Saturday, August 30, 2014

Return to Main Street: Lexington, NC’s Summer Stroll

Historic Uptown Lexington is a revitalized city. Like so many towns across the US, their main street shopping declined as urbanization spread. Malls sprouted in the suburbs and down towns suffered.  But, Lexington, North Carolina is once again a happening place. 
Summer Stroll on Main, Lexington, NC
“Meet Us on Main Street” occurs once a month during the summer. Residents and visitors stroll along shopping and dining or just visiting with neighbors. A band provided music in front of Conrad & Hinkle and on this August night, classic cars were on display in all four quadrants and again allowed to cruise up and down on Main.

The Good Girls first stopped into Missions Pottery to paint a piggy bank.  Pottery painting is a relaxing activity and draws kids for birthday parties, parents or grandparents for some fun together time or women for Girls Night Out. The store in Lexington is so popular it has expanded a few times.
Painting Pottery at Missions Pottery, Lexington, NC.

We then walked down to The Candy Factory, a shop offering the best selection of old-fashioned candy I have ever seen. Boomers will feel nostalgic as they browse games and treats from the good old days. However, they aren’t stuck back in time; the Candy Factory’s display cases are full of chocolate truffles and in-store homemade fudge, their specialty.  I choose caramel sea salt chocolate and Judy picked chocolate walnut - yummy.

I meandered down to Lanier’s, the largest Ace Hardware store in North Carolina. Their slogan is, “If we don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.”

Davidson County Courthouse, Lexington, NC.

I returned to the main square, passing the newly renovated courthouse.  The 1858 gem is a thing of beauty and holds the Davidson County Historical Museum on the first floor.  The courthouse parking lot was the location where barbecue got its start in this area.  Folks would come for the bi-monthly court sessions and needed something to eat. Pig farmers dug a pit and began smoking meat. The pork and pit barbecue method became so famous that Lexington is known as the Barbecue Capital of the World. While some folks in South Carolina, Memphis or Kansas City may disagree, you can’t visit without trying a few of the 16 BBQ restaurants. The Good Girls were off to do their best.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Strange Secrets to Success in Lexington, NC

The Good Girls arrived in the capital city of barbecue, Lexington, North Carolina, to begin the Swine, Wine and Dine tour. Soon we were off to Conrad & Hinkle’s Food Market. The small grocery store has thrived in the center of town location (now called Uptown) since 1919.

A lot has changed over the years and you might wonder how a Mom and Pop grocery can remain profitable against chain stores. The answer is simple: Pimento and Cheese.  Conrad and Hinkle’s sells about 1500 – 1600 pounds per week.

The southern staple, about as common as sweet tea, is made from a secret recipe containing shredded cheese, mayonnaise, pimento, sugar and sugar. The recipe came from the wife of the original owner and has remained unchanged.

Conrad and Hinkle's Pimento and Cheese

I tasted my first pimento and cheese sandwich at the Master’s Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, where it remains a tradition. The combo was smeared on white bread, and in my opinion, was nothing to rave about.  But I tried Conrad and Hinkle’s Pimento and Cheese Dip on a Ritz cracker and it was far superior.  I think the reason may be the consistency.  Most pimento and cheese mixtures are spreads, the cheese finely grated and completely mixed in. The Lexington delight retains the orangey cheese in its recognizable shredded shape.

The people of Lexington know a good thing when they find it. While we were visiting the store, numerous folks came in, went directly to the refrigerator containing the famous concoction and picked up two or more containers.  They might have stopped by the butcher, who cuts meat to a customer’s request, but most browsed. The store carries local North Carolina products, like pickles and barbecue sauces that are hard to find.

Lee Hinkle, the 4th generation owner, has worked in the store since he was 11 years old.  He says it’s the only job he has ever known and seems quite happy.  The market also sells about 700-800 pounds of chicken salad per week.  While their pimento and cheese is available at other regional stores (check the website for locations) the chicken salad is only sold at the original location.

