Wilkesboro is a town in and the county seat of Wilkes County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 3,159 at the 2000 census, and it is the second largest municipality in the county. The 2010 Census listed the town's population at 3,044. The town is located along the south bank of the Yadkin River, directly opposite the larger town of North Wilkesboro. Wilkesboro is the home of the annual MerleFest festival.
Wilkesboro was founded in 1800 and quickly designated as the county seat. The town is built atop a low, broad ridge which runs for over a mile along the south bank of the Yadkin River. For many decades a popular historic spot in Wilkesboro was the "Tory Oak", a large oak tree from which Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, a well-known Wilkes County patriot during the American Revolutionary War, hung Loyalist militia leaders who supported the British King and opposed American independence from Britain. The oak was located behind the old Wilkes County courthouse. During the American Civil War many of Wilkesboro's residents remained loyal to the Union and opposed the Confederacy. In March 1865 General George Stoneman, a Union cavalry leader, led a raid through the town. Shortly after the war ended, Tom Dula (Dooley), a Confederate veteran, was tried and hanged for the murder of his fiancee, Laura Foster. Many people were convinced that one of Dula's jealous ex-girlfriends murdered Foster, and that Dula was innocent of the crime. Dula's story was turned into a top-selling ballad in 1958 by the Kingston Trio, the song was entitled "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley". The story was subsequently turned into a 1959 movie starring Michael Landon as Dula, and each summer the Wilkes Playmakers present a popular play based on the story.
Wilkesboro is the home of Wilkes Community College, a public, coed, two-year college within the North Carolina Community College System. The college's enrollment is typically around 3,500 students.