Ask any Burnsville resident to describe this peaceful mountain hamlet between Asheville and Boone, and you’re likely to hear the term “Norman Rockwell kind of town.”
“We are a small town with a great town square, quirky and interesting shopping and wonderful little dining establishments that we are so proud of,” says Ginger Johnson, director of the Burnsville-Yancey (County) Chamber of Commerce. “Because of the large concentration of artists in the area, we are blessed to be surrounded by art, which adds to the colorful aspect of the community.”
Burnsville and Yancey County are also enveloped in natural, scenic beauty. At Mt. Mitchell, the loftiest point on the East Coast, park in the highest lot and trek a quarter mile to the observation deck, or opt for some rugged hiking or cycling.
The grassy Town Square serves as Burnsville’s front yard in the heart of the one-way Main Street traffic circle. Spend the day strolling shops and historic sites, then kick back in a rocker and watch the sun set from the porch of the clapboard Nu Wray Inn, the oldest still-operating inn in western North Carolina. (Elvis and novelist Thomas Wolfe reportedly stayed here.) The Otway Burns Statue, a copper sculpture of the town’s namesake, stands in the center of a circular brick walkway. Known as one of the state’s greatest naval heroes during the War of 1812, Burns later served in the N.C. General Assembly but fell out of favor with the eastern counties when he voted to increase representation for those in the west. Nearby is the historic Yancey County Courthouse, a Classical Revival stucco-and-concrete block building that housed county offices until 1965.
The Main Street area is also home to a number of popular eateries. Treat yourself to a panini or slice of cheesecake at Appalachian Java & Café, or grab a bite on the outdoor patio at Garden Deli before heading next door to the nautical-themed Snap Dragon Bar & Kitchen for a relaxing cocktail. (Snap Dragon, incidentally, was the name of Otway Burns’ schooner.) Drop in at Rescue Dog Café, where a portion of proceeds benefits a different local animal cause each month. Enjoy a burger or breakfast sandwich while your pooch slurps a free puppy latte. At Homeplace Beer Co., where food trucks make the place hop even more on weekends and select weeknights, sample a farm-to-pint beer.
FROM GLASS TO QUILT ART
There is no shortage of creativity in Burnsville, where the Toe River Arts Council has been connecting artists and other community members since 1976.
“With over 400 artists who live and work here, visitors to Burnsville can begin their journey of the arts by visiting studios, meeting artists and experiencing craft in a personal way,” says Nealy Andrews, the Council’s executive director. “Eateries and local retailers display art in their windows, and on walls and shelves. The town features a dozen public arts pieces and several murals.”
First stop: the Toe River Arts Gift Shop and Gallery, which features two- and three-dimensional works by artists from Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties. Glassblowing, which took root in the mid-’60s shortly after its introduction at the nearby Penland School of Crafts, is prevalent here, in working studios scattered throughout the countryside. Internationally known glass artist Rob Levin is also the mastermind behind “Rock Bridge,” a large-scale sculpture made of stone, locust wood and steel near Town Square.
Yancey County is home to a high percentage of the 200 quilt blocks that make up the Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina. Check out the functioning sundial on the side of the Yancey Times Journal building, the rose design on the front of the Yancey County Library and more.
Spring is a fabulous time for arts events, with more than 100 artists opening their studios to guests during the Toe River Studio Tour, which this year runs May 31 through June 2. Considered a local treasure with productions ranging from Godspell to The Glass Menagerie, the Parkway Playhouse kicks off its 73rd season in May.
EXPLORING THE BACK ROADS
More adventures await visitors who venture away from the town’s center. Ride horseback in the forest along Bald Mountain Creek on the western side of Yancey County. No experience? The guides at Wolf Laurel Stables will show you the basics. Stay at the Buck House Inn, a sunny yellow bed-and-breakfast with a wraparound porch and fire pit, and listen to the creek’s rushing waters.
Unlike most mountain golf courses, Mt. Mitchell Golf Club is open to the public and also offers trout fishing in the South Toe River. As night falls, stargaze at Bare Dark Sky Observatory at Mayland Earth to Sky Park.
For more information on the Burnsville area, visit exploreburnsville.com.
– Nancy Henderson