier heats now compete for the championship.  The winner of this race receives a $1,000 cash prize and also the winning worm is used to predict the winter forecast for the North Carolina mountains.  Festival patrons sit on bales of hay and wildly cheer for the handful of woolly worms competing for the title.

This year's winner is 'Aspen', the entry of Joshua Grossner from Apex.  The forecast from Aspen as interpreted by NC State basketball legend and Avery County native, Tommy Burleson, is for the first three weeks of winter to be cold and snowy. This will be followed by eight weeks of average temperatures and some snow with the last two weeks of winter to be cold and snowy. 

The Woolly Worm festival has a lot of other great things to do, see and of course eat.  There are numerous local merchants and craftsmen with booths supporting their business, there are a lot of activities for kids (miniature golf, inflatables, and more.), lots of great food, and various forms of entertainment (dance teams and musicians).

Our family got to the festival too late to participate in the official races, but we were still able to go up on stage and race our own.  We purchased a woolly worm for our oldest son, who named the worm 'Sky'.  Sky must have been upset to be chosen so late.  After we placed Sky on the string to climb, Sky immediately turned around and headed off stage and back to the ground.  

If you wish to go to the Woolly Worm Festival and want to enter the races - get there early.  But even if you get there late, you can't help to get caught up in the fun and excitement of these fuzzy little creatures racing up about three feet of string!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Seven Devils

Watauga County Community named in 1965 and incorporated in 1979.  Seven Devils is a resort community.

The founders of the community wanted a unique name to attract tourists.  According to the town's website, the name seems to have come from Native Americans who said that the wind blowing across the mountains during the winter would sound like seven devils screaming at the night.

However, others contend that the town was named as a result of the seven rocky peaks along the mountain range and of seven brothers of the Winters family that were known to be "as mean as the devil."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

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