The Path Less Traveled
Every morning citizens from across Rowan County grab their coffee and head out the door to face the day ahead. We climb into our cars, drive through town, and our hearts begin to race as we venture into the chaos that is I-85. Everywhere we look there are orange traffic cones, construction equipment, and new land being cleared to make way for wider traffic lanes and new businesses. Signs of progress are abundant and everything in our path seems to be operating at a speed above our own. We can never get enough done in a single day and we are always longing for the chance to slow down, to breathe, to disconnect, and that’s exactly what happens as I head East on Old U.S. Highway 52 from Salisbury.
In my rear-view mirror, I can see the multi-lane roads, traffic lights, and businesses that make up the city and ahead all I see are single lane streets, four-way traffic stops, and farmlands. Here, it isn’t uncommon to get stuck behind someone on a tractor heading out for some gas. On occasion, you might even see a dairy cow that has somehow strayed from their enclosure.
But if you allow yourself to let go of the fast-paced, desperate feeling of the city for just a moment, you will find yourself soaking in a kind of peace that only the country can provide. And just about the time you give in and that peaceful feeling begins to sink deep into your soul, you will find yourself transported into another place and time altogether.
Right before you reach the Cabarrus County line, is the small unincorporated community known as Gold Hill. Gold Hill is historically a mining community that was founded in the 19th century during North Carolina’s Gold mining boom. Situated right in the heart of Gold Rush territory, Gold Hill once prospered from numerous gold mines including two of the most famous in the state.
Today, Gold Hill prospers in an entirely different way. Gold Hill Mines Historic Park is known for its exceptional hiking, Gold Hill Rail Trail. If you aren’t familiar, a rail-trail is a path that has been converted from a disused railway track to a multi-use path for hiking, walking, biking, horse riding, and other uses. But there’s more than just hiking going down in these parts.
The Magic of Gold Hill
As you pull into the Gold Hill community, you are overcome with feelings of nostalgia, family, and kinship. You notice the carefully restored mill, the small shops filled with antiques, the wooden sidewalks, and picket fences, all perfectly blended with fine dining restaurants, wineries, and even a microbrewery. The place has a sort of aura and magic that cannot be denied, but the true magic in Gold Hill happens on Friday nights at the E. H. Montgomery General Store.
The E.H. Montgomery General Store is located at 755 St. Stephens Church Road in Gold Hill and was one the first restoration efforts of this historic community. Here you’ll find old fashioned candies, long neck sodas that require a tool to open, Amish jams and jellies, and hand dipped ice cream. The store is owned and operated by the one and only Vivian Pennington-Hopkins who happens to also be the President of the North Carolina Bluegrass Association.
The Montgomery Store Bluegrass Jam
Vivian, who grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is extremely passionate about sharing and passing on the music and traditions that she holds so close to her heart. She is so motivated that she is also the Vice President of the Historic Gold Hill and Mines Foundation, Inc. When asked about her role here in Gold Hill, Vivian responded, “Music is my life. Bluegrass is my roots. I’m happy to bring my music partners and friends to Gold Hill each week.” You see, for the past 13 years, when you pull up to the General Store on a Friday night, the porch lights are on and the sounds of string instruments seem to pour from every crevice. I find myself immediately transported to memories from my childhood when my father used to take my sister and I to North Wilkesboro to listen to a man who was both deaf and blind masterfully pick his banjo. The laughter and merriment at the General Store is almost intoxicating and when you make your way through the crowd, you’ll see Vivian and all her “friends” picking away. Vivian is right in her element. For her, this is a way she can contribute to the success of the Gold Hill restoration and promotion efforts.
Anyone can participate in the Montgomery Store Bluegrass Jam, and according to Vivian “musicians will drive an hour or two to get here to Gold Hill to be a part. We keep it authentic bluegrass,” she notes, “with a hearty helping of traditional old-time fiddle and banjo tunes, with no electric instruments allowed. We’re also known for our occasional surprise national and international guest musicians who pop in from time to time,” she shared. Of course, I was curious and after doing a little digging I found that Grammy Award Winners Mark and Maggie O’Connor have visited the General Store in addition to a whole slew of well know pickers and fiddlers from across the region!
The Montgomery Store Bluegrass Jam takes place every Friday night from 7 – 9 p.m. at the E. H. Montgomery General Store in Historic Gold Hill. There’s a hot dog truck on site and on warm summer nights, guests are encouraged to bring a lawn chair and they’ll move the party outside. Next time you find yourself drowning in that sea of orange cones and aggressive drivers, take the path less traveled. Head East down Old U.S. Highway 52 and look for the signs. Better yet, just crack your windows and follow the music!