Thanks to a brand-new widened highway, Ashevilleans are now less than an hour away from a trio of distinct towns that offer a broad range of mountain living. Burnsville, Celo and Spruce Pine are as varied from each other as they are from their nearest big-city neighbor, but they share a relationship with the mountains around them, and the challenges of thriving in a region that has been economically depressed for much of its history. Through tourism, incoming industry and innovative community planning, this constellation of townships continues to meet the challenge of modern rural life.
Did you know?
Established in 1834, Burnsville was named for Capt. Otway Burns, a seafaring veteran of the War of 1812 who was instrumental in forming North Carolina's western counties. His statue now stands in the town square. Burnsville is the county seat of Yancey County.
Though it was founded nearly 75 years after Burnsville, Spruce Pine quickly grew into a larger commercial hub due to railroad traffic. As of the 2010 census, Spruce Pine's population was 2,175, compared to Burnsville's 1,693. Nearby Bakersville has been the county seat of Mitchell County since 1868.
Oddly enough, Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Rockies, isn't actually located in its namesake county. The peak is just over the line in Yancey.
Celo is an intentional community founded by progressive civil engineer Arthur Morgan in 1937. Like a Depression-era Occupy camp, Celo established its own internal rules of governance, to which it still adheres today.
Where to go
If you haven't had a Bantam Chef milkshake, you haven't been to Burnsville. Sandwiched between a fuel oil-supply company and a used-car lot, what this diner lacks in ambiance it makes up for in authentic small-town cuisine.
357 W U.S. Highway 19E Bypass, Burnsville.
A “low-waste, local, organic and sustainable” restaurant in downtown Spruce Pine, Knife & Fork is run by celebrated chef Nathan Allen. 61 Locust St., Spruce Pine, http://knifeandforknc.com.
At 6,684 feet, the peak of Mt. Mitchell is more than a mile high. Worth a drive for anyone who appreciates picturesque vistas. 2388 State Highway 128, Burnsville. GPS: 35.7528, -82.2737
Most Unique or Noteworthy
Yancey County News — Housed in the back room of a local craft co-op, this independent weekly newspaper has scooped up national journalism awards with bold coverage on election fraud and corruption in the county sheriff's office.
Yancey Public Library is newly rehoused in a renovated, early-1900s former Baptist preparatory-school building. It’s a state-of-the-art facility.
In their own words
“A community will support good writing and good reporting from an unbiased perspective. And we've bent over backwards to do all of that. … We are part of the [Mountain Crafters] Co-op. We consider ourselves crafts people. Our craft is that we put out a newspaper. And we're extremely proud that they considered us craftsmen too.” — Jonathan Austin, Yancey County News
“It's a most wonderful community of people. When you need help, it's there. People are supportive of the schools, they're proud of their schools, [and] we work together to help these young people. I think everybody realizes our kids are our greatest treasure.” — Peter Bobbe, English teacher at Mountain Heritage High School, named best teacher in Xpress' 2013 Best Of WNC reader's poll
“Place to be in case of zombie invasion: Price’s Creek Store in Cane River (Yancey county) appears on the outside to be an ordinary convenience store. If you go inside, you will see enough ordnance to supply a small (human) army for years, along with clothing, food, and farm supplies. The surrounding area is ideal for starting civilization over again, since the former Cane River High School is directly across the road from the store.” — Joel Norton, Mitchell county native