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About the Project

About the Area

The scenic Upper Yadkin River in Caldwell and Wilkes counties winds for twenty-eight miles through a basin known locally as Happy Valley. This part of North Carolina is the place where the rolling hills of the Piedmont meet the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Happy Valley has been farmed since the 18th century and some descendants of early settlers still graze cattle and cultivate corn and hay. Residents maintain older traditions such as training and working draft animals, cultivating “heritage” vegetables and fruits, and constructing traditional barns and outbuildings.

Stories about historical events that occurred in the valley continue to be told. In 1780 the Over Mountain Men traveled the old road that is still visible in places along the Yadkin River. The community of Elkville was the home and base of operations to Daniel Boone during the years he explored Kentucky. Thomas Dula, who served with distinction in the Civil War, was accused in 1867 of murdering a neighbor, Laura Foster. Events surrounding this crime, and Dula’s subsequent trial and execution, live on the famous ballad “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley,” which is performed by singers from the region. In addition to musicians, Happy Valley is home to crafts artists, painters, and poets.

About the Project

The Historic Happy Valley project originated in 2004 when farmers and other valley residents contacted the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, to help achieve the following goals:

  • Preserve farmlands and open space;
  • Create new jobs and boost supplemental income through heritage and cultural tourism development;
  • Protect water quality of the Yadkin River;
  • Conserve cultural resources through documentation of folklife in the valley and the presentation of public programs.

Collaborations for Success

The involvement of other state agencies and non-profits allowed local partners involved in the Historic Happy Valley initiative to achieve results that would have been unlikely, or even impossible, otherwise. These collaborators included:

  • Greenway construction: Funding, administered through the Department of Transportation, was identified to complete construction of the initial two-mile section of a public multi-purpose river trail located within the headwaters of the Yadkin River Basin in Happy Valley. Funding was approved by DOT in June, 2008 and granted to the Yadkin River Heritage Corridor Partnership Project.
  • Farmland protection: The 142-acre Jones farm on the Yadkin River in Happy Valley is one of the most scenic viewsheds in the valley and the farm also preserves important historic and cultural resources. Part of the old road trace that comprises the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, as well as the Laura Foster gravesite, are located on the farm. In addition to functioning as a working farm, the site is used for heritage events that present the valley’s folklife traditions to the public including the Happy Valley Fiddler’s Convention, Plow Day and Mow Day. Through the Historic Happy Valley project, the Jones family partnered with the Foothills Conservancy to apply for funds needed to create a conservation easement on the farm.
  • Signage: Local project partners expressed a need for signage and mile markers along Highway 268 in Happy Valley for use by visitors looking for historic sites, arts venues and events. Grant funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission administered through the Department of Commerce, as well as support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the N.C. Arts Council supported the design, fabrication and installation of twenty-one mile markers crafted by a regional metalsmith.
  • Public Programs/Marketing: Recent grants made by N.C. Arts Council grants were used to plan and produce public programs, podcasts and events that present the living traditions of Happy Valley; create a Web site that includes maps, descriptions of sites and programs, an events calendar and artist profiles; and complete folklife fieldwork focusing upon the cultural traditions of African American communities in the valley.

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The North Carolina Arts Council is a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, a state agency.
Susan Kluttz, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor

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