Joe Frank McKee knows what Dillsboro is capable of. “It’s a fighting town,” he said. “There are more craftsmen involved here these days, which means if you’re making your product and selling your product, you have more of a reason to fight.”
Co-owner of Tree House Pottery on Front Street in downtown Dillsboro, McKee and his business partner, Travis Berning, have spent the last 11 years setting down roots and investing in what has become one of the premier pottery establishments in Southern Appalachia. And as the town itself celebrates its 125th birthday, many businesses within the community are reflecting on a storied past, an uncertain present, and a hopeful future.
Dale Heinlein never thought he’d set roots down in his hometown of Highlands.
“Living in Atlanta, in suburbia, with the summer heat and traffic, I had to get back to the mountains, back to nature, back to the earth, back to the rivers to cool off,” the 34-year-old said. “I’ve spent most of my life in Highlands and when I came back, I just started to notice so many things about my surroundings I either didn’t know about or had forgotten — there is so much to learn and discover everyday here.”
Monday is the new Saturday.
Heading down Frazier Street in Waynesville to BearWaters Brewing Company, one can barely find a place to park on a typical Monday evening. For the last couple of months, the location has played host to a semi-weekly open mic event called the “Spontaneous CombustJam.” Bringing together local talents and acclaimed regional players, the sessions have gained a buzz around Western North Carolina in just a short time.
Who the heck are those guys?
It’s a question constantly asked about Porch 40, a Sylva-based funk/rock outfit barreling out of the Southern Appalachian woods like a black bear on speed.
It never ceases to amaze Lorraine Conard.
“It’s a little bit magical,” she said. “You walk in and there’s this energy and excitement, a heartbeat within the community — I’m always so grateful and thankful for the people who come in.”
Eating with integrity, living with gratitude. When family, friends and the curious alike wander into the Cork & Bean in downtown Bryson City, co-owner Scott Mastej aims to put forward that exact message and philosophy.
“Our food is nourishing them. You are what you eat, and it’s really important to use to provide them with the freshest, most local and organic dishes possible,” he said. “We see those happy faces here, people enjoying our food and company, and it’s just so gratifying that they like what we do.”
Heading west out of Bryson City, just before the highway narrows into a twisting two-lane road, a small, ramshackle hut watches over the crossroads of Southern Appalachia — a last stop before descending into the remote Nantahala Gorge ahead, or the desolate beauty of Fontana Lake to the right.
The shack, wedged between junk cars and a rundown trailer, has seen better days, on a property that has seen better years. But, upon closer inspection, a friendly face sits behind a counter filled with knickknacks and the wafting smell of boiled peanuts.
Watching the 1960 Olympics on television, a young Keith Calhoun saw something that would forever change the course of his life.
“I was in elementary school, and I remember seeing these Olympians skiing,” he said. “And I was just fascinated — I had never seen something like that.”