James Taylor:”Gone to Carolina…in my mind”. Rorie & Bart: “Went there…in the flesh”.

Singer James Taylor hails from North Carolina and his experiences there have been the inspiration for some of his songs, most notably “Gone to Carolina”.

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Though some may think Mr. Taylor inspired our visit, the Discover Small Town America Tour was actually invited to sample some of North Carolina’s amazing and unusual small towns this summer by our local “lookout”, AKA our daughter Sara. After doing our research, we headed out to spotlight some interesting, and definitely unusual, places in the Wake County region of the State.

First stop…the town of Lizard Lick

Lizard Lick is an off-the-beaten-path location within the small town of Wendell, NC (pop. 6,745). It appealed to us not only because of its weird name, but also because one of its businesses was featured on truTV as a television series called Lizard Lick Towing. We stopped in to meet the “repo agents” and stars of the show, but sadly they had just left. The co-owners of the company have interesting backgrounds. Amy Shirley is a power lifter AND mortician. Ron Shirley is a pastor.

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Lizards are everywhere in Lizard Lick, even on top of banks

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Lizard Lick Towing was established 10 years ago with one truck. Today the repo biz has 20 trucks. Its office is very modest!

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According to a local historian, the town got its name from a “passing observer who saw many lizards sunning and licking themselves on a rail fence.” Really?

Our next stop, randomly, was Garner, NC (pop. 27,342).

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Like many small towns do, Garner “welcomes” folks with a huge water tower.

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Garner’s historic downtown feels like a classic version of “Main Street USA”

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Garner was “put on the map” in 1847 when the railroad began service through the area. This car marks the place where trains went right through the middle of town.

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Fuquay-Varina (population 18,644) was the next place we decided to explore. Why was it on our list? You guessed it…because of its weird name, pronounced “Few quay-Va reen uh”.

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Your fearless tour guides Sara and Rorie were excited to explore F-V. They left Bart/Dad in the dust.

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Honor system “lending libraries” like this one in F-V are one of the really cool aspects of small town living.

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Wall murals abound in this town. What a great way to create community buzz and make otherwise boring buildings interesting and attractive.

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For those who know Rorie, this sidewalk sign gets to the heart of the matter.

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And this sign tells all about Rorie’s true addiction – chocolate!

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Our last stop of the day was the picturesque town of Wake Forest (pop. 31,000), which I thought was the home of Wake Forest University. WRONG! WFU was originally located here but moved to Winston-Salem many years ago. Oh well.

We located the main drag, parked our car and took in all the warm and welcoming sights of downtown WF on South White Street.

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Large, antique-style clocks like this add “flavor” to the downtown experience

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Bart loves hot dogs. His big regret was not stopping into Shorty’s (established 1916) to try out one of its “famous” tube steaks, as Bart’s father often called them.

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Here’s a truck from a local brewery that knows the value of “small town soul”.

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As we walked around the downtown neighborhood, we were surprised to learn that ol’ Willie was running for President.

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Leaving town we saw an old southern, cracker-style house.

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But what really got our attention were the Caddys in the driveway. Didn’t see any caskets in them, so we’re guessing they are out-of-service hearses.

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We had a great Tar Heel State experience this day and – maybe best of all – were welcomed “home” by our DSTA Tour mascot Lady Jane (“LJ”). Don’t let her soulful eyes kid you. All LJ wanted to know was 1). Did we bring her treats? and 2). Would we be spending the next several hours giving her attention and affection?

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Stay tuned for more road reports from Rorie and Bart’s next big Discover Small Town America adventure.

 

What Do William Shakespeare, Robert E. Lee and Woodrow Wilson Have in Common? Relative Proximity…

When your DSTA Tour “proprietors” checked in last, we were leaving the Antietam Battlefields on our way to some cool small towns in Virginia and North Carolina. Here’s “the rest of the story”…

The Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton, VA (pop. approx. 24,000) is steeped in history and loaded with culture. Staunton (pronounced “Stan-tin”) is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson and site of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum.

