Wilkes County, North Carolina

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Wilkes County
Wilkes County, North Carolina
Founded 1778
Website www.wilkescounty.net/

Wilkes County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of 2000, the population was 65,632; in July 2006 the U.S. Census estimated the county's population at 67,310. Its county seat is WilkesboroTemplate:GR.


The county was formed in 1777 from parts of Surry County and Washington District (now Washington County, Tennessee). The first session of the county court was held in John Brown's house near what is today Brown's Ford. The act creating the county became effective on February 15, 1778, and the county celebrates its anniversary as February 15. It was named for the English political radical John Wilkes, who lost his position as Lord Mayor of the City of London due to his support for the colonists during the American Revolution.

In 1799 the northern and western parts of Wilkes County became Ashe County. In 1841 parts of Wilkes County and Burke County were combined to form Caldwell County. In 1847 another part of Wilkes County was combined with parts of Caldwell County and Iredell County to become Alexander County. In 1849 additional parts of Wilkes County and Caldwell County were combined with parts of Ashe County and Yancey County to form Watauga County. Numerous boundary adjustments were made thereafter, but none resulted in new counties.

Government, Medicine, and Media

Wilkes County is governed by a group of five elected county commissioners. An elected board of education controls the county's public school system. Wilkes County is a member of the regional High Country Council of Governments. The Wilkes Regional Medical Center, founded in 1951 as Wilkes General Hospital, is the largest hospital in North Carolina's High Country region. West Park, formerly a large shopping center built in North Wilkesboro in the 1970s, was transformed into northwest North Carolina's largest medical park in 2000, complete with offices for physicians, physical therapists, pharmacies, medical specialists, and other medical-related fields.

Wilkes County has two local newspapers: the Wilkes Journal-Patriot and The Record of Wilkes. Founded in 1906, the Journal-Patriot is published three times per week. The Record is published once per week; it usually focuses on the local arts scene in Wilkes.

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

The county has three radio stations: WKBC-FM, which plays adult contemporary (Hot AC) music; WKBC (AM), which plays American country music; and WWWC (AM), which plays Southern Gospel Music. In 2006, WKBC-FM was voted the best radio station in the Charlotte listening area by the music critics of Charlotte's Creative Loafing magazine.

Geography and climate

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 760 square miles (1,968 km²), of which, 757 square miles (1,961 km²) of it is land and 3 square miles (7 km²) of it (0.36%) is water. Wilkes County is located on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a part of the Appalachian Mountains chain. The county's elevation ranges from 900 feet (375 meters) in the east to over 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) in the west. The Blue Ridge Mountains run from the southwest to the northeast, and dominate the county's western and northern horizons. Thompkins Knob, the highest point in the county, rises to 4,079 feet (1243 meters). The foothills and valleys of the Blue Ridge form most of the county's midsection, with some elevations exceeding 2,000 feet (610 meters). Stone Mountain State Park, located in the foothills of northern Wilkes County, is one of the most popular state parks in North Carolina, and is noted for its excellent rock climbing and trout fishing. The Brushy Mountains, an isolated spur of the Blue Ridge, form the county's southern border. Wilkes County's terrain gradually becomes more level and less hilly as one moves to the east; the far eastern section of the county lies within the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The largest river in Wilkes is the Yadkin River, which flows through the central part of the county. The county's three other major streams, all of which flow into the Yadkin, are the Reddies River, Roaring River, and Mulberry Creek. Following the devastating floods of 1916 and 1940, the US Army's Corps of Engineers constructed the W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir on the Yadkin River four miles west of Wilkesboro. Opened in 1962, the dam created a lake with a shoreline of 55 miles. The lake is used for boating, swimming, fishing, and waterskiing; it is especially noted for its excellent bass fishing. The W. Kerr Scott lake is the largest body of water in Wilkes.

Due to its wide range of elevation, Wilkes County's climate varies considerably. In the winter, it is not unusual for it to be sunny with the temperature in the forties in the county's eastern section, while at the same time it is snowing or sleeting with the temperature in the low thirties or even twenties in the county's mountainous south, west, and north. Generally speaking, Wilkes receives ample amounts of precipitation, with frequent thunderstorms in the spring and summer months; and rain, snow, sleet, and freezing rain all occur at times during the winter, with the frequency increasing with the altitude. Severe weather is not common in Wilkes but does occur. Tornadoes are rare, but severe thunderstorms can bring strong winds which can down trees and power lines, as well as cause hail. Wilkes County is far enough inland that hurricanes rarely cause problems, but a strong hurricane which moves inland quickly enough may cause damage, as with Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Due to the numerous creeks and streams which run through its valleys, Wilkes is especially prone to devastating flash floods. The two most memorable floods occurred in 1916 and 1940, killing a number of residents and causing millions of dollars in damages. Since the opening of the W. Kerr Scott Dam in 1962, the Yadkin River has not flooded in the county. Although Wilkes County has never had a severe earthquake, an ancient fault line runs through the Brushy Mountains, and mild earth tremors are not uncommon. On August 31, 1861 an earthquake estimated at 5.0 on the Richter Scale hit the southern part of the county and caused minor damage.

