Blue Ridge Mountain Home
Nestled along miles of scenic lakeshore in the Catawba River Valley and against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains are the lovely communities of Hickory and Morganton, North Carolina. Although the landscape is stunning, more than natural endowments make these cities shine. According to Money magazine, the overall quality of life here makes it one of the best places to live on the East Coast. Citing the area's strong economy, excellent schools, low crime rate, and general livability, Reader's Digest named it the second best place in America to raise a family. This area is known as the furniture center of the country, and indeed more than 60% of the nation's furniture is produced within 200 miles of Hickory and Morganton.
The pinewoods and picturesque Catawba River provide plenty of natural beauty as well as a variety of opportunities for enjoying the outdoors.
Hiking in the Pisgah National Forest among the Blue Ridge foothills is a popular after-work alternative to happy hour. Bring along a fishing rod or a camera- there are many chances to use each in these lush surroundings. Several challenging golf courses are also in the area, so golf enthusiasts can play a fast nine before or after work or a more leisurely round on weekends.
Although furniture is big business in Hickory and Morganton, it is only part of a thriving, diverse economy. The area is growing, and the cost of living is quite affordable. The metro area of small towns scattered among the pinewoods contains hundreds of thousands of residents and a broad range of cultural attractions, from bluegrass and rockabilly music to museums with 19th-century masterpieces. Explore downtown Hickory, with the quaint little antique and clothing shops that surround park-like Union Square. In Morganton, enjoy some of the best bass fishing in the state along the Catawba River.
When locals desire a more metropolitan ambiance, there are the mid-size cities of Charlotte, about 50 miles south, and Winston-Salem, 90 miles to the east.
Hickory, NC At-A-Glance
Avg. July high: 88
Avg. January low: 31
Avg. Annual Precipitation: 41
Avg. Annual Snowfall: 5
Closest Big City: 51 miles to Charlotte
Health Care: 4 hospitals with 1,543 beds
Cost of Living: 7% below the national average
Housing Costs: 130,000
Hickory and Morganton enjoy a varied, four-season climate, thanks to the area's geography. Here, the Piedmont Plateau gives way to the Blue Ridge Mountains. This Appalachian range shields the area from the cold winter air masses spilling off the Great Plains, resulting in mild winters with a January average low of 26 degrees. In summer, the altitude makes the area cooler and less humid than most of the state.
North Carolina has the greatest range of altitude of any state east of the Mississippi River, from Atlantic coastal marshes to the highest point in the Eastern United States.
The Hickory-Morganton area exemplifies this splendid topography.
Summers here are pleasant, with temperatures averaging in the 70s. The region has 217 sunny days annually. The average annual precipitation of 41 inches is fairly evenly spread throughout the year. The largest share falls in July, well timed to cool off the warmest days, when the mercury creeps into the high 80s. Although brief and mild, there are still authentic winters with about nine inches of snowfall turning Hickory and Morganton into a Southern winter wonderland.
Art & Culture
Money magazine named Hickory-Morganton as one of the nation's best places to live based on its overall quality of life. Reader's Digest ranked the towns second among the country's best places to raise a family.
The Hickory-Morganton region has a rich history of arts and culture. Long a creative center for country, bluegrass, and rockabilly music, the area was home to such legends as Homer Lee, " Pappy" Sherrill, and the Blue Sky Boys. Local clubs continue to draw fine talent in these genres.
Along with the area's fine art and craft galleries, art lovers will want to visit the Hickory Museum of Art. It is the second-oldest museum in North Carolina and is well known for its collection of 19th- and 20th-century American art. Another surefire winner is the Catawba Science Center, which provides children with hours of hands-on fun. This museum offers guided and self-guided tours through its three floors of permanent, temporary, and traveling exhibits.
For a sense of the area's rich tradition of arts and crafts, don't miss the annual Historic Morganton Festival, held under the spreading hardwoods on the city's picturesque downtown streets. More than 400 local artisans and collectors display handcrafted furniture, sculpture, paintings, and fine examples of basket-making.
People interested in a more intimate setting for their shopping and dining experience should visit downtown Hickory and Union Square, a park-like setting in the heart of the city. Craft galleries, fine jewelry stores, boutiques, and clothing stores line the streets. Refreshments are available at a variety of restaurants, including German, Italian, and Chinese eating establishments.
After lunch, stroll through the Ivey Arboretum. And in the evening, catch a play at the Hickory Community Theatre located in historic Old Hickory City Hall.
A diverse playground awaits sport and outdoor enthusiasts in Hickory and Morganton. Thanks to the mild climate, people can enjoy outdoor activities the entire year. The area has more than 30 local parks with the full range of field and aquatic activities. The Morganton and Hickory recreation departments provide plenty to do for the entire family.
Youngsters can skateboard or in-line skate at the skate park, while the elderly can take advantage of a variety of senior-oriented programs.
At the Ice Castle Skating Rink, the only ice rink in the area, residents can become figure skaters or simply have fun on one of many public sessions. One of the most popular events is the annual Riverfest held at the Catawba River Greenway. Every May, hundreds of participants compete in numerous events.
In neighboring Pisgah and Cherokee national forests, nature lovers will find thousands of square miles of pristine land, including a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The area offers an extensive network of additional trails and plenty of campsites. Make the most of the short winter season by strapping on your cross-country skis or snowshoes.
