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Wilkes County, North Carolina

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Please add profiles of those who were born, lived or died in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

Official Website

History

The county was formed on April 20, 1778, by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly. It was named for the English political radical John Wilkes, who lost his position as Lord Mayor of the City of London due to his support for the colonists during the American Revolution.

One well-known Wilkes native was Tom Dula (Dooley), a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War who was tried and hanged shortly after the war for the murder of his fiancée, Laura Foster. To this day many people believe that one of Dula's jealous ex-girlfriends murdered Laura Foster, that Dula was innocent of the crime, and that he accepted blame only to protect his former lover.

The case was given nationwide publicity by newspapers such as The New York Times and the New York Herald, and thus became a folk legend in the rural South. Dula's legend was popularized in 1958 by the top-selling Kingston Trio song "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley." Dula's story was also turned into a 1959 movie starring Michael Landon as Dula, and each summer Bleu Moon Productions presents an outdoor drama based on the story.

In 2001, Tom Dula was acquitted of all charges by the county.

Wilkes County was once known as the "Moonshine Capital of the World", and was a leading producer of illegal homemade liquor. From the 1920s to the 1950s some young Wilkes County males made their living by delivering moonshine to North Carolina's larger towns and cities. Wilkes County natives also used bootleg liquor as a means for barter far beyond the borders of North Carolina. Many Wilkes County distillers ran white liquor as far as Detroit, New Jersey, and South Florida. Since this often involved outrunning local police and federal agents in auto chases, the county became one of the birthplaces of the sport of stock-car racing.

The North Wilkesboro Speedway was the first NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) track; it held its first race on May 18, 1947,[6] and the first NASCAR-sanctioned race on October 16, 1949. Wilkes County native and resident Junior Johnson was one of the early superstars of NASCAR, as well as a legendary moonshiner. Johnson was featured by the writer Tom Wolfe in a 1965 Esquire magazine article titled "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!", which gave him national exposure. Wolfe's vivid article was later adapted as the movie The Last American Hero (1973), starring Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine. Benny Parsons and Jimmy Pardue were two other notable NASCAR drivers from Wilkes.

The North Wilkesboro Speedway was closed following the 1996 NASCAR season. Two new owners, Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith, moved North Wilkesboro's NASCAR races to their tracks in Texas and New Hampshire. In 2009, Speedway Associates, Inc., obtained a three-year lease and started running races and other events at the speedway. However, in May 2011, the group announced that funding had fallen through and they were ending their lease prematurely.[8] The track has been closed since 2011, although several unsuccessful efforts have been made to re-open it.[9] In November 2021, the North Carolina state legislature and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper approved giving $18 million to the North Wilkesboro Speedway for extensive renovations and repairs in an effort to return auto racing to the track.

In recent years, the physical decline of the speedway, combined with its historical legacy as a birthplace of NASCAR, has led to numerous news media stories and articles being written about the rich history of the speedway, the current decay of the track and grandstands, and efforts to renovate and save the speedway.

Adjacent Counties

Towns, Townships & Communities

Antioch | Beaver Creek | Boomer | Brushy Mountains | Call | Clingman | Cricket | Darby | Edwards | Elk | Elkin (part) | Fairplains | Ferguson | Hays | Jobs Cabin | Lewis Fork | Lovelace | McGrady | Millers Creek | Moravian Falls | Mulberry | New Castle | North Wilkesboro | Parsonsville | Pleasant Hill | Purlear | Roaring River | Rock Creek | Reddies River | Ronda | Somers | Stanton | Thurmond | Traphill | Union | Walnut Grove | Wilkesboro (County Seat)

Links

Wikipedia

Genealogy Trails

NC GenWeb

Wilkesboro History

Nat'l Reg. of Hist. Places