Archive for May, 2016

For years, I have been predicting that Mebane would become the next Carrboro, the next Saxapahaw, the next former mill town to where creative types priced out of Chapel Hill can relocate.

I rode out to Mebane to eat lunch, then ride back, a little over twenty miles each way from my home in Chapel Hill NC.   The bicycle route to Mebane takes you from the La La Land that is Chapel Hill/Carrboro as it slowly becomes the Real North Carolina.

Chapel Hill is in Orange County.   Because of county legislation passed decades ago, outside of town the Orange County Rural Buffer mandates something like one house for every five acres.    Most of the rest of rural North Carolina does not look quite so pristine.  One downside to the Rural Buffer is that it is slowly being filled up with five acre estates.  There are always going to be contentious political issues about land use.  There is not that much large scale farming going on out here and much of the land may not be great farmland anyway,  However having the Rural Buffer creates attractive rural landscapes and it is something we should be very proud of.






Lots of people still live out here.  Most of the interesting residences are hidden in the woods where you cannot see them from the highway, with a few exceptions.  David Summer told me a long time ago that Ippy and Neal’s house was his favorite in the whole Chapel Hill area.  Ippy is an artist, and some of her drawings are currently on display in the lobby of the Greenbridge condo building where I live.


While almost all this ride was in Orange County you sense a cultural shift the further you get from Chapel Hill.   I draw the cultural line when houses start having boxes for the Burlington NC newspaper.


I saw homemade modernism, plus other stuff.









Cruising into Mebane, you see several brick factory buildings.  The most prominent is for the White Furniture Company, in business from 1881 to 1993.   I remember when it closed, the press was that Americans were no longer willing to spring for a fine piece of furniture, produced by skilled craftspeople.    They just wanted Ikea.   More recently the former factory is being converted to apartments.   Five years ago I would not have believed that people would live in a condo in Mebane;  now I think the plan might succeed.




Those living in these new condos can walk to town.      Martinho’s Bakery and Deli has been there a long time, but most other bars and coffee houses have opened in just the past two years.    Some might even make it.







These guys seem to be selling little of everything.


Martinho’s was busy on this Monday.  While the steak and cheese sub (that day’s special) was really not that good, I have had other things there that are fine.   You do not see this kind of place much in North Carolina, with pictures on the wall of owners and of their native country Portugal.





I got on the bicycle and rode home.

Like I said, much of the upper end housing in the Rural Buffer of Orange County is hidden in the woods.   There are a few tract developments, however.   This gated community has been there a long time, with a FrankLloydWrightesque sign at the gate.    You cannot see any of the houses from the road.


More recently, grandiose Pennsylvania developers Toll Brothers built this section of about twenty minimansions on a former cow pasture, maybe five miles from downtown Chapel Hill.





This region was until recently a world center of furniture manufacturing.  A lot of factories were built here to take advantage of abundant water power.   With my bike in the trunk, I had driven the Honda out here the day before so I could play golf with my son Sam who lives in nearby Asheville.  I decided to add this one and a half day bike ride to the trip. While Hickory is the largest town in this area, I actually did not bike through much of Hickory.   I guess I will have to do that another trip.  I started instead in Hildebran, about eight miles west of Hickory.

There is a depressed looking Food Lion and Family Dollar across from a closed textile mill in Hildebran.  I parked the Honda in the large lot and pulled my bike out of the back.


I have been lazy and deferred a lot of maintenance on the Surly Long Haul Trucker.   The rear tire still held air the whole trip, but it had chunks of rubber coming off.



My first destination was the town of Lenoir, about twenty miles west, where I planned to eat lunch.    The road to Lenoir passed through a series of small factory towns, some more vibrant looking than others.   While there are clearly town limits, the people around here seem to live mostly spread out along the country roads.








Does this qualify as Country Modernism?


Rhodhiss was the first town after Hildebran, just a few miles down the road, next to a dam on the Catawba River.



A web search shows that an Italian leather distributor does exist at this address, but the mill looked pretty empty on this Thursday morning.



Mill houses that probably used to look alike were scattered on the steep hills of the ridge above the river.