For people who have dreamed of catching a 40-pound fish, this is the place to pull it off. Legendary striped bass abound in the waters of Lake James, Rhodiss Lake, and Lookout Shoals Lake. For serious anglers, Lake Hickory hosts bass tournaments March through October.
The area offers hundreds of miles of secluded shoreline from which to cast favorite lures.
One of the area's more popular sports venues is the NASCAR-sanctioned Hickory Motor Speedway. Here, residents can listen to the engines roar and watch the speediest vehicles racing around a wild track. Many NASCAR racing legends got their start here, including Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett.
The national pastime is taken seriously in Hickory. At L.P. Frans Stadium, residents can take a nostalgic step back into the past by watching a Hickory Crawdads baseball game. This minor league team has been drawing record crowds. Plenty more spectator sports can be enjoyed less than an hour away in Charlotte. The NFL's Carolina Panthers play there, as do and the WNBA's Sting and the NBA's Hornets. Plenty of collegiate action also takes place in Charlotte, at the University of North Carolina, from softball and baseball to tennis, football, and basketball.
Locals will find thousands of miles of pristine land for hiking and camping in neighboring Pisgah and Cherokee National forests.
Burke County School District and Hickory City Schools together employ close to 1,500 teachers and serve close to 20,000 students. Hickory High School offers all the usual academic programs, plus one not found in most high schools.
The furniture program consists of three classes for students interested in learning how to design and construct furniture.
The Frye School, a joint venture of the school district and the Frye Regional Medical Center, works with students in crisis on a short-term basis. Morganton's Freedom High School on the banks of the Catawba River has more than 2,000 students and more than 100 teachers.
Hickory and Morganton residents wishing to continue their education can choose among three local colleges. Lenoir-Rhyne College is a century-old liberal arts institution that is affiliated with the North Carolina Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The four-year college enrolls more than 1,500 students in 40 undergraduate programs and several master's degree programs, including business, counseling, and education.
Catawba Valley Community College serves tens of thousands of students in collegiate level curricula and in continuing education classes. Western Piedmont Community College is a two-year school offering courses in natural science, engineering; health sciences, business technologies, and humanities.
Housing & Cost of Living
The unemployment rate in this area has fallen recently and is now on par with the national average.
The Hickory-Morganton region provides inexpensive housing in a strong economic climate. A single family home in Hickory costs $187,000, and in Morganton the average price remains well below the national average at $139,000. Quite a few homes are available for even less, and newcomers won't have trouble finding plenty of options for less than $150,000. Although the average home price is quite low, word has gotten out, and this is becoming an increasingly desirable place.
Morganton's cost of living tends to fall below Hickory's , but both are below the national average.
Utility costs are also lower on average here than in the rest of the country. Child care in Hickory and Burke counties is inexpensive as well.
Yearly infant care at an accredited center costs less than $7,250, and preschooler and toddler care ranges anywhere from $4,250 to $5,200.
Rentals are also cheap in these spots. Monthly payments average just about $500. Combined with low prices for housing and general goods, it all adds up to a very affordable cost of living.
Crime & Safety
The overall crime rates for both Hickory and Morganton are above the national average. However, the violent crime rates are fairly low in Hickory and well below the national average in Morganton.
The Morganton Public Safety Department employs close to 100 officers.
Hickory's slightly larger police force is a strong proponent of community policing as a way to keep neighborhoods safe.
Officers work proactively with the residents through educational programs in order to prevent crime. The department is a leader among area law enforcement agencies, providing expertise to eight other area departments.
Earning a Living
This area in North Carolina is known as the nation's furniture manufacturing capital...
Hickory and Morganton are in the center of an industrialized area that is known across the country as the major furniture manufacturing nucleus. The area is home to numerous furniture companies and a work force of expert craftspeople. Some of the more widely recognized companies include Henredon, Drexel-Heritage, Broyhill, Century, and Bernhardt.
Recently, traditional industries such as furniture, textiles, and dairies have been joined by high-technology industries such as fiber optics, telecommunications, and cable companies. Manufacturers of antilock brakes, medical appliances, and lithium batteries are also growing in prominence.
Alcatel, with headquarters in Hickory, is the world's largest manufacturer of telecommunications cable products and the second-largest telephone equipment company. Siecor Corporation, the world's largest independent manufacturer of fiber optic cables, is also located in the city. The state of North Carolina is another big employer in the area, with a number of schools, correctional facilities, and hospitals located in and around the cities of Hickory and Morganton.
The economy in the region is one of the most prosperous in the state. Catawba County incomes are in the top quarter in the country- just a couple more reasons for considering Hickory and Morganton as places to live.
Some of the finest medical care in the state is available to residents in the Hickory-Morganton area. The region is home to several hospitals, including Broughton Hospital and Grace Hospital in Morganton, and the Catawba Valley Medical Center and Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory. Grace Hospital provides area residents with specialists in cardiology, neurology, pediatrics, and obstetrics.
Inpatient services include private rooms, family-centered maternity care, rehabilitation, and nutritional assistance.
Broughton Hospital is a full-service mental health facility operated by the State of North Carolina. Catawba Valley Medical Center and Frye Regional Medical Center are both large acute care facilities.
Departments include newborn intensive care, cardiac, and neurological surgery, physical rehabilitation, and mental health services.
Seniors in the two towns have access to close to two dozen accredited nursing homes that offer the full gamut of care, including assisted living care.