Come to Burke County in the western foothills of North Carolina and you will see at a glance how this distinctive place earned its title as “best kept secret of western North Carolina.” Reader’s Digest magazine recognized this thriving area as one of the top ten places in America to work and raise a family. Life here is rich and productive, without the frenzied pace found in today’s large urban centers. To a great extent, Burke County’s natural inheritance is responsible for this appeal.
Picturesque recreational lakes and rivers lie at the base of the towering Blue Ridge mountain range, separating the rolling foothills from the high country Appalachians to the north. Pisgah National Forest and the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area lie within the 515-square-mile area of the county. South Mountain State Park, a popular local getaway, lies 30 miles south of the Blue Ridge. Natural outdoor adventures beckon from all sides in the Catawba Valley Piedmont: hiking, camping, fishing, boating and canoeing, or just plain lazing on warm rocks in the sun beside a sparkling mountain waterfall.
Industry flourishes in modern Burke County. The award- winning public school system is joined by diverse private educational organizations. The arts are a community treasure; entertainment runs from traditional mountain music to touring Broadway productions. History began here with the earliest European settlement in the interior U.S. and continued with the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and beyond. While the housing is modestly priced, communities are comfortable and safe. Joining the flow of newcomers to Morganton, the county seat, and other communities are many returning natives who have realized that “there’s no place like home.”
Morganton, with a population greater than 17,000, is Burke County’s county seat and was named after Revolutionary War General Daniel Morgan, who led a patriot force to victory over the British in the 1781 battle of Cowpens. Morganton is a thriving place, known throughout the state and the southeast generally for its natural attractions, its dedication to the arts, and the many important state institutions here. Small-town living at its finest, Morganton has the shopping, restaurants, historical ambiance, temperate climate and friendliness to attract visitors year-round. Adding to its charm is the fact that it was featured as the setting for French author Jules Verne’s last novel, “Master of the World.”
Valdese is the county’s second largest town, historically significant for its settlement by a religious sect from the Cottian Alps of northern Italy. That background is actively preserved in a number of ways, including an outdoor drama, the Waldensian Trail of Faith, and a local museum.
“The Small Town with a Big Heart,” this charming community to the west of Morganton was once the site of a rambling resort hotel called the Glen Alpine Springs Hotel, destination for seekers of healing mineral springs in the area. The hotel now lies in moss-covered ruins in the woods, and visitors to Glen Alpine are now being drawn to taste the products of the Lake James Winery rather than the mineral springs. The Old Mill Antiques is a must for those looking for that special find, and for a unique getaway and genuine southern hospitality, visit the Inn at Glen Alpine. The town currently sponsors a two-day festival in October as well as an annual Christmas parade.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and conveniently located off I-40, Drexel offers small-town living with great access to our larger cities. For over 60 years, Drexel has hosted two annual events for the community, the Spring Carnival in May and the Annual Fall Fair in August. While in Drexel, don’t forget to drop by the renowned Drexel Barbershop on Main Street, where visitors are treated to fine bluegrass music.
Known in older times as Happy Home, Connelly Springs is another Burke County community that once thrived on the presence of local mineral waters and health-seekers, drawn to the Connelly Mineral Springs Hotel. With the tax rate being the lowest in Burke County (.05 per $100), it is attracting newcomers and new and renovated businesses along N.C. Highway 70 are experiencing a surge of growth. If you’re looking for a new place to start a business, this might be the perfect location. Their economic development plan shows needs for a bank, up-scale restaurant, and a major grocery store. With new gated communities being developed along Lake Rhodhiss, this could be the place for you to call your “Happy Home.”
This small community originated with a sawmill and was incorporated in 1910. They now boast a vital Senior Center and a county branch library, and like the other Burke County towns, Hildebran is proud of its historic buildings and its efforts at preserving them.