Tar Heel Trek: Stokes County

Located on the Virginia-North Carolina border, directly above Forsyth County, is Stokes County, the next stop on our Tar Heel Trek. Historically, Stokes is best known for tobacco production and stringband music. More recently, it is getting attention for being the home of baseball standout Dustin Ackley. However, as a Stokes County native, I feel like some of the lesser known features need a light shined on them.

When I went to college, I made friends with a guy who was training to be a boxer.  A big part of that training meant he was trying to take in over 4000 calories a day – twice as much as a normal diet. When my fighter friend learned I had grown up in Stokes County, he had one thing to say: take me to Hillbilly Hideaway. The appeal was twofold – not only is the food at the Hideaway extremely good, but every meal they serve is all-you-can-eat. Guests are served ‘family style’ – which means unlimited bowls of cinnamon apples, pinto beans, green beans, creamed potatoes, corn, and slaw are placed in the middle of the table. You help yourself. Some nights, they might even include chicken gravy. Other than those sides, fried chicken, country ham, biscuits, and cornbread (not either/or for any of those, all of them) are served. Depending on the day of the week, you’ll also get fried fish, BBQ spare ribs, or homemade meatloaf. Breakfast works the same way, except with eggs, biscuits, bacon, sausage, ham, tenderloin, two types of gravy, apples, hashbrowns, and Moravian sugar cake.

The place lives up to its name too. Think more log cabin with rocking chairs on the porch than fine dining. Notice the signed photo of Billy Ray Cyrus, circa 1992, when walking in the door. After dinner on a Saturday, go down to the building next door to hear a country & western band play. Hillbilly Hideaway is definitely hidden too – located  in a corner on Pine Hall Road, which is for all intents and purposes a side road off of a back road.  It may lack sophistication, but the food and music are as good as can be found anywhere else in the Triad.

North of Hillbilly Hideaway, one can take in a day at Hanging Rock State Park – the best hiking and mountain trails in the Piedmont. During the fall, go for great views of leaves changing the Sauratown Mountains and even into Winston-Salem on clear days. In the summer, go to play in the waterfalls and swim in the mountain lake. Spring is perfect for long hikes up to Tories Den, a cave deep in the mountains where British loyalists hid during the Revolutionary War.

By far, the most important piece of literature associated with Stokes County is White Christmas, Bloody Christmas, M. Bruce Jones & Trudy J. Smith’s in depth look at the Lawson family murders of 1929. The story, with many parts still remaining a mystery today, takes place in Germanton, North Carolina, where Charlies Lawson killed

White Christmas, Bloody Christmas

six of his children, his wife, and finally himself on Christmas day.

It caused such a national sensation that John Dillinger was rumored to have shown up to the funeral and the Carolina Buddies had a hit record with their  1930 ballad, “The Murder of the Lawson Family.” Here’s a recording of Doc Watson performing the song, and here’s a version by the Stanley Brothers that includes an interesting, though slightly incorrect, introduction. Recently, a documentary, “A Christmas Family Tragedy,” was produced on the events, and profiled by Frank Stasio on WUNC’s The State of Things.

And that is just a little bit about the place! If you’re curious about any of these things, as well as anything else to do in Stokes County, just ask in the comments and I’ll gladly fill you in.

– Matt