North Wilkesboro, NC
North Wilkesboro is a town in Wilkes County, North Carolina, United States. The population was approximately 4,116 at the 2000 census and is now 4,245 as of the 2010 census. North Wilkesboro is the birthplace and original home of Lowe's Home Improvement, which continues to have a major presence in the community. The town is also known as one of the birthplaces of the sport of stock-car racing, and the North Wilkesboro Speedway was the first NASCAR-sanctioned track. North Wilkesboro's major industries include furniture and textile production, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. Due to the town's proximity to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and the numerous tourist venues there, North Wilkesboro has been nicknamed the "Key to the Blue Ridge".
North Wilkesboro was founded in 1891 when the Norfolk and Southern Railroad built a railroad line into Wilkes County. The line ended on the northern bank of the Yadkin River opposite Wilkesboro, the county seat. The Town of North Wilkesboro quickly developed around the railroad tracks. North Wilkesboro was the home of the Carolina Mirror Company, which for many years was the largest mirror factory in the United States. Although this is no longer the case, the town remains a major producer of mirrors through Gardner Glass Products Inc. Lowe's Foods, one of the Southeast's largest supermarket chains, was started in North Wilkesboro in 1954. Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, the nation's second-largest chain of home-improvement stores, was started in North Wilkesboro in 1946. The Town does continue to host large corporate offices including Gardner Glass Products Inc., Window World, and ECMD. In addition, two local businessmen recently won prestigious awards for entrepreneurship. Julius "Jay" Howell was recognized as the Small Business Administration's 2010 N.C. Minority Small Business Champion of the Year. Jason Carlton, founder of the GoNC Network, which includes GoWilkes.com, GoAshe.com, and GoSurry.com, has been recognized by Business Leader Magazine as one of the “Top 50 Entrepreneurs” in North Carolina for his significant business innovation, leadership, industry, and community involvement. The Town of North Wilkesboro is focused on their mission of improving the lives of its citizens through economic development by establishing the Wilkes Industrial Park, which is North Carolina's second largest certified industrial park with a developable area of 552 acres. The Wilkes Industrial Park has water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, and has the potential to access the Yadkin Valley Railroad to the south. Thanks to an $800,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Wilkes Industrial Park will have a new access road on the southwest side, which is scheduled to be completed by early 2012. In addition, the main transportation corridor serving the site (NC-268) will be widened from 2 lanes to 4 lanes by 2015.
While one of NASCAR's original speedways shares the name of North Wilkesboro with the town it is important to note that the speedway is not located inside of the town's limits. The North Wilkesboro Speedway predates the founding of NASCAR; the speedway held its first race on May 18, 1947 and from there it grew in popularity. On October 16, 1949 the Speedway held the 8th and final race of the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Division; when the race was over Robert "Red" Byron had become the first NASCAR-sanctioned champion. The North Wilkesboro Speedway held NASCAR races for 50 years; on September 29, 1996 Jeff Gordon would win the final race to be held at the speedway. In 1995, following the death of long-time owner and track founder Enoch Staley, the speedway was purchased by two new owners, Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith. Soon after their purchase, both men announced that they were closing the speedway and moving its two NASCAR race dates to their new tracks in Texas and New Hampshire. The decision met with strong criticism from race fans. Since 1996 several unsuccessful attempts have been made to purchase and reopen the speedway to racing; most recently a group known as "Save the Speedway" has been working to provide historic markers and collect memorabilia from the speedway's rich racing history. In 2010 the speedway reopened and already has races booked.