How does a small town like Hickory, North Carolina become an All-American city? Hickory is a small city located in western North Carolina between Charlotte and Asheville in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  The city of Hickory has grown from a tiny town to a city with a population of over thirty-five thousand people.  Moreover, in order for a city to receive the “All-American” award, its citizens must work together to overcome a challenge in the community.  Recently, in the magazine, Readers Digest, Hickory was named the 10th best place to live in the United States.  The city of Hickory was shaped into an All-American city through its rich history as well as Hickory’s ability to successfully preserve its historical landmarks.

Hickory Downtown
Hickory, North Carolina. Union Square is the center of Hickory. Taken by Netmogul

First of all, the founding of Hickory greatly affected the way in which it was shaped into an All-American City.  In the early 1700s, Henry Weidner, a German from Pennsylvania, moved to the South and ended up near the Catawba Indians.  He then bought thousands of acres around the area.  Another man, William Hale, opened the first store as well as a post office.  Then, one of Weidner’s relatives, Henry Robinson, founded Hickory in the 1850s. He decided to build a log tavern under a hickory tree which he called Hickory Tavern.   Hickory Tavern began to grow and in 1859, the first train came into the city. Henry Link, the first person to buy land in Hickory, bought his land for only forty-five dollars.  Moreover, in 1873, the name changed from Hickory Tavern to Hickory (Hickory, North Carolina 2-3).

Furthermore, many specific events occurred in Hickory that shaped it into what it is today.  In 1891, a college, Lenoir Rhyne College, was established, causing Hickory to grow.  In 1913, Hickory began to establish a city manager type of government making Hickory the first in North Carolina and third in the country to use this type of government. This further made Hickory stand out as a new city.   The construction of Interstate 40  as well as the opening of a shopping mall further industrialized Hickory.  In 1968, 1987, and 2007, Hickory was named an All-American city, making it one of only a few to receive this honor three times (Milestones in Hickory History).   In the 1900s, many people that lived in Hickory began to work with furniture, and the furniture market covered “over one million square feet of retail space.” Furthermore, the furniture company of Hickory is one of the most famous in the country and is called the Hickory Manufacturing Company.  During World War II, the government took advantage of Hickory’s resources and used their furniture factories to make boxes for ammunition (Hickory, North Carolina 6). Hickory is mainly famous for furniture because the people in the furniture business wanted to combine “the authenticity of classic craftsmanship with the efficiency of modern manufacturing” in order to make a perfect dining chair.  (Furniture Brands Family 4)

Historically, Hickory is most known for its huge polio epidemic, also known as the Miracle of Hickory. Following World War II, polio epidemics severely hit the United States’ population.  There were 57,628 cases of polio just in 1952 (The Polio Epidemic 3). Because of this epidemic, many local places were shut down in order to stop the spread of this terrible viral disease.  The same happened to those who were diagnosed with polio in Hickory. Hickory had the largest polio outbreak in all of North Carolina.  The outbreak in Hickory was so large that the people of Hickory were forced to build a new hospital in order to care for these specific patients. Due to the mystery of polio, patients were isolated from all other people in fear that they would spread the disease.  Since polio did not have a cure in the 1940s, doctors had different views on how to treat the patients.  For example, some doctors did not try to cure the paralysis; however, other doctors believed that the patient must constantly exercise in order to avoid losing use of their muscles.  Even though there was no cure, some of the people affected by polio did regain use of their legs and could walk, but only with a walking aid such as crutches (The Polio Epidemic 12-15).

Polio Epidemic
Hospital staff examining a patient that they believe to have polio. Taken by CDC.

Another major step in the history of Hickory, North Carolina was the creation of the Municipal Rose Gardens.  In the article from the Sewage Works Journal written in 1944, P.L. Abernethy describes how these gardens were built both as an attraction as well as a way to avoid a lawsuit.  Hickory had been sued many times for its use of sewage disposal systems.  Therefore, the decision to build the Municipal Rose Garden was a compromise to settle the suit.  Different committees in Hickory met in order to decide on a place where the gardens should be built.  In 1940, they decided to build the gardens on a disposal plant in between the control building and the highway in Hickory.   When the gardens were finally finished, many visitors registered.  “Of the 716 registered, 181 were from 29 North Carolina municipalities, and the remainder from eleven different states” (Abernethy 987).  The Rose Club, who ran the gardens, forbade anyone from cutting any of the flowers; however, every week, the Club would send flowers to each patient in the different hospitals in Hickory.

In addition to the amazing stories of Hickory, North Carolina, the city itself has done an excellent job in preserving its history.  For example, two houses, the Harper House and the Lyerly House have been preserved by the Historical Association of Catawba County in order to show how the people of Hickory lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The Historical Association raised over two million dollars in order to restore these homes.  The Historical Association uses these two homes as museums and focus on the architecture of the homes as well as the people who lived in them.  The Lyerly House is also used as conference facility and an education center.  Denny Harper Addison, the daughter of the Harpers who lived in the house, claims that her family taught her “to appreciate the beauty of the architectural details, both interior and exterior.” The new architectural ideas consisted of having “coffered ceiling,” “intricate stained-glass windows,” and heavy brass doorknobs (Catawba County Historical Association 4). Even though this house was lived in by many different families, it is named the Harper House because it was used by three generations of the Harper family.  The Lyerly House, on the other hand, was built in 1912 by Eubert Lyerly and his wife, Josephine, who was greatly interested in art and helped to decorate the interior.

The rich history of Hickory, North Carolina has shaped it into the up and rising city that has earned it the title of an All-American city three times.  The founding history, specific historical landmarks, and the huge polio outbreak in the 1940s have shaped Hickory into what it is today.  Moreover, the Catawba County Historical Association has done an excellent job in preserving its historical homes in order to show the rest of the world what life in Hickory used to be like compared to what life is like today.  The continuous growth of Hickory can be seen as a role model to other small cities showing them that they too have the ability to reach their fullest potential.

Secondary Sources

“Furniture Brands Family.” Broyhill Furniture. Web 14 March 2011.

Hickory, North Carolina.” Wikipedia. Web. 14 March 2011.

Milestones in Hickory History.” Hickory, North Carolina. City of Hickory. Web. 27 February 2011

Site Description.” Catawba County Historical Association. Web. 24 February. 2011.

The Polio Epidemic.” Health and Healing in North Carolina. Web. 14 March 2011.

Primary Sources

Clinard, Livingston N., Francis Augustus. Clinard, and Karen L. Clinard. My Dear Father and Mother : The Personal Letters of Livingston N. Clinard : Correspondence from Family and Friends, 1871-1880. Asheville, N.C.: Reminiscing Books, 2007. Print.

P.L. Abernethy. “Municipal Rose Garden at Hickory, N.C.” Sewage Works Journal (1944): 986-988.. JSTOR. Web. 24 Feb. 2011

About the Author

Abby Hart is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She grew up in Hickory, North Carolina.

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