Lee Hinkle

While not the most attractive appetizer, I would serve Conrad & Hinkle’s to guests  - if I could get this brand.  Otherwise, I doubt you’ll find me eating pimento and cheese. Guess I’m not a true southern yet.

Storefront of Conrad and Hinkle's in Lexington, NC

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nation's first gold strike - in North Carolina?

Little Meadow Creek. Photo by Judy Wells.
We've heard of Sutter's Mill in California, but Little Meadow Creek in Midland, ten miles or so from Charlotte, N.C.?

Probably not, but it was the site of America's first gold strike.

On a spring Sunday in 1799, while their parents were at church, the three children of John Reed and his wife were down at the creek bow and arrow fishing.  Conrad, 12, found a 17-pound shiny rock and brought it home. No one knew what it was so it became a door stop until John took it to a Fayetteville jeweler. He asked $3.50 for the 17-pound gold nugget worth about $3,500, the first ever found in the new country.

The trickle, not yet a rush - that came with the discovery of a 28-pound nugget - was on.

Fruit and chocolate crepe at Irene Cafe. YUMMM.
Having already struck edible gold at the tiny, chummy Irene Cafe, where charming Chef Kidane Sayfou turns out superb Brittany-style crepes, we headed out to Reed Gold Mine.

Reed Gold Mine museum. Photo by Judy Wells.
Today there it is a state historic site with a free museum, mine tour and gold panning (at $3 a pan). Kids love the panning - it takes about 20 minutes to go through a pan - and they will probably be thrilled with the tiny flakes usually found.

When it's about gold even kids will pay attention. Photo by Judy Wells.
No one knows how much gold was actually panned and mined here and in the more than 12 NC counties where gold was found. Much of it disappeared into jewelry and private transactions, but there was enough to establish a federal mint in Charlotte where more than $4 million in gold was deposited over the next 20 years.

The last large nugget - nearly 23 pounds worth- was found in 1896 but by 1912 the last mine closed.

The Good Girls, Debi and Judy, at it again.
As usual, we had fun with hats before heading on to Lexington, barbecue capital of the country, for #swinewinedine tour.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Good Girls Debi and Judy sign up for another road trip.
We're on the road again!

This year we pick up an honorary Good Girl in Charlotte, NC, then head to Lexington, NC, a double star on the North Carolina Barbecue Trail, for the #SwineWineDine tour of vittles and vineyards.

After that we dip across the line to invade South Carolina. Not the Charleston and Beaufort of most road trippers but smaller, lesser known locales of Revolutionary War, peaches and wild turkey fame, to hint at a few notable sites.

And yes, more barbecue. Can't do one Carolina without the other.

So log on, settle in and enjoy the scenery and adventures - miss and otherwise.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Good Girls explore Biloxi

The Good Girls, Debi Lander, far left, and Judy Wells, far right, are greeted by costumed Mississipians at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis' last home.
 Pahdun me, suh, did you know that Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, had served as Secretary of War for the United States and was responsible for the Union's military superiority in weapons?

That he had  served as a U.S. Representative and a Senator?

That at war's end he was incarcerated in prison for treason but was never tried?

That his bail was raised by influential Northerners, including Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt?

Those are just a few of the fascinating things we learned about Davis and his wife, Varina, during a visit to his home, the lovely Beauvoir, and Presidential Library, overlooking the Gulf in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Where next?

We are exploring options. Where would you like to see us go?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to Albany and beyond - Memorable Encounters

Throughout our journey around western Georgia, the Good Girls ran across fascinating stories about remarkable people. Here are a few we won’t forget.

Miss Rutha sang for us in the church where her singing career began.

Miss Rutha Harris: Freedom Singer founder

History lives in Miss Rutha’s voice. It soars, pure in tone, strong as espresso, flavored in turn with pain, sorrow, hope, belief, determination, exultation, gratitude and glory. It defies listeners to ignore the chills down their backs.

