Deep in the mountains of North Carolina is the town of Franklin. When walking down Franklin’s main street, there’s a memorial or sign for every period of history: a sign talking about the town’s role in the French and Indian War, a history trail on women in the region, an homage to the Scots-Irish who settled in the area, and a Civil War Memorial, among others. Along with a strong cultural legacy, the town’s streets are lined with small businesses that serve as the social glue of the community. Franklin serves as a small hamlet to its citizens and one of the most luxurious and touristy stops for those brave enough to hike the Appalachian Trail. Franklin is a town of a bygone era, one of community and heritage with a bright future in Appalachian Trail tourism.
The internet paints Highlands as a town known more for its iconic waterfalls than its community. Driving on the winding roads of Highway 64 to Highlands, I was expecting a shambly town with a couple shops on main street. The ride there was full of leaves on the verge of changing, unexpected turns, and waterfalls I couldn’t fully take in as the driver.
As we approached Highlands, the road straightened. The gorges, waterfalls, and endless forests on either side of the ro
ad evaporated, replaced by a sign welcoming us to the Highlands and a man-made lake surrounded by vacation homes. The blue waters and the lake houses took my breath away. The last thing I was expecting to find in the North Carolina mountains was a vacationing community similar to the small vacioning towns on the shores of the Great Lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin.
The housing community disappeared, replaced by a quiet mainstreet lined with artisanal shops and small diners with outdoor seating. The streets were lined with parking spots, enough to support a mirage of tourists, yet at 8am on a Saturday, the majority were empty. I easily found a parking spot and parked the car.
My group explored the sleeping downtown. Each shop was designed to create a cohesive wooden, yet elegant feel. Stores advertised artisanal chocolate and pottery in intricate cursive on their windows. A layer of fog settled over the town, highlighting the ornate churches founded in the 1800s and the way the ivy sprung up on the brick buildings, such as the Old Edward’s Inn. This was the type of town one found in Hallmark movies, as unbelievable as it was cosy.
As the day unfolded, the little town came to life. Around 10am, some of the parking spots began to fill with vintage cars. Remembering how my dad used to take me to car shows growing up, I walked up to the men standing near the cars and asked, “Is there a car show here today?”
“No.” The man looked over at the row of polished cars from the 20th century. “We just come here every Saturday to show off our cars and socialize. It’s called Butts on the Benches.”
Butts on the Benches is an event started by a community of older men who retired to the Highlands back in 2012. The originator, Allan, died in 2016 and the bench in front of the cars was donated in his honor, a plaque signifying his creation of the group.
Butts on the Benches served as a time of community, laughter, and relaxation for these men. They talked of their passion for cars and their community. Yet, despite their love for the Highlands, not a single one was a native. They all came from Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, or another Southern city after retirement. Most weren’t even from North Carolina.
Later in the day, we found ourselves at the Highlands Antique Shop. Two buildings full of antiques that Stephanie loved exploring. The shop contained China plates with a history older than mine and tattered, well-read books and all proceeds support local charities.
Yet, it wasn’t the objects that intrigued me, but the history of Highlands. Highlands was a bustling yet tranquil center of commerce, a town designed for both tourists and retirees looking for a mindful, nature-centered lifestyle.
I talked to the lady who worked at the shop, Ann, on why she decided to move to the Highlands. She told me she had been climbing the corporate ladder in Atlanta, along with her husband. One day, they got tired of the fast pace life of Atlanta, decided to retire, and settled into the Highlands, where she volunteered to run the antique shop. While she mentioned that tourism had increased in the last ten years, this year having the highest traffic of year-round visitors, she loved Highlands because it might not have been where she lived the longest, but it felt like home. The relaxed, easy way of life had brought Ann peace.
At the end of our conversation, she warned me against living in Atlanta or getting caught up in status, money, or prestige. “Living in Highlands has taught me what’s important in life and I’m glad more young people like yourself are touring the town. I hope you walk away knowing what’s important–simple living, community, and giving back.”
While Highlands might not be a sprawling metropolis or even a classic Southern small town, it serves as an important reminder in a world obsessed with speed and technology.