National protected area


Wilkes County is served by a number of highways. However, the only multilane expressway which goes through the county is US 421. Other major highways include NC 16, NC 18, NC 268, and NC 115. The Wilkes County Airport provides air transport into and out of the county. The Blue Ridge Parkway, America's most-traveled scenic highway, winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the northern and western borders of the county.


Since colonial times Wilkes County has been overwhelmingly Protestant Christian. The two earliest churches to be established in Wilkes were the Episcopalian and Presbyterian. However, by the 1850s the Southern Baptists had eclipsed them, and the Baptists have remained the dominant church in Wilkes. The county also contains substantial numbers of Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, and Church of the Brethren. Historically, few Roman Catholics lived in Wilkes, but recent immigration from other U.S. States and especially by people of Hispanic descent has increased their numbers. A large Catholic church, built in 1988, is located in North Wilkesboro. By contrast, relatively few Jews or members of other non-Christian faiths have settled in the county.


The county is divided into twenty-two townships: Antioch, Beaver Creek, Boomer, Brushy Mountains, Edwards, Elk Creek, Hays, Jobs Cabin, Lewis Fork, Lovelace, Moravian Falls, Mulberry, New Castle, North Wilkesboro, Rock Creek, Somers, Stanton, Traphill, Union, Walnut Grove, Millers Creek and Wilkesboro.

Adjacent counties


There are four public high schools in the county: East Wilkes, North Wilkes, West Wilkes, and Wilkes Central. There are also four public middle schools and thirteen public elementary schools. The county also has several private schools; most of them are associated with one of the larger Protestant churches in the county. The only college in Wilkes is Wilkes Community College (WCC), a public two-year college within the North Carolina Community College System. WCC is the home of the popular "Americana" music festival MerleFest.

Wine region

Wilkes County is part of the Yadkin Valley AVA, an American Viticultural Area. Wines made from grapes grown Wilkes County may use the appellation Yadkin Valley on their labels. With the decline of tobacco farming, some Wilkes County farmers have switched to wine-making, and have hired experts from Europe and California for assistance. As a result, wine-making is growing in popularity in both Wilkes and surrounding counties.

In May of each year, Wilkes county celebrates the new wine industry with the Shine to Wine Festival, held in downtown North Wilkesboro.

Famous Natives & Residents

Points of interest

Moonshine and the Birth of NASCAR

Wilkes County was once known as the "Moonshine Capital of the World", and was a leading producer of illegal homemade liquor. From the 1920s to the 1950s some young Wilkes County males made their living by delivering moonshine to North Carolina's larger towns and cities. Wilkes County natives also used bootleg liquor as a means for barter far beyond the borders of North Carolina. Many Wilkes County distillers ran white liquor as far as Detroit, New Jersey and South Florida. Since this often involved outrunning local police and federal agents in auto chases, the county became one of the birthplaces of the sport of stock-car racing. The North Wilkesboro Speedway was the first NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) track; it held its first race on May 18, 1947[1] and the first NASCAR sanctioned race on October 16, 1949.[2] As noted above, Wilkes County native and resident Junior Johnson was one of the early superstars of NASCAR, as well as a legendary moonshiner. Johnson was turned into a national celebrity by the writer Tom Wolfe in a classic 1965 article for Esquire magazine. Wolfe's article was later turned into the 1973 movie The Last American Hero, starring Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine. Benny Parsons and Jimmy Pardue were two other well-known NASCAR drivers from Wilkes. Unfortunately, the North Wilkesboro Speedway was closed following the 1996 NASCAR season after two new owners, Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith, moved North Wilkesboro's NASCAR races to their tracks in Texas and New Hampshire. In September 2007 a real-estate developer, Worth Mitchell, announced his intention to buy the North Wilkesboro Speedway and reopen it for auto racing. However Worth Mitchell estimates his odds are 50-50 of pulling off the deal and since that time there has been no further information. Speedway Motorsports officials had no comment on the negotiations.[3]

Events and Festivals

Wilkes County has strong musical roots, and those roots are displayed at the annual Battle of the Bands. Held in downtown North Wilkesboro in September, this rock festival features 20 professional and amateur bands from across the region, performing original music and competing for cash awards and, in some cases, record labels.

