Gold Standard Getaway in Rutherfordton
Slow down, unplug and unwind in Rutherfordton, a small community in the Blue Ridge Foothills that’s home to about 4,200 people. Although it’s not exactly large in size, Rutherfordton’s historical impact is huge – and you’ll find plenty to do, no matter your age or area of interest, making it the perfect place for a spring break vacation with the kids or a couples’ weekend trip.
“Rutherfordton has a lot of fun things to do for such a little town,” says Michelle McConnell Yelton, president and CEO of McConnell Group Public Relations Inc. “Plus, the community is so centrally located in Western North Carolina that it’s easy to bounce over to Charlotte or Asheville for a day or two, or head down to the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., area and really experience the whole region.”
Deep, Storied History
Established in 1787, Rutherfordton is one of the oldest towns in Western North Carolina. Its biggest claim to fame came about in 1832, when German immigrant Christopher Bechtler minted America’s first $1 gold coin in Rutherfordton – nearly 17 years before the U.S. Mint made one of its own. Bechtler went on to mint more than $2.24 million in gold coins, and he played an important role in the North Carolina Gold Rush. As a result, it makes sense Rutherfordton’s tagline is “A Minted Original.”
“We really try to reinforce that you can come here and ‘mint’ your own experiences based on Bechtler’s legacy,” Yelton says.
Visitors can learn more about Bechtler and his family by visiting the Bechtler House, which was built in 1838 and serves as headquarters of the North Carolina Gold Trail. The house includes period artifacts and various exhibits, as well as the original coin press and gold scale. Nearby, the Bechtler Mint Historic Park is home to the original location of Bechtler’s mint (although the original mint is no longer there, a replica has been created based on journal entries of those who entered it) and mine shaft.
“We have also created a Gold Mile around the downtown corridor and on Main Street, which includes commemorative gold coins that are dedicated to different people and are replicas of the Bechtler gold coins,” Yelton says. “It’s a fun, easy walk that people can enjoy while learning about the town’s history.”
In addition, Rutherfordton’s downtown area includes a portion of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and visitors can learn more about the community’s historic homes and buildings on a self-guided walking tour along the downtown corridor.
“Those interested in taking the Historic Downtown Walking Tour can pick up brochures at the Rutherford County Welcome Center or the town hall and use their smartphones to scan QR codes that will bring up original photos and information about what those structures used to be,” Yelton says.
Arts & Recreation
Named the 2016 Outstanding Small Town of the Year by the North Carolina Rural Center, Rutherfordton has a picturesque downtown area packed with restaurants, antique shops, boutiques and quaint bed-and-breakfasts. One of its most popular family-friendly attractions is the 10,000-square-foot KidSenses Children’s Interactive Museum, which draws visitors from across the region.
“KidSenses is a two-story museum that’s been fashioned to look like a downtown area,” Yelton says. “It’s very affordable to visit, and there’s an ice cream shop [Main Street Coffee & Ice Cream] right across the street, so you can spend a couple of hours at the museum and then grab ice cream – it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.”
Looking for an artsy attraction in downtown Rutherfordton? Just down the road from the museum and ice cream parlor is the Rutherford County Visual Arts Center, where more than 200 local artists’ works are on display and available for purchase.
“Downtown Rutherfordton is very charming and cozy,” Yelton says. “You feel a city vibe because it’s so walkable, but the buildings are not overwhelming, and there’s not the typical hustle and bustle you’ll find in larger communities. It’s a place to just relax and get away.”
When it comes to recreation, Yelton recommends checking out the Cleghorn Gun
Club, a 15-station clay-pigeon shooting range that’s open to experienced and novice shooters alike.
“It’s beautiful and brand new, and all of the equipment is top-of-the-line,” Yelton says. “There’s a trainer on site, so if there’s someone who doesn’t know how to shoot, there’s someone there to teach them.”
Another favorite Rutherfordton activity is horseback riding at Riverside Riding Stables. Guests can opt for one-hour guided trail rides or two-hour river rides, and children ages 2-6 can enjoy parent-led pony rides across the property.
“Our tourism continues to grow,” Yelton says. “Our county tagline is ‘Small-Town Friendly,’ and you’ll definitely feel that here.”
– Jessica Walker Boehm