Albany Civil Rights Institute.
There’s a lot of history to tell as we learned when we met her at the Albany Civil Rights Institute. We had toured the small but complete story of the Albany civil rights movement when Miss Rutha arrived.

She lives in the house where she grew up, daughter of a teacher and a Baptist minister who shielded her from the ugliness between the races. She had just returned home after her freshman year at Florida A & M University when stopped on the street by a man who asked did she want to help end segregation. Miss Rutha asked what that was.

She soon found out and joined the effort to gain voting rights, teaching a man in his 90s to write so he could sign his name when he registered, turning the family home into a “freedom house” where Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee workers stayed. When the Albany movement began in 1961, fewer than 100 of the city’s 20,000 black residents were registered to vote.

Miss Rutha was never beaten but she was jailed three times in Albany.

Reference point: Barack Obama was in diapers when Miss Rutha was in that jail which was, according to Martin Luther King Jr., the worst he’d ever been in.

Miss Rutha never returned to Florida A&M but used her voice training as a founding member of the Freedom Singers quartet at age 21, entertaining crowds during large meetings in Albany.

Folk singer Pete Seeger suggested they could raise more money and awareness for the movement by singing around the country. “ Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife, organized our first tour,” said Miss Rutha.

Travel they did. Over a nine-month period, the Freedom Singers visited 48 states, putting 50,000+ miles on their vehicle and performing at the 1963 March on Washington. One of those stops was at the Newport Folk Festival, in Newport, R. I., a night I’ll never forget.

She returned to Albany in 1967, finished her education and taught special education. In 2010 she sang in the White House, one of many engagements at major venues across the country. You can spot her in the film The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington; she’s in the second row of the choir.

Now 72, she’s hardly taking it easy, still singing around the country and at home with her own Freedom Singers. The group of eight performs in her father’s Mount Zion Church, now part of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, 1-3 p.m., every second Saturday.

“The Lord, He blessed me with a voice and I used it.”


                                                                                  -- JW

Horace King

We frequently came across the skills of Horace King, the most respected bridge builder in Georgia, Alabama and northeast Mississippi of the 19th century.

Born a slave in South Carolina on Sept. 8, 1807, his father was a mulatto, his mother half Catawba Indian, half black. When their owner died in 1829, mother and son became the property of South Carolina bridge contractor and house builder John Godwin.  

In 1832 Godwin moved to what is now known as Phenix City, Alabama, across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, GA, to build first public bridge connecting Georgia and Alabama. It was 900 feet long and covered earning master and slave reputations as master bridge builders and engineers.

It was King’s first project and it is probable that Godwin made the contacts and won the bid while King planned the construction and directed the slaves who built it. This was a pattern the two followed, working more as partners than master and slave. However, whenever King asked to buy his freedom, Godwin refused, saying he couldn’t afford to lose him.

In the early 1840s King designed and supervised construction of bridges at Wetumpka, AL, and Columbus, GA, on his own. Finally in 1859, beset by creditors and afraid they would end up owning King, Godwin petitioned the Alabama General Assembly for King’s release from slavery. On Feb. 3, 1846, Horace King became a free man.

In 1858, King was hired by Albany, GA, founder Colonel Nelson Tift to build a covered bridge across the Flint River as well as a Bridge House to serve as a gateway to his new town.

Both were completed that year ahead of schedule, perhaps because of a disagreement over a bridge near Milledgeville. He had cut the timbers for a bridge across the Oconee River  when a disagreement over terms occurred and when no resolution was found, King shipped the timbers by rail to Albany, becoming perhaps the first builder in the South to prefabricate a major structure.

Welcome Center, Albany, GA.
The bridge was later destroyed by flood but the Bridge House still stands, now serving as the Visitor Center for Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When his former master died in poverty in 1859, King paid for his burial and for a $600 Masonic monument to be erected that read,

John Godwin
Born Oct. 17, 1798. Died Feb. 26, 1859.
This stone was placed here by Horace King,
in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude
he felt for his lost friend and former master.

