Southeast Excursions

4 attractions to see in Catawba County

CorrespondentJanuary 18, 2013 

The elegant, 20-room Harper House in Hickory features finely-carved woodwork, parquet floors, lavish wallpapers, ornate furnishings, and more -- all designed to delight the senses.

COURTESY OF GARY MCCULLOUGH

  • Details For tours of the Harper House ($5), call 828-324-7294. The Catawba County Museum is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays. Free. Murray’s Mill is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission: $3. Bunker Hill Bridge is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Admission: free. Info: www.catawbahistory.org.

The Catawba County Historical Association oversees four diverse sites, each a worthwhile destination offering something different, yet each providing a look into the history of this Mecklenburg County neighbor.

Distance

From Charlotte, these Catawba County attractions are an hour’s drive or less.

To see and do

The N.C. Department of Archives and History considers the Harper House, in Hickory, to exemplify “the finest Queen Anne interior styling in the state.” Built in 1887 for banker Daniel Webster Shuler, the elegant 20-room home is embellished with intricately carved woodwork, parquet floors, myriad wallpapers on walls and ceilings, draperies, stained glass, decorative tiles, ornate furniture and more. In keeping with the Queen Anne style, every conceivable space seems to be filled with something intended to attract the eye. Guided tours include the entry hall, three parlors, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor; master, guest and children’s bedrooms on the second floor; and the third-floor attic – used during the Prohibition era as a speakeasy by then-owner Finley Gwyn Harper Sr.

The Catawba County Museum, in downtown Newton, is housed in the former county courthouse. The 1924 structure is the perfect setting for the museum’s extensive collection. Farm implements and furniture, clothing and pottery, two centuries of military uniforms and an extensive collection of Civil War artifacts are among the exhibits. A visit to the doctor’s office, circa 1923, will help you appreciate modern medicine; a few minutes behind the bars of a county jail cell will make you thankful for your freedom. Other interesting artifacts include “the world’s largest sapphire” – 53,085.375 carats – which is listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”

Historic Murray’s Mill museum complex, alongside Ball’s Creek in eastern Catawba County, includes a working mill, wheat granary, general store and millwright’s home. Built in 1886, the mill still operates with water from the creek powering the 28-foot waterwheel that turns gears that move the millstones. Original millstones are still in use; each weighs more than a ton. Tours of the four-story building are often conducted while the mill is in operation, giving visitors a firsthand look at grain being processed into flour. The fully restored home of millwright John Murray is part of the tour. The granary showcases Catawba and Lincoln County pottery, primitive furniture, folk art and sculpture. Directly across from the mill is Murray-Minges Mercantile, an 1890 general store selling a variety of nostalgic items, including “penny” candy and a variety of “soda pop” flavors.

Built in 1895, the 85-foot Bunker Hill Bridge spans Lyles Creek. Originally constructed as an open span, its cover was added in 1900. This Catawba County landmark is more than just a nostalgic carryover from the past: It’s one of only two original covered bridges remaining in North Carolina and the only bridge still in existence utilizing the truss design patented by Herman Haupt, who was chief of military railroads for the Union Army during the Civil War. As such, it is designated a National Historic Civil Engineering landmark.

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