Think Hickory, think furniture

Crawdads' home also known as birthplace of NASCAR

February 27, 2006 2:32 PM

Hickory, N.C., originally was called Hickory Tavern because of a popular log tavern built in the mid-19th Century. So years later, it is fitting that there are few better places in the country to find better woodwork.

"When most people think of Hickory, they think of furniture