It also hosts the annual Shine to Wine Festival, also in downtown North Wilkesboro. Held on the first Saturday of May, the Shine to Wine festival pays tribute to the county's heritage of growing from the Moonshine Capital of the World to what is now recognized as a strong viticultural industry.

Wilkes County is also home to the annual Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, which is held in downtown North Wilkesboro the first weekend in October. The festival, which attracts over 160,000 visitors each year, is one of the largest single-day arts and crafts fairs in the Southern United States.


In 1988 legendary folk music guitarist Doc Watson and singer Bill Young started the MerleFest music festival in Wilkesboro, the county seat. Held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, and named in honor of Doc's late son Merle Watson, MerleFest has grown into the largest folk and bluegrass music festival in the United States, drawing over 85,000 music fans each year.

Tom Dooley

As noted above, another well-known Wilkes native was Tom Dula (Dooley), a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War who was tried and hanged shortly after the war for the murder of his fiancée, Laura Foster. To this day many people believe that one of Dula's jealous ex-girlfriends murdered Laura Foster, that Dula was innocent of the crime, and that he accepted blame only to protect his former lover.[4]

The case was given nationwide publicity by newspapers such as The New York Times and the New York Herald, and thus became a folk legend in the rural South. Dula's legend was popularized in 1958 by the top-selling Kingston Trio song "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley." Dula's story was also turned into a 1959 movie starring Michael Landon as Dula, and each summer the Wilkes Playmakers present a popular play based on the story.

In 2001, Tom Dula was acquitted of all charges after a petition was sent around Wilkes County and to the county seat.[4]

Political Loyalty

A curious political fact about Wilkes County is that it is one of the few counties in the Southern United States which has never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate. The county's strong affiliation with the Republican Party dates from the American Civil War, when most of the county's residents opposed secession and the Confederacy, and viewed the Democratic Party as being the "pro-secession" party. During the Civil War people in neighboring counties often called Wilkes County "The Old United States", in reference to the county's pro-Union sentiment.

Although the county is heavily Republican, and African-Americans make up less than 5% of the county's population, in 2002 the county's voters elected Luther Parks as a county commissioner. Parks, a Democrat, is the first African-American to hold a county office. He received more votes than any other candidate. In 2006 Parks was re-elected, and again he received the largest number of votes.


Despite its rural character and small population, Wilkes County has been the birthplace of numerous large industries. Lowe's, the second-largest chain of home-improvement stores in the nation (after The Home Depot) was started in Wilkes County in 1946. Until recently Lowe's had its corporate headquarters in Wilkes County, but the company has since relocated its headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina, a fast-growing suburb of Charlotte. However, Lowe's still maintains a large number of corporate offices in the county.

Other industries which started in Wilkes County are Lowes Foods (now headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina) and The Northwestern Bank, which was once North Carolina's fourth-largest banking chain until it was merged with the Wachovia

Bank in 1986. The Carolina Mirror Company in North Wilkesboro was for many years the largest mirror factory in the United States. Although the company no longer exists, the former Carolina Mirror factory continues to produce mirrors through the Gardner Mirror Company.

Holly Farms, in Wilkesboro, was the largest poultry producer in the Southeastern United States until it was bought by Tyson Foods in 1989. Wilkes County remains one of the largest producers of poultry in the Eastern United States, and many of the county's farmers are poultry farmers for Tyson Foods.

Like many places in North Carolina, Wilkes County has suffered in the last quarter-century from the closing of many of its textile and furniture factories, which have moved to low-wage locations in Latin America and Asia, especially China and Vietnam.


As of the censusTemplate:GR of 2000, there were 65,632 people, 26,650 households, and 19,321 families residing in the county. The population density was 87 people per square mile (33/km²). There were 29,261 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 92.95% White, 4.16% Black or African American, 0.14% Native American, 0.32% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.71% from other races, and 0.66% from two or more races. 3.45% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 26,650 households out of which 30.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.10% were married couples living together, 9.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.50% were non-families. 24.50% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.87.

In the county the population was spread out with 22.60% under the age of 18, 7.90% from 18 to 24, 29.70% from 25 to 44, 25.70% from 45 to 64, and 14.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 97.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.70 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $34,258, and the median income for a family was $40,607. Males had a median income of $27,346 versus $21,089 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,516. About 8.80% of families and 11.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.20% of those under age 18 and 17.20% of those age 65 or over.

Cities and towns

Map of Wilkes County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels

Unincorporated CDPs

Wilkes County Chambers of Commerce


External links

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This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia adapted for use as a quick research reference on this wiki. The original content was here: Wilkes County, North Carolina. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the ENC Phillips Group Wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.