Amongst daily life, it’s important to remember what matters most–community and simplicity. Highlands serves not only as a place of retirement for people from all over the United States, but a reminder that home isn’t where you’ve lived the longest. Home is where you’ve found happiness and gained a greater appreciation for the small charms of life.
Highlands has redefined home and what’s important for people from all over the nation. The town’s citizens hope everyone who steps into the Highlands are impacted by this lesson, even people like our travel team who stop by just for a day.
Contrary to its misleading name, the Leaf Festival in Cashiers, North Carolina is in no way related to leaves. Regardless, this festival was an amazing experience that I enjoyed so much more that I thought I would. This event turned out to be an extravagant artisanal fair, that featured local artists, as well as people from all over the country.
When we first walked in, we were worried because the event looked smaller than what we had imagined and planned for. It was a lively setting with a lot of conversation and live music. The vendors were very excited to share not only their products, but also their stories and how they got there. Once we moved from the main area, we discovered a path that was filled with more vendors. This path seemed to go on forever, and the amount of people we met, as well as the experiences we gained were priceless.
I met this amazing older lady selling beaded jewelry. I got to talk to her, and I found out that she started doing this when she retired around three or so years ago. She also had some glass beads in her collection that she made herself. This blew my mind, because as she explained how she did it, and walked me through it, all I could think was “this is so hard.” In order to make the glass beads, she had to heat up the glass, blow it out herself, and manipulate it to take the form she wanted it to take. But she loves what she does. Her booth was next to her husband’s tree booth. They live on a Christmas tree farm, so it’s getting to be that time of the year where she takes a break from the jewelry and helps around the farm. This entire exchange made my day, and she was so excited. I even learned about her children and grandchildren and how long they have lived right there up the road in Glenville, NC.
As we continued walking down the rustic and natural path, we kept meeting more amazing artists. We met an artist that makes portraits both by hand and with a computer software that allows you to make bigger scale portraits. We stopped and spoke to this family that helped their sister in her art, as she carves designs into egg shells. Yes, egg shells. She uses a dental like drill that allows her a certain amount of precision, where she can make beautiful designs out of these eggs. We spoke with her sister, who walked us through the process and it was mind-blowing. It is also worth mentioning that she started this business when she was just sixteen years old, which we found mindblowing. It was also very wholesome, how her entire family is so invested and helping out in it all, it says so much about them.
Once we kept on moving, talking to more people, we finally made it to the end of the path were we found a wide-open green field of grass. Parents were playing with their children, and people even brought out their animals with them. You could tell, this was a very people oriented and family oriented event. We also found this amazing brick oven pizza company, that had an oven in a cart. Their pizza was very tasty, and it was very pleasing to eat while enjoying the beautiful day.
It was a beautiful event, that took place on an even more beautiful day. I would love to go back in the future and see how many of the same vendors are still around, see the difference, as for some of them this was their first or second show. There were so many layers to this event, and I am glad we got to experience it.
We arrived at Franklin right around dinnertime, settled into our hostel for the next two nights and immediately asked, where are we going to eat? I had done some research on places to eat in the area, but we decided to ask our host, and see what was popular around town. Our host provided us with a map of the town, that contained every place that mattered. He asked us what we wanted to eat, and me being me, I said I wanted burgers. He said that the best place to have burgers in town was this place called, Motor Company Grill. The menu online said that they had over 30 different types of burgers. I was sold.
As we entered the place, we quickly noticed they had a 50’s style diner vibe happening. The place had black and white checkered floors paired with red walls, that had portraits and pictures of famous celebrities in black and white. The atmosphere was welcoming and it felt like a good place for friends and family, or even a first date.
We were greeted at the door, and taken to a booth, where we saw the glorious menu. They had options for everybody, you could replace the meat patty for a turkey or veggie patty if needed, which cannot be said for every burger joint. The staff was very attentive, and when we asked for what they would recommend they quickly told us their own, as well as other popular options.
I started browsing through the menu, considering what I wanted to have, and mind you, I was very hungry. That is when I landed on the “The King.” This burger had two fresh seasoned beef patties, paired with cheddar, swiss, bacon, grilled Onions and mushrooms. Normally, in these places the patties are not too big so I felt confident in ordering the two patties, but this burger lived up to its name. This was indeed the king of burgers. It was huge, the patties were cooked to perfection and you could taste everything on it.