Moreover, King supported Godwin’s family, educated the children and tried to keep his former master’s business afloat. Godwin’s son served as an artillery captain in the Confederate army.

King’s own children, four sons and a daughter, all joined him in the business which became known as the King Brothers Bridge Company.

In 1872 the family moved to LaGrange where King and his sons built bridges, stores, houses and college buildings until his death May 28, 1885. King is buried in LaGrange and it was said that when his body was carried through the town “the men – and the ladies too – came out of the shops and stores and stood with their arms folded over their hearts.”

His five children continued his work building bridges and various other structures in LaGrange, Atlanta and east Alabama.

In 2004 the Horace King Overlook, a deck attached to the historic Bridge House at RiverFront Park in Albany, was dedicated in King’s honor.
                                                                                          - JW

Julia Compton Moore

We encountered this U. S. Army daughter, wife and mother on the walls of the Infantry Museum in Columbus, GA, married to Lt. Col. Hal Moore

In November 1965, some 450 men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, commanded by her husband, Lt. Hal Moore, dropped by helicopter into la Drang Valley where they were surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The days that ensued were the first major ground involvement of U. S. forces in that war.

Overwhelmed by death notices, the Army sent them via Western Union telegrams that were then given to taxi drivers to deliver to survivors.

When one came to Mrs. Moore’s house where she lived with their five small children, it took her a long time to open the door. The driver had the wrong house, apologized and asked for directions. Mrs. Moore followed that taxi and others to bring what comfort she could to other wives and their children.

Then she got mad and addressed her concerns to the Pentagon about the heartless practice. Within two weeks of her prodding, the Army established a new policy: from then on, an officer and a chaplain would personally deliver the notices.

Mrs. Moore continued to visit the small houses and trailer homes around Columbus, GA, to offer sympathy and support to the new widows.

It was the first step in what became a new effort on behalf of the Army to support its soldiers’ families. Mrs. Moore’s continuing work helped in establishing the Army Community Services organization.

Mrs. Moore died at age 75, April 18, 2004. She is buried near her parents at Fort Benning, Ga, just outside Columbus.

In 2005, Ben Franklin Global Forum established the Julia Compton Moore Award given annually to recognize the civilian spouse of a soldier for outstanding contributions to the U. S. Army.

Never underestimate the power of one woman.
                                                                              -- JW 

John Wisdom: The Paul Revere of the South

John H. Wisdom

John H. Wisdom is known as the Paul Revere of the South because of a famous ride he took on horseback. His ride covered 76 miles and wore out five horses and one mule, compared to Revere's nine-mile ride. He rode through dark, hilly country for 11 hours to save Rome, Georgia, the town of his birth where his mother still lived, from destruction during the Civil War ... at least for a short period of time.

According to

He [Wisdom, a mail carrier] left Gadsden at 3:30 in the afternoon by buggy and after 22 miles at Gnatville his horse was completely exhausted. A widow Hanks at that place owned the only horse- a lame pony- which she loaned to Wisdom. The pony only lasted five miles until he came to Goshen. Here he was able to get a fresh and stronger horse which carried him to Spring Garden where he was able to get two horses. At a point about one mile south of Cave Spring, Georgia, his mount was exhausted and darkness had come.
Farmers were reluctant to loan their animals nevertheless he walked on and even used a mule for several miles until he was able to get two good mounts in Vann's Valley in succession and raced into Rome after midnight.
Rome’s citizens were quick to act once they were alerted.
The covered wooden bridge over which the Union troops would be forced to move was barricaded with bales of cotton and the bridge floor covered waist deep with hay soaked in oil which was to be set afire in the event the invaders could not be stopped by other measures.
The engineers of the Rome Railroad made trips into the countryside warning the people and bringing the planters who responded to the call to arms. They brought their squirrel rifles, muskets, and muzzle loading shotguns.

