Loafer’s Glory, or happiness in the hills

I want to go back to Loafer’s Glory and have another cup of coffee in the small diner there, look out the windows at the wooded hills, maybe while away some time “just sittin,” as the mountain folk say. Watch the play of light and shadow on the mountains and perhaps discreetly observe the people as they come and go.

Thomas James Martin, 2001

In my last post, I mentioned a messy box of roll film I found, previously overlooked, in the stacks. As dirty and jumbled as the box was, I assumed it would be filled with, shall we say, less-than-premium examples of Hugh Morton’s work. I was (at least partially) wrong. Among the many rolls of the Morton sons’ high school basketball games I found shots of Terry Sanford’s 1961 inauguration as NC Governor, Kerr Scott at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, and Billy Graham preaching at “Singing on the Mountain” in 1962, among other high-quality scenes.

I also found an intriguing roll of 120 film depicting a North Carolina destination with which I was unfamiliar — a very small community in the NC mountains called “Loafer’s Glory.” To quote Mr. Martin again, “Loafer’s Glory is a wide place in the road in the mountains of western North Carolina. At last count less than a hundred souls live in the community, but at least there is a caution light marking the spot on NC Highway 226 where it it intersects NC 80 of this ‘gloriously’ named town near the Tennessee border perhaps 50 or 60 miles west of Asheville.” (Be sure to read the entirety of Martin’s lovely article on the importance of taking time to “loaf”).

According to a resource on Mitchell County Place Names, Loafer’s Glory “is probably Mitchell County’s most famous named place. Located at the bend of the river about three miles north of Bakersville, Loafer’s Glory was reputedly coined by the women of the community, who took a dim view of the men’s habit of ‘lollygagging’ on the porch of the community soter, rather than working.”

Hugh Morton appears to have visited the community sometime in the 1950s-early 1960s, on his way to or back from a “hillbilly festival” taking place in the middle of the road (the two shots below are on the same roll of film as the Loafer’s Glory images). The road signs for highways 64 and 28 in the bottom image would indicate a location of Highlands, NC, which then leads me to the distinct possibility that these are shots of “Highlands Hillbilly Days.”

According to Anthony Harkins’ Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, the Hillbilly Days were held each August between 1951 and at least 1957 — “participants dressed as hillbillies and participated in beauty contests, as well as the more traditional pursuits of wood chopping, square dancing, and ballad-singing” (263).

Can anyone verify this? Is this, in fact, “Highlands Hillbilly Days”? And, have you ever loafed in Loafer’s Glory?

22 thoughts on “Loafer’s Glory, or happiness in the hills”

  1. Longtime Hugh Morton friend Charles Kuralt mentions “Loafers Glory” in his presentation “North Carolina is My Home.”
    “I know a crossroads named Loafer’s (sic) Glory
    Oh, how I’d love to know that story!
    To have met the loafers, to have known their faces,
    To know all the stories of the Tar Heel Places…”
    The passage can be found on page 66 of “North Carolina is My Home: Commemorative Edition” (1998).

  2. Ran Shaffner’s “Heart of the Blue Ridge: Highlands, North Carolina” dates Hillbilly Day from 1952 to 1957. “Everyone who came to town on the first day of August had to dress hillbilly style as depicted in the movies…” (Life imitating art imitating life?)
    “It blossomed into a proud Highlands tradition [until] the amount of drinking became excessive…. Some individuals were throwing propriety to the wind in their eagerness to draw laughter.”
    There’s a photo from the first Hillbilly Day on page 521, but it’s not attributed to Morton.

  3. Loafer’s Glory is in Mitchell County, about 2 miles southeast of Bakersville, NC. It is nowhere near Highlands, and the other photos above are not from Loafer’s Glory or anywhere in Mitchell County.
    The small diner is still a big part of the community (and you can get a great milkshake there). The bench in the photo is, sadly, no more, but the small brick building it is in front of is still standing (and is now hosting a river kayaking company).

    1. David: Just to clarify, the photographs in this post are from two locations: Loafers Glory (Mitchell County) and Highlands (Macon County). There are other locations located on the same roll of film that are not mentioned in this post, such as the Cowee Gap sign between Highlands and Cashiers on the Macon-Jackson County line.

  4. My Grandfather Harry E. Johnson had family that had aunts and uncles that lived in Loafers Glory. We visited there 30 years ago. My grandfather and his Brother-in law would go up there and “loafer”. My mom also remembers seeing the one little store and a galvanized tub that was full of buttons sittin on a stove. oh the glory of Loafers Glory.