Once we finished eating, we were all fully satisfied. But we were not done. Our hostel had this arrangement with several businesses around Franklin, that if you wore a rubber band you could get certain deals at the establishments. And at Motor Co.,we got free sundaes. These sundaes were classic vanilla ice cream with fudge, and they were delicious.
It was hands down the best meal we had all weekend. The environment was so nice and welcoming, the food was amazing and the service as well. Anybody who visits Franklin, North Carolina needs to visit this place and live, as well as eat, this experience for themselves.
When you first walk into Calders, you’re greeted by a long line of people waiting in a narrow front room. The front room of the shop is full of taxidermy on the walls, sleek wooden floors and furniture, and the same Hallmark town aesthetic of Highlands’ main street. However, the charms of Calders goes beyond its aesthetic.
While the shop offers experimental coffee, such as the Ginger Latte I enjoyed, it embodies much more than a normal coffee shop. The point of any coffee shop is to be a meeting place for those working on their dreams or discussing life’s greatest questions over a cup of joe. However, the mission of Calders is to serve more than just that role; the owners of Calders wanted to embody the spirit of the town in the cafe.
According to their website, calderscoffeecafe.com, Leigh and Clay Hartman founded Calders in 2019. After running coffee shops in Seattle and Charleston, they wanted to settle down in a smaller town and enjoy a simpler life connected to nature. They decided to start a cafe in Highlands because their son said his soul was in Highlands when they visited.
The name Calders actually has its roots in the same Scottish ancestry as the town. It’s Gaelic for “stony rivers” and was chosen because of the renowned Highlands waterfalls. The owners tried to embody the same spirit of the town, with a special emphasis on Calders being a meeting place to grow friendships and a place of calm refuge from the hustling tourist shops on Highlands mainstreet.
Whether you’re just stopping by for a to-go cup or are sitting down at one of their many tables with a muffin and a latte for breakfast, it’s impossible to ignore the friendly and cozy ambience of the shop. As the town grows into a center for mountain tourism, spaces like Calders Cafe remind both locals and visitors alike of the community values of the Highlands.
Many coffee shops today focus on having a bright, Instagrammable aesthetic or mimicking the drink options at Starbucks. With their unique offerings and ambience, Calders doesn’t fall into that trap. Calders Coffee Cafe is what a coffee shop ought to be; it serves the Highlands as a place that builds and reflects the community.
As Bruce Springsteen sang in his classic song ‘Thunder Road’, “these two lanes will take us anywhere,”- these two lanes referring to North Carolina’s famous Highway 64. An uncharacteristically beautiful highway, people often forget it’s actually a highway- the layout of the road seems almost like a mistake. Put delicately, if Highway 64 was designed by an engineer or anyone of the like, it’s hard to tell. The road follows more of a wandering path than anything, it winds through the length of North Carolina in a way that mimics the travelers that came long before us. Every inch of Highway 64 is laden with the history of those that came before and remains a vital part of North Carolina past, present, and future.
Highway 64 was conceived during the same time as another famous highway, Route 66. In 1926, the creation of the US Highway System sparked the development of both of these revolutionary roads. While Route 66 was deemed inactive in 1985, Highway 64 remains a trusty method of travel for North Carolinians or anyone just passing through. Thus North Carolina can stake its claim as the state containing more miles of maintained roads than any other state in the country. As the USA’s 8th longest-running highway at 2,326 miles in total, Highway 64 finally comes to an end all the way in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona- far away from its start in Nags Head, North Carolina.
Highway 64 represents much more than just a road- it stands for the progress of a station and the march West that inspired hundreds of thousands of people out in search for more. Originally intended to further the journey out West, Highway 64 continues to inspire individuals to experience new adventures. Winding through towns you might normally pass through, Highway 64 allows people to uncover the hidden gems North Carolina has to offer. These small towns and unique sites offer the real stories and represent the true heart of the country. Highway 64 continues to serve as a reminder that taking a back road doesn’t have to be boring- it can expose you to new people and places you might never get to experience otherwise. On Highway 64, history is alive and well.