Wisdom received $400 and a silver service for his basically unknown ride. Somehow that seems fitting as Paul Revere was a silversmith! 

Who's the Hero?

            Paul Revere                                            John H. Wisdom

Date:                   April 19, 1776                                May 2, 1863
War:                    Revolutionary                                Civil
Started:              Charleston, Mass.                         Gadsden, Ala.
Destination:       Lexington, Mass.                           Rome, Ga.
Distance:           9 miles                                           67 miles 
Time:                  2 hours, 15 minutes                      11 hours (8 1/2 riding)
MPH:                   4                                                   8
Travel ed by:      Horseback                                    Buggy, horseback
Objective:          Save Lexington and Concord        Save Rome, Ga.
Start of ride:      11:45 p.m.                                      3:30 p.m.
End of ride:        2 a.m.                                            2:30 a.m.
Horses used:     1                                                    5 (one mule)
Road condition: Fair                                               Rough
Riding by dark:  2 hours, 15 minutes                      7 hours 
Riding by light:  None                                             4 hours
Country:             Undulating                                     Hilly

                                                                                  -- DL

Rosalind Gammon:  The Woman Who Saved College Football

 College football is hugely popular  in the South and it's hard for some to imagine life without the game. But, back in 1896, a boy named Von Gammon from Rome, GA,  played for University of Georgia.  He had been quarterback in 1896, but was moved to the fullback position. On October 30th, in a game against the University of Virginia, he suffered a severe head injury and died the next day.

Von Gammon
That day, a move began in the state that would make football illegal. The Georgia Legislature was called into session and passed a bill to put an end to the game.  However, Rosalind Gammon, Von's mother, was upset that a game so loved by her son was being abolished in his name.  She sent an impassioned letter for the Governor asking him to veto the bill.  She signed the letter "Von Gammon's Mother."

The bill was vetoed and a bronze plaque was dedicated to her at the University  as "the Woman Who Saved Football in Georgia,"  but there seems to be no photograph of her.

Sadly, three years later, her other son, Will, died following a baseball game when he lost his balance and fell beneath a train. 
                                                -- DL

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bad Happenings for the Good Girls

Beautiful Blue Ridge and Mercier Orchards
Photo@ Debi Lander

Lynda Thompson in front of her coffee shop, L & L Beanery. 

The next to last morning of our trip began as usual, this time with a divine breakfast at L & L Beanery, a cutesy renovated bank building complete with vault and the most fabulous scones. We sipped cappuccinos' with owner, Lynda Thompson, as she recounted her tale of moving to Blue Ridge.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad Engine

Then we walked over to the 1905 Depot before boarding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. We browsed around and were up to our typical antics -- posing in engineer and conductor hats. We met the real conductor and an adorable little boy dressed up for his ride on the rails.

Good Girls wear hats.

Judy had been having trouble with swelling in her recently recovered (but formerly broken foot), so once on the train we extended out feet up on the side of the railcar like a lot of other folks.  Except... when Judy's leg slipped down, it popped her hip replacement out of place!  Ouch- she was in trouble, real trouble.

An ambulance had to be called and Judy was assisted off the train. She was in amazingly good spirits throughout the ordeal. Goodness! Off she went to the hospital and I tried not to worry.  I knew she was in expert hands, but this event wasn't on our carefully planned itinerary. We had not included a visit to a hospital.

Decisions were made that I would still ride the train and would catch up with Judy later.

Detour: View from the gurney

EMT's help Judy off the train and to a waiting ambulance. 

Trouble is putting it lightly. Pain too. However, the folks of Blue Ridge Scenic Railway were great as were the EMTs who arrived. Between them, they carried me off the train in a chair and onto the gurney with care.

As they wheeled me along the track to the street, I looked up and saw a full train worth of people hanging out the windows on one side to see what was happening to the woman who had been carried off. It’s a wonder the train didn’t just dump over. It didn’t, though, so I managed a queen wave and rolled on.

