1. The Beginning: In a Hurry
  2. Years of Powerful Growth
  3. The Way of the Future

From the beginning, from the very moment it became an idea, North Wilkesboro was a plan. The Finleys and Blairs provided the land, over 1,000 acres. An investor from Greensboro, Willard Franklin Trogdon, had the land surveyed, laid out lots and streets and roads, graded some of the streets, built bridges, and erected some key buildings. Business leaders came to see and they stayed. There was an auction to sell town lots. It wasn't long until the planners got the state legislature to pass an act of incorporation and on March 4, 1891 the Town of North Wilkesboro was officially formed.

The Railroad Company cooperated. Their contract called for them to bring a train to within a mile of the county courthouse. County government leaders expected the train to come directly from the east, but from Winston-Salem it curved north with the Yadkin River and never crossed the river, so it arrived here from the northeast. The very beginning of the town, thus, was when the first steam locomotive chugged to a stop at the foot of the hill, where a little wooden station was built on the future Cherry Street. That put the end-of-the line depot in the middle of A. W. Finley's farm field, and Mr. Finley was a leading developer until his death in 1889. Mr. Trogdon's development company, the Winston Land and Improvement Company, bought the farm, and later Trogdon was the town's most enthusiastic economic development director. He helped organize the American Home Mineral and Timber Land Company, he financed other businesses and residential buildings, he started a bank, and he even launched a newspaper. The Finleys also had formed a bank.

J. R. Finley wrote decades later that the first store opened on January 16, 1890, where later Forest Furniture Company grew and thrived, now close to Melody Square on 6th Street. In February 1890, W. M. Absher opened a store across the street. The developers persuaded C. C. Smoot & Sons to build a tannery plant, the largest of its sort in the South.

These new businesses needed workers. Many workers came from across the river in Wilkesboro. Others came from rural settlements in all directions. Then they began to build new homes. The railroad employees used Captain E. S. Blair's home as their base. It was near the present-day Carolina Business Machines store on Main Street.

The land sold well, and the train began regular service to the end of the line. The train station was first called Gordon due to the status of the Gordon family as early settlers and landowners. One of their descendants even became a beloved Confederate general. Charles Gordon, great-grandfather of the general, had cleared the land in 1770. The town was also called briefly, New Wilkesboro, before own leaders settled on North Wilkesboro. One of A. W. Finley's sons, Thomas B., had earlier proposed his own development plan in the same area for a community he intended to call Finleysville. Mr. Trogdon became president of his bank and president of a savings and loan institution, a town commissioner, and mayor, a county commissioner and chairman of the county board. He found time to build a fine home on D Street, the street he first intended to be the town's main street. In the process of all this, he and the Finleys relationship had cooled.

The telling moment in the start of the town of North Wilkesboro was when the first railroad car rolled into the place and launched a boom, chiefly because of the rail connection. On August 30, 1890, Colonel A. B. Andrews, the vice president of the Richmond-Danville Railroad Company, who had served with General Gordon in the late war, looked out from his private railroad car over the river bottomland, and surely liked what he saw. To the north, a pleasant house rose atop the hill. In the other direction, he could see the steeple of a church on the hilltop across the river. Along came Rufus Colvard, chairman of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners. They sat in Andrews' private railroad car and signed the documents that sealed the new town's creation. One of the documents was a $100,000 bond that was voted on by Wilkes County as a grant to the Railroad Company in exchange for railroad stock. As it happened, the Richard-Danville Railroad Company shortly afterwards became bankrupt and the county never received a return on its investment, except the presence of a rail connection to the outside world. 

The railroad eventually was taken over by the Southern Railway Company. J. R. Finley wrote in 1940: "The beginning actually occurred when documents were signed in a railroad car standing near the present depot." (J. R. Finley, town 50th anniversary chairman, 1940)

The Finley farm had around 18 residents. By the end of that first year, 1890, the town had 48 people and more than 10 miles of streets were graded. By 1900, there were 900 residents.

"In June, 1890, I came to Wilkes County by team, prospecting for a site on which to build a town," wrote Mr. Trogdon in his family history. "A railroad was then being built along up the north side of the Yadkin River from Winston to a point one mile north of Wilkesboro, on the opposite side of the river. I immediately began negotiations for the purchase of the farms at and near the proposed terminus of this, Wilkes County's only railroad. During the summer and fall of 1890, G. W. Hinshaw and I secured $125,000 worth of subscriptions to the capital stock of the corporation, which Mr. Hinshaw had chartered under the name of the Winston Land and Improvement Company. On November 30, 1890, the Winston Land and Improvement Company was organized by the election of a board of directors, who elected Mr. Hinshaw president and W. F. Trogdon secretary and treasurer, for the purpose of completing purchases of the above farm lands and building thereon a town.

"The company spent more than $200,000 in the work of a staff of engineers in surveying and laying out the land into streets and blocks, in establishing grades of streets, grading ten miles of highway, building bridges, and erecting the first structures of the new town. The first lot was sold January 10, 1891, and the first general lot auction sale was held December 4, 1891. The town was incorporated and a post office was established in September 1891. The railroad was completed to North Wilkesboro in August, 1890."

Judge Johnson J. Hayes in The Land of Wilkes wrote of this beginning (page 185): "An industrial boom started before the railroad was finished. Elaborate plans for a city were wisely undertaken."