Driving down Highway 64 is a unique experience, here is what it is like today:
Passenger: Johvonn Smith
Our first day was full of excitement, we were not sure what to expect on the drive. We
spent the majority of the drive talking about what to expect, things we were looking forward to,
and also finalizing times that we intended to spend in each respective city. The excitement was
quickly ripped away after we realized we made the mistake of putting in the wrong address in the
GPS, adding another hour and a half to a drive that was already long enough. We continued
driving along the dark winding road until we finally reached our destination, just to realize that
everything was closed. After settling for eating food from the casino, we continued to finalize
plans for the next day and called it a night.
On Friday, our first full day on Highway 64, there was a lot to take in. With no
expectations, I was not sure what to expect on the drive, but I was quickly surprised by how
much there was to look at. No more than five minutes into the drive, there was plenty of open
land, beautiful trees, and more cows than you could ever imagine. Most importantly, I was able
to see places that were still untouched, rather than surrounded by skyscrapers and other man-
made objects. Highway 64 was surrounded by mountains, winding roads, and orange and yellow
leaves. Throughout the drive, my head was constantly turning, as I tried not to miss anything that
may have been important to see. Several times along the way there were sites that were so
amazing that we could not resist stopping in order to take some pictures. Endless views of
mountains, trees, farms, and cars every so often made for a very peaceful and relaxing drive, at
least from the passenger seat.
After being in the car for about half of the day, I switched to the back seat. Surprisingly,
this gave me a totally different perspective of the mountains. I had a clear view of both sides of
the road from the back, while also being able to get a better view of everything that was behind
us. Similarly to what I saw earlier, we were still on a winding road. It felt like it was going on
forever, but I never thought “I cannot wait to get out of the car.” There was a peacefulness on
highway 64 that allowed me to enjoy everything the mountains of North Carolina had to offer,
and lose track of time in the process so that I lived in the moment. I imagine the mountains being
a place to unwind or reset so that you can just enjoy everything the world has to offer. I would
take the ride again to experience the peace that highway 64 gave me.
Passenger: Jamie Angle
The winding road of Highway 64 is a beautiful drive that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It is remote enough that you can enjoy scenery without much worry of traffic. While this is true, it is also civilized enough that you rarely need to worry about the drive to the nearest gas station. The drive through the mountains on Highway 64 is beautiful in the fall. While we drove, we peered out the windows at the leaves along the side of the road, which had turned various shades of gold, orange and red. When a gust of wind blew, the leaves that had already fallen were thrust into the air and surrounded our car like confetti. From the backseat of the car, I could watch this natural confetti surrounding us through the side windows. Contrary to popular belief, the backseat of a car has its advantages. One of these advantages is that the backseat passenger has plenty of room, at least I did. Because I was the only one in the backseat, I could put my legs up on the seat next to me and sleep if necessary. This was made easier by the fact that voices did not carry back to me as much. Therefore, the boys up front could continue their conversation without concern for disturbing me.
On the flip side, the lack of carrying sound made it difficult to also participate in conversation when I was not sleeping. It is only acceptable to ask “what?” so many times in a conversation before it gets annoying. The other major disadvantage to the backseat pertains to the fact that I get carsick. Motion sickness can be helped when a person is able to see where it is they are headed, however, from the backseat, I was only able to watch the world around me from a side view. A little while into the ride I found that I was not feeling my best, and had to switch seats. Therefore, the backseat of the car along highway 64 is relaxing in its ability to watch the leaves and nature unfold around the car. However, it can also seem a bit lonely because of the difficulty to carry conversation with those in the front of the car. I would not recommend this seat to those who get carsick. The twists and turns can be difficult to see around from the front, so the back makes it close to impossible to have proper visibility. The drive down Highway 64 is a beautiful experience no matter what seat you take.
Driving: Jake Hackman
There’s something about being on the road that encourages forgetfulness, and dissuades thinking. It is where mindlessness mimics the road, wandering through zip codes and county lines, ignoring the past and future, living only in the present. There aren’t too many roads near me anymore where that happens. Most are filled with too many cars, too many people, and too much thinking.
I distinctly remember the pleasure that came from the simple act of driving. Something about being behind the wheel, with full control of destination was empowering and humbling. It often times is the catalyst that opens you to a world much bigger than you realized. It fosters intuitive exploration that can only be satisfied by the act of going. As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the act of going, and what an influence it has had on me. It has pushed my passion for travel further, posing more questions about my personal direction.