  5. @Mark Johnson: “a galvanized tub that was full of buttons sittin on a stove” — I love that mental image! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I am the present owner of the Old Masters Mill in Loafers Glory, Hwy 226, Bakersville, N.C. I would to have any info or pictures regarding the history of the Mill. We have restored the building as a second home and take pride that we may have saved the old building.
    Any stories would be most welcome. Diane

  7. Same Diane who is the present owner of the Old Masters Mill in Loafer’s Glory. Note change of email address. Old email address no longer exists.

  8. Hey Diane, my wife and I were just talking about that old mill. I was born and raised in the area (Slagle Pottery). Since joining the Navy I’m not currently living there, but I had always been captured by that huge mill. I used to go with my mom to the General Store that was in the Kayak building now, and still swear by Bonnie & Clyde burgers. Take care, I love that little community.

  9. It used to be that you could buy them at the fabric/sewing shop there across the road from Bonnie and Clyde’s (The old General Store). Though, since someone took it over and converted it into a Rafting Rental I haven’t been in there to see if they still sell those t-shirts or not. Next time I’m through there within the next week I’ll try and stop by there.

  10. my name is luis i have a small home on hwy 80//226 love it i set some time in town think about past times long ago I live in charlotte but go back a lot the store has t shirts talk to anthane

  11. My family moved to Bakersville in 1980.
    We were “City slickers” from Los Angeles and my dad was looking for a location to open a small sandwich/pizza shop.
    We moved into the old Bonnie and Clyde’s diner in Loafers Glory.
    The place was named, “The Glorious Loaf” and only was in business foe a little over a year.
    my 2 brothers and I would go fishing in the creek across the road.
    I remember the old mill and the general store run by Fred and Iris Garland.
    Anyone remember Loafers Glory from those days?

  12. We are the present owners of the Old Masters Mill in Bakersville. In the 17 years that we have had the Mill as our vacation home, we have maintained the creek right beside the Mill. It is probably the most photographed place in Bakersville. Even photographed by Southern Living. To the point, following the heavy rains around Memorial Day the creek rose and deposited huge rafts of trash in the creek. Lodged in place by large logs. We are aging and no way will we be able to clean up that creek on our own. If anyone knows where we can get volunteer help to do the job, we would be eternally grateful.

    1. Hello,

      Odd question…Was there ever anything strange when you stayed there? I love this place. My family and I have vacationed in this Mill House. I just have had some strange things happen while staying there. I’m fascinated. I’d love to know more history on it. Thank you.

  13. My wife and I bought a house on Roses Branch Road from Holt Whitson about 10 years ago. Holt’s brother was our next door neighbor. They were both preachers. Our family would often eat at the little diner that was in Loafers Glory. Man those burgers were delicious. My wife did not like the winters up there and wanted to move back to Florida. I have a friend that lives up there just out of Bakersville. His name is Herbert Davis, we worked on the CSX RR back in the day. I miss living up there. Some of the best people I ever met and real friendly. I have one of the Loafers Glory tags that they sold up there and have it on my gate down here. That is a beautiful piece of country up there. My wife passed away 12/06/2014, so I guess it was better for us that we moved back to Fla. She had a major stroke back in 02/06/10 and had to be placed in a nursing home.

  14. I still wear a 20 something tee shirt and love to have people ask if there is such a place. Should have bought more when I had the chance.

  15. There’s also a spot, though not a community, in Bryson City (Swain County, NC) which was once known as Loafers Glory. Located on the town square across from the courthouse, it was where old-timers gathered to swap knives and lies, play checkers, offer opinions on local goings-on, criticize Bible-thumpers when they showed up to do some street preaching on Saturday, and relive their past. It was shaded by several lofty hemlock trees.

    Now long gone, Loafers Glory also had another, somewhat off-color name. It was frequently referred to as Dead Pecker Corner. I devote a chapter to “The Lords of Loafer’s Glory” to a book of mine, “A Smokies Boyhood,” which will be out from the University of Tennessee Press this fall.

    Jim Casada

    Jim Casada

  16. I have been going through old photos from my grandmother who grew up in Bakersville. I have a picture of the class from Loafers Glory School. I also have Garlands and Whitsons in my family tree along with Anderson’s, Youngs, Parkers, Bowmans. Would love to share stories.

  17. Would like to have any pictures from the Loafer’s Glory Cemetary located on the hill behind Bonnie and Clyde’s Restaurant. My Great Great Grandfather, Malcolm McCourry “Mack” Burleson is buried there.
    Would also like to have any pictures of the old Burleson Homestead from 1850-60 which las located in Loafer’s Glory

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