A short drive later, I was in the emergency room at Fannin Regional Hospital. X-rays, IV, anesthesia and a lot of TLC later, I came to with no pain and hip back in place. When enough of the meds had worn off, I was allowed to stand up and walk around then leave.

Imagine, two hours after being in agony and unable to stand on both legs I was walking and on my way to lunch at Mercier. Truly miraculous. Consequences could be dealt with later but for now I was back on the road. Hooray.

Back aboard the train

Conductor and Helper
The engine began the chug down 13-miles of rails, a project started by volunteers in 1998. The 45-minute (each way) excursion becomes a generation-bonding adventure. I chose to ride in an open air car along with many grandparents and kids, but could have picked a vintage climate controlled car.
Scenic Views along the train ride. 

Each year more than 70,000 passengers ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway alongside the Toccoa River peeking at the waterway and people swimming and drifting along in tubes. The train stops in the twin border towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. Copperhill/McCaysville is one town with two names because it is split by the Georgia/Tennessee State Line. Naturally, I had to have a photo snapped with one foot in each state. Funny how our Georgia road trip ventured into bordering Alabama and Tennessee, too.
Open air car is enjoyed by children- and photographers. 

Most riders spend the two-hour layover eating lunch, shopping for crafts and antiques, snacking on ice cream, or walking around. But, I was met by Jode Hanson from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau and driven to Mercier Orchards for lunch at their restaurant and a tour.
Debi in both Georgia and Tennessee.

Once I was in range of a cell tower, I was relieved to find a text message stating that Judy's hip had been popped back into place- hooray- and she was going to be able to rejoin me. Simply amazing.

Into the Hills and Apple Orchards

Mercier (Mur-SEAR) Orchards was started back in 1943 by Bill and Adele Mercier, and the business is now celebrating its 70th harvest.

Note: Sadly, shortly after our visit, matriarch Miss Adele passed away.

Beyond apples and fresh produce, their onsite store serves up a variety of farm fresh items like jellies and jams, sauces and salsas, kitchen and home paraphernalia, cider, fruit wine, meat and cheese. The bakery, in my opinion, is the best part -- renown for selling over a million and a half of fried hand pies. You can choose among 27 varieties, but I picked a traditional apple pie that tasted like a donut with pie filling in the middle. Too darn good for words!  They also sell a lot of cider donuts.

Fried Hand Pies from Mercier Orchard Bakery

Judy says fresh peaches were used in the outstanding fried peach pie.

After lunch I met up with Tim Mercier, the second generation and current owner, who gave me a jeep tour. Tim explained that he must keep up with the latest methods and technology to produce the best apples and remain competitive. Mercier is now able to grow 1,200 dwarf apple trees per acre. This methodology promotes the most efficient use of sunlight and water, employing trickle tube irrigation when needed.

The farm covers about 300 acres and approximately 200 of those acres are used for fruit production.  About 90 percent of the crop is apples including more than 50 varieties, but their individual picking times vary.  All apples are picked by hand, so it helps that some varieties don't mature until late fall or December.
Tim Mercier in his orchards

I was introduced to the Ginger Gold variety, the first apple of the season. This particular apple is non-browning.  How amazing is that? You can cut them up for pies or applesauce and they won't brown.

The fall is the busiest time of year with "U Pick" your own fruit being a favorite activity.  Busloads of visitors fill the parking lots in October. However, during the spring customers can pick their own strawberries, then cherries or blueberries.

Fruit Wines & Cider
Be sure to visit the farm winery tasting room. Tim explained, “We are now a farm winery and make a hard cider with alcohol content about 5-7 percent. Being a farm winery we can do all kinds of fruit wines like peach wine, blueberry wine and different varieties of apples.

“We also make a sparkling cider. We entered it into ‘The Flavors of Georgia’ contest and won in our category.  We made 150,000 gallons of private-label cider last year."

Picturesque Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Georgia
Photo@Debi Lander

Lots of apples and lots of fun around this family owned operation in the mountains.