There aren’t too many highways that will keep you from running into McDonalds and motels. Most exits contain the standard Shell and Kangaroo gas stations, a few fast food restaurants, and of course a southern staple, Waffle House. As you begin to distance yourself from the light pollution that drowns most cities along North Carolina highways, you begin to notice a distinct calmness on the road.
Highway 64, one of the oldest of these roads that ventures west, deep into the Nantahala National Forest. Its curves are unlike other terrains, whipping you around sharp bends, and spitting you out into enormous valleys sprinkled with trees draped in moss. As the sun skips across the sky it meets the road in the dusk hours, beaming light through the windows of the car, sending reflections scattering across the ceiling. Once gone, the darkness infects the road and limits visibility down to shadows. The curves of the road begin to slim as you rise further and further up mountainsides, only to discover that this is one of many mountains covering the diverse region of the highway.
I hadn’t driven in mountains since I was in high school, and for good reason. The curves and bends, intertwined with the constantly-changing speeds had my anxiety at an all-time high. All the great things I loved about driving went out the window, both metaphorically and literally, when I trekked through the mountains. But there was something different about the mountains on Highway 64. The anxiety and fear went away, and comfort set in. The curves came naturally as the wheel spun over itself, my foot did not hesitate on the break, and my focus seemed to stray from the road and center on the land that was in front of me. The rise and fall of the mountains were methodical as each valley was met with quaint houses and rolling hills.
It was on the road that I was reminded of the act of going. That sometimes it doesn’t necessarily mean that going will be easy and or comfortable, but it is in that lack of comfortability that discoveries are made.
The Baty family has been in Highlands, North Carolina for seemingly forever. They are among the two or three historical Scottish families who remained in the area after their migration from Scotland. Erin Baty, a young blonde woman in her twenties or thirties, left this hometown for a bit to go to school in Georgia, but the Highlands called her home. Highlands is a name that actually refers to the Scottish Highlands and, according to Erin, was the reason the town was named as such. Her family was originally Norse people who moved to Scotland, but then many of them wanted to “pursue more scholarship” in Germany and Whales, then finally moved to the United States. While they tried to settle in Virginia and other original United States colonies, the Baty family ended up moving further south because of the landscape. The landscape of the Highlands reminded them of the landscape from Scotland. Therefore, this became the home of the Baty family. The original Scottish families intermarried and became friends with other cultural families in the area, such as the Irish and Native Americans. They brought with them a vast knowledge of agriculture and survival techniques to share with these other ethnicities. The blending of skills and cultures renders the city of Highlands, as we know it today, a truly unique place.
“The Irish didn’t really know what to do with that kind of landscape…The Scots kind of stayed in the area and branched out…They had a huge relationship and connection to the Cherokee Indians, which is why you see a lot of that influence here. This is their land. It was, from my understanding, rather peaceful. My dad is fifty percent Cherokee.”
While Baty’s can be found all over the world at this point, from their trips to Whales, Germany, Virginia, and further migration over the years, many still call the Highlands home. Erin claims she can walk into many local establishments and ask if the local owner “knows a Baty” and the answer is almost always a resounding “yes.” They have watched the area expand over the years. Erin found it sad that she can no longer see the places her grandfather used to talk about. She told me that, “There is no landmark anymore that [she] can come back to and say, ‘oh look at this, or oh look at that.’” She stated, “When [she] was a kid, there were maybe four shops.” These places have long since been torn down to make space for the tourist society that we see in the Highlands today. However, she is not without some remnants of these olden times. A historical photo book was put together showing historical documents of her family throughout the years.
Highlands is a city of rich cultural history and the Baty family is only one example of the city’s heritage. Erin said, the beauty of the land “called” too many different people and their combined cultures creates an unforgettable atmosphere that you have to see to believe.
“This land calls to people…the beauty enraptures people here. There is great wealth and there is great poverty, but they all come up here for the land.”