Rhodhiss pretty much blends into Granite Falls, which has an attractive downtown, with empty and partially empty factories on both sides of the road.




The town should be proud to still have an operational video store.


and a relatively new brewery business.


In the next ten miles to Lenoir I passed literally dozens of factory buildings,  most closed or nearly closed.



Others were very much in business, including this clearly busy dumpster factory.


Just before Lenoir I passed this place, but I was not quite ready to stop and eat.


Lenoir is a pretty town on a hill.    In one of the nicer neighborhoods near downtown, I passed two nicely fixed up arts and crafts houses.



This whole region is a center for Americana roots music and many great musicians come from this area.   A sign in Lenoir says that Doc Watson used to play in downtown street jams in the late nineteen forties, a real life example of what CCR imagined Willy & the Poor Boys doing in “Down on the Corner.”   (Early in the evenin’, just about suppertime, over by the courthouse, they’re startin’ to unwind),  except in this case it would be Doc playing The Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower.”



At lunchtime on a Thursday, everybody seemed to be eating in this place.   I got corn soup and half a reuben sandwich.




The afternoon ride after lunch was to be the twenty or so miles to Morganton.    This ride turned out to be more rural and peaceful than the morning ride, it weaved through a mix of woods and farmland.

I passed a lot of religious enterprises on this trip.   My theory of American faith holds that one reason Americans are so religious is that religion is so customer friendly; new churches are constantly starting up.   America must be the world center of religious entrepreneurialism.   If you get bored with your church there is always another one around the bend.   Here are two churches I saw on this trip that have been started out of a trailer.




Plus, religion by billboard.


This one takes a scripture quote and uses it to sound really judgemental.


I cruised into downtown Morganton.

I had never been to Morganton before.   The only connection I had to the place was over ten years ago when I had an employee who talked about Morganton a lot.   She was from Raleigh but her boyfriend was from Morganton.  She repeatedly badmouthed him as being unintelligent.  Like her boyfriend, she was a UNC graduate.  She claimed that her boyfriend only got into UNC because he was from Morganton.   (It is common knowledge that students from more rural areas enjoy admissions preferences to places like UNC)  I met him once, he was in graduate school at UNC.  He seemed not only intelligent but a nice guy.   They broke up eventually; she is now married to someone else.



I found a coffee house and drank a decaf cafe au lait while I considered my lodging options.    Google Maps confirmed that there are no motels or hotels or b&bs anywhere in the actual town of Morganton.   Everything is out by I-40.  But Morganton does seem to have a vibrant downtown, with several nice sounding restaurants.    I ended up staying at the closest motel, a Days Inn two miles away down a steep hill next to the Interstate.

I chilled for a while in the motel, reading The New Yorker on my Kindle, glad to have gotten there before the thunderstorms began.   The rain had stopped by the time I was ready to go eat dinner.  I am a snob.  I admit it.  Right two doors down from my motel was a perfectly acceptable Village Inn Pizza Parlor.   But I wanted to go to the tonier places in downtown Morganton.   So I pedaled two miles back up the hill to downtown, passing the state psychiatric hospital.

The Wisteria Southern Gastropub is a really nice place.   I sat at the bar and ate $22.00 fried catfish, preceded by asparagus soup and cornbread ears, followed by strawberry cobbler.   It was all delicious.   The bartender had recently moved to Morganton from Madison, Wisconsin, of all places.   His wife is a psychiatrist who got a job at the state hospital.




I theorize this place changed its bathrooms just recently after HB2 passed


It did feel somehow very elitist, especially after seeing struggling North Carolinians all day who would have been eating at the Village Inn, if they ate out at all.   I passed the Village Inn when I rode the bike back down the hill in the dark.


The next morning I rode the eighteen miles of US-70 back to Hildebran.   This is the old road that parallels I-40.   There are a lot of empty buildings.



On the outskirts of Morganton I passed two pieces of empty modernism.



Plus a cool looking bank and drug store in Valdese.



There were gas stations of old.



And a drive-in in Valdese.


All along this highway was evidence that people were trying to sell something, trying to start a business, even if it was just a garage sale, or some kind of second-hand store in an otherwise abandoned looking building.





I got back to the car in Hildebran before lunchtime.