EXPLORE HISTORIC DOWNTOWN WILKESBORO
with a Heritage Tour of our Famous Landmarks!
Wilkesboro is the county seat of Wilkes County and located in Northwest North Carolina. For two centuries it has been the center of life for people living between the Brushy Mountains on the southeast and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. Today while retaining some of its 18th and 19th-century flavor, the town has also enjoyed the development on it fringes with rapidly growing restaurant and shopping facilities, a community college and two civic centers bring the town up-to-date. For those of us that are sentimental to our grassroots, a self-guided tour can be done in our historic downtown of Wilkesboro.
The tour includes fifteen stops. The thirteen buildings that reveal the character of the Town of Wilkesboro as it developed. All are examples of the distinctive styling and culture of their time and each is included in the National Register of Historic Places. Each represents an aspect of community life that is historically noteworthy. The buildings are within walking distance of each other. Two other sites with significant history are also along the tour and the map and site explanations below will explain the significance of these sites.
The Old Wilkes County Courthouse - A great landmark in Wilkes County. This courthouse was built in 1902 and is an example of official classical revival structures built at the turn of the century. A new courthouse was built in to utilize the ever growing needs of Wilkes County citizens. The Old Courthouse has been restored and houses the "Heritage Museum" for Wilkes County History.
Tory Oak Site - For two and a half centuries the Tory Oak grew strong and stately in the center of Wilkesboro, a symbol of the revolutionary struggle that led to the founding of our county. Some leaders called this old tree the Liberty Oak, but it became famous because several enemies of the American Revolution, known as Tories, were hanged on its limbs when the tree was still young. When the original Tory Oak died, it was replaced by a black oak with the marker stone & plaque, which is pictured above in the map image.
Thomas B. Finley Law Office - It was built in the late 19th century and a succession of lawyers have practiced here. It is a diminutive, well-preserved carpenter gothic building, an excellent example of its type. Opposite the law office is the Wilkes Heritage Museum.
The Smithey Hotel - This building is located east of the Old Wilkes County Courthouse and was built in 1891. It was once a center of mercantile trade on the ground floor with the area's main hotel above. This late 19th-century example of small-town commercial architecture remains relatively unaltered outside.
W.H.H. Cowles Law Office - This building dates from 1871 and is a low, small structure that suited the legal practice of the time. It is on Main Street near the Brown-Cowles House and is also known as the "Law & Bridal Cottage."
Brown-Cowles House - This is the oldest house remaining in Wilkesboro and dates from the 1830s. Hamilton-Brown (1786-1870) built the central structure and Congressman William H. H. Cowles (1850-1901) expanded it. The slave kitchen and curing house are among the few outbuilding still remaining in the area. In front of the house is the Cowles Law Office.
Wilkesboro Presbyterian Church - Established in 1837 and built in 1849-50, the church is two blocks east of the Old Wilkes County Courthouse on the south side of Main Street. It served the oldest Presbyterian congregation in 21 Western NC counties. It is a tetrastyle Doric portico is an excellent example of the popular design at the time.
Johnson-Hubbard House - Built in 1855 by Stephen Johnson and purchased in 1885 by Julius C. Hubbard. Hubbard added some additional rooms, but the house remains much in its original state. The upstairs bedroom ceilings are unique in that they were painted with designs made with a smoking pine torch.
J. T. Ferguson Store - It stands across the street from the Smithey hotel. This building front is cast iron and pressed metal facade produced in St. Louis in 1887. The classical and Victorian details are still bold and impressive today. The manufacturer sold over 5,000 building fronts of this sort during a 23 year period. This is one of the few of this type remaining.
Former Federal Building - Located on the south side of Main Street and was built in 1915. It is an example of federal revival style architecture, unusual in its preserved refined classical elegance and its use of terra cotta, brick, wood, and plaster. This building has served many purposes over the years, federal courthouse, post office, the board of education and is currently a real estate office. A larger Federal Courthouse and Post Office has been built two doors down from this structure on Main Street.
Carl Lowe House - This home was built in 1899 and is at the top of Brooke Street at Woodland Blvd. It is a fine remaining example of Queen Anne and late Victorian houses, with irregular design, textures, and rare orientation.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Located on Cowles Street on the crest of the hill above the town. It was completed in 1849 and is one of the earliest consecrated in the Episcopal Diocese of Western NC. It is a good example of a small parish in the gothic revival style church & much of the building is in its original condition. Ben Long's Frescoes has been a wonderful addition to the church in recent years.
Old Wilkes County Jail - It is located behind the old Wilkes County Courthouse & was completed in 1860. It has been restored and is now a museum. Tom Dula or Dooley was one of its inmates and was famous for the murder of Laura Foster, the love of his life. This is an outstanding example of mid 19th century jails and one of the few intact examples in the State of NC.
Robert Cleveland Log Home- This was the famous home of Robert Cleveland, a gentleman farmer and his family of 17 children. It was built in 1770s in Purlear, in western Wilkes County. It was moved to Wilkesboro and restored behind the Old Jail. Col. Benjamin Cleveland, Robert's brother, lived in Wilkes County and led forces from this region to the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War.
Yadkin River Greenway - By using the designated bicycle and pedestrian trails along the river, its tributaries, and the Historic Overmountain Victory Trail, Wilkes County citizens and visitors will enjoy this area's many natural, cultural, and recreational resources. The Overmountain Victory Trail is remembered where soldiers on their way to King’s Mountain battle defeated the British in a strategic battle that helped win the Revolution. There are many historic sites along the Reddies and Yadkin River that were not marked but are a significant part of the Wilkes County history. As part of the greenway development, several of the most famous historic and ecological kiosks, located along the trail will explain the significance of these sites. The National Park Service has designated the OVT as one element of a national trails system.
Click here to read more the National Register of Historic Places in Wilkes County, NC.