Our drive out to Murphy, North Carolina began with great music, conversation, and excitement about the adventure ahead. Five hours into the drive, this excitement had long petered off. We were exhausted, hungry, and ready to arrive at Harrah’s Casino, the first stop on our trip. Just when we were almost at the destination, we realized there was not one, but TWO casinos of the same name, within an hour of one another. We had typed in the wrong address. I could feel my heart sink as I watched the GPS add another hour to our arrival time.
We finally arrived at the hotel around 8:30PM; still hungry, still exhausted. The way the hotel is set up, guests are either forced to pay for valet parking in the front of the hotel for direct access to the lobby, or they are forced to walk through the entire casino bottom floor to reach the elevator to go upstairs to the lobby. Unwilling to pay for parking, we walked for five minutes through the brightly colored slot machines, retirees playing blackjack, and skilled quick-moving dealers. Classic sounds of jingling, excited shouts, and dramatic losing sighs filled the air as thick as the lingering cigarette smoke. We made our way through, checked into the large lobby, and headed to our rooms to settle in.
The hotel rooms were decent at best. While it was a spacious room with a large king-sized bed, the pillows were cheap and uncomfortable, wifi was not included, and the shower had a dark substance in the molding that I did not wish to question. Even so, exhausted, I fell into bed for a few minutes before making a move downstairs to meet up with the guys for dinner.
Downtown Murphy is about ten to fifteen minutes from the hotel, and every restaurant we looked up downtown closed at 9. This gave us very limited access to food, and we settled for a casino restaurant. The casino housed a Starbucks, hotdog shop, pizza place, and sandwich shop. Of these options, we chose the sandwich shop. While my hunger drove me to devour the first half of my sandwich, the second half I actually remember tasting. The second half was warm with melted cheese, meat, and Italian dressing. It tasted good, but was nothing to write home about. There was nothing particularly special about the sandwich, we got what we paid for. Originally, I had expected the food to be very overpriced because of its location in a casino, however, the price was not bad, it was a $6-7 sandwich, not much more than you would pay at Subway.
After dinner, the boys headed to bed and I headed to place some bets. As a young adult, I would have regretted it if I had not at least tried to gamble a little bit. Therefore, I went in with $30 to play (not very well) some Blackjack. The first couple games were not bad. There was a $10 minimum and I was fascinated by the speed of the hands of the dealer and the bets of the crowd around the table. I was easily the least experienced player. The two women to my right seemed to be having a lot of fun; they expressed their excitement with every win and their disappointment with each loss. The woman to my left was less excitable, but winning more than everyone else at the table. Finally, the two men to her left seemed rather grumpy and expressed nothing.
Everything seemed to be going well until my last game. The less-excitable woman to my left won blackjack in the beginning and I kept playing until my cards reached 16. Aware that I was unlikely to win (and that this was the last of my cash), I resounded myself to a loss. However, when the dealer dealt her own cards, she busted, or so she thought. After the money was delivered, the woman who had already won blackjack decided to point out that the dealer had made a mistake and had scored 20 before dealing her last card. This brought about some issues, the dealer called over her manager, who doubled as her father, in order to correct the mistake. Tensions were high as we tried to recount our cards, return the money we thought we had won, and scowled towards the woman who had pointed out the mistake.
I returned my money and escaped the situation before things got out of hand. There was a lot of money on the line for the other players. Personally, I was happy just to get out of there; although I was a bit bitter towards the dealer after the game. Drained from the day of travel and dizzy from the smoky atmosphere of the casino, I happily collapsed onto my uncomfortable pillows in my average hotel room and instantly fell asleep.
On our first full day on the trip, we started in Murphy, NC. We decided to get up
relatively early since we knew that we had a full day of traveling ahead of us. After checking out
of the hotel, we decided to head toward downtown Murphy where we hoped to find people to
talk to and find a place to eat breakfast. The drive was no more than 10 minutes and we
immediately started walking and taking pictures once we found a safe place to park. Jake stopped
to ask a police officer where we could eat breakfast and she directed us towards The Daily Grind
and Wine. This small diner/coffee shop had a quiet and southern vibe that seemed to fit perfectly
in Murphy. We immediately realized that The Daily Grind & Wine was a staple in Murphy.
Every customer that entered was known by name, and the workers also knew exactly what the
person was going to order. After wandering around and looking at the menu for a while, we
finally decided to order.