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It’s also home to the American Shakespeare Center (which has an authentic replica of the Blackfriars Theater), the Frontier Culture Museum and – for you photography buffs – the Camera Heritage Museum.

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The compact Main Street and hilly surrounding neighborhoods are best explored on foot, but before setting out, be sure to stop in at the Staunton Visitor Center and look for Lacy King.

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As the most energetic cheerleader of this quintessential small town, Lacy’s a great source for everything you ever wanted to know about Staunton and was a great help in directing us to the “not to be missed” sights and sites! (www.VisitStaunton.com). We got a great workout walking through the downtown area and up and down hilly side streets admiring gracious old mansions and historic churches.

And in case you think Staunton is all serious history without a playful side, get a look at these huge sculptures by Willy Ferguson that greet visitors as you enter the downtown area. His oversized metal works are scattered throughout Staunton and include flower pots, and a huge book outside of the town’s library.

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Ferguson sculpture

After a hot day walking around Staunton, a stop at Wright’s Dairy-Rite is the perfect way to cool down. Founded in 1952, it was recently voted one of the top 10 original drive-ins in the country and given their homemade foods, frozen custards and old-fashioned atmosphere we can see why. If any of you remember eating at the old A&W Root Beer drive-ins during the 50’s, then you’ll have no problem ordering your food from your car or table through a speaker or phone and reliving a classic 50’s memorable dining experience!

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After enjoying the pause that refreshes, it was on to our next stop, Lexington, VA. Lexington (pop 7,000) is a charming 19th century southern town proud of its military heritage, celebrated Confederate war heroes, and small town village feel. The Washington Post called it a quaint college town. We couldn’t agree more. http://bit.ly/1IG0UEu

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Bart took a shot of this building  at the corner of Washington and Main Streets. Notice the ad on the building for the Millinery de Rousselot. Obviously historic, right? WRONG! This sign – for a fictional hat store – was painted for the movie Sommersby starring Richard Gere and Jody Foster, shot here in the summer of 1992. Who knew?

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Lexington is home to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and Washington and Lee University, both on sprawling campuses near the edge of downtown. VMI was established in 1839 and is the oldest state-supported military institution in the US, and the last to admit women. It’s a very austere looking campus made up of monochromatic sandy colored buildings that are steeped in tradition. Walking around VMI you can see this is a place where cadets are serious about a future with the military. While exploring the expansive grounds, be sure to visit the VMI Museum, Cadet Chapel and the remains of Stonewall Jackson’s beloved war horse Sorrel.

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Washington and Lee University was established over 250 years ago and named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Its 325 acre campus is right next to VMI but unlike VMI, this campus is made up of beautiful historic antebellum buildings and the Colonnade, which is a row of brick buildings from 1824. Lee and most of his family are buried in the Lee Chapel on the University grounds. Even his horse is buried right outside of the walls of the chapel. Kind of reminds me of Roy Rogers stuffing his horse Trigger! What is it about men and their horses?

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Having soaked up the history throughout Lexington’s academic institutions, it was time to explore the streets and side alleys of downtown. The streets are lined with historic homes and brick buildings refurbished as museums, restaurants, shops, cafes and of course, bakeries! Sweet Treats gets sweet reviews on Yelp…

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Ducking down a side street alley, we walked to the Stonewall Jackson House Museum. This house, museum, carriage house with antique car, and garden, is the only home the Confederate General ever owned and it’s been beautifully restored and furnished with period pieces and some of the Jacksons personal belongings. Even though Rorie is not known for her green thumb, she was particularly drawn to the heirloom vegetable garden in the back of the house. She was amazed that these plants could last for centuries when she can barely keep a plant alive for a week!

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After a long day of sightseeing and history lessons, it was time to mosey on to our final destination – Statesboro, NC. where we hoped to find a comfortable bed, a good meal and more southern hospitality. Stay tuned “y’all”…