I ordered a cheese and bacon biscuit and hot chocolate, with no expectations considering
I was not familiar with the city or the diner. The hot chocolate came first which was perfect
considering I was extremely cold from being outside. The hot chocolate had whipped cream on top, and was made with fresh ingredients; most importantly, it tasted amazing. Even though I ordered a small drink, the size was still rather large, which made it even better. Shortly after drinking some of my hot chocolate, my biscuit came out, again giving me a pleasant surprise. The biscuit was made with their own special recipe, and it was delicious. The only downside to the biscuit is that the bacon was rather rubbery, but aside from that the texture of everything else was amazing. Overall, the taste was amazing, and I would definitely recommend The DailyGrind & Wine if you ever find yourself in Murphy, NC. Their servers are extremely nice and welcoming and provide a southern atmosphere that you would expect in a small town likeMurphy. In addition, you will find pictures and tons of rich history posted throughout the diner,along with a plethora of wine options to choose from in the back of the diner.
Ripping through the sharp turns of the Nantahala National Forest, one can tend to forget that civilization, in fact, is near. Highway 64 tests driver’s endurance, as you tease the edge of cliffs, expecting the vehicle to topple down the mountainside, all the while, the view begs for your undivided attention. As the mountains caress over one another, you can find yourself buried in the deep valleys that separate them. Nudged in between are small pockets of communities that call the vast range home.
Highlands is one of these towns, home to just under 1,000 residents who live in the southern region of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Founded in 1875, it was deemed Highlands for its towering elevation changes. This small town has withstood the test of time, keeping its locals rooted in the community while also bringing in travelers looking to experience a different part of North Carolina.
“I have lived in Highlands my whole life,” says Nick McCall, owner of The Pizza Place. “This place born and bred me, and there is just something about our town that is unique.”
McCall, is a third generation Highlands resident, business owner, and what many would deem a historical item. His roots grow deep in the Highlands community with his grandfather once the mayor and his father a town board member and fire marshall. In a town of just under 1,000 McCall graduated from Highland Public Schools, which enrolls around 330 students per year. After receiving a degree in political science from Appalachian State University, he decided to move back home where he would work providing electricity and internet to the town of Highlands.
“I originally came back and was managing all of the satellite towers throughout the area,” said McCall. “I just did it because I was good at it, I didn’t really like it. That is what spawned me buying the pizza shop–I always knew I wanted to buy it, if it ever became available and once it did, I wasn’t going to miss my chance.
In 2012, McCall opened up The Pizza Place–located on the main street that runs through Highlands. The front doesnt scream pizza, nor do any of the shops that parallel the mountain range that abides just outside the town. But the aroma that whofts itself through the air, penetrating storefronts and tree limbs is one that can be recognized by local and tourist alike.
“I started working here when I was 12 to make money to buy a car, and once I began, I never stopped thinking about it,” said McCall. “It wasn’t even that I liked pizza that much, it was more that, I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much.”
Six years later and McCall has seen the effects ripple through his evironment. From employing local students throughout the summers, to donating to the schools and sports teams, McCall has his hands in the community outside of The Pizza Place. He also acknowledges his success not only to the dedicated people who reside in Highlands year around, but also the tourists who bring in the largest influx of business each year.
Eight months out of the year Highlands is home to its residents, local business owners, and the seasonal hunter; but during the summer and fall months, the city entertains more than 20,000 people. From daily visitors to temporary residents, the surrounding mountain range contains over 10 different country clubs. When vacationers aren’t spending time on the golf course, exploring a hiking trail, or enjoying one of many lakes, they tend to find themselves downtown weaving in and out of small shops and of course, through McCall’s pizza joint.
“At first the community was thrown through a loop when the influx of visitors started grew alot,” said McCall. “After a few years, people began appreciating the business and it also expanded the town and its reputation substantially.”
This rising popularity of Highlands begs the question of whether it can hold true to its authentic small-town feel that originally attracted visitors. In the wake of commercialization and small-town retreat, Highlands has found its footing and McCall doesn’t see it going anywhere that soon.
“Yes, sometimes it is intimidating seeing bigger companies come in and try to buy out stuff from us, but at the end of the day it is about allowing the change without letting it change you, and I think we have been doing that for years and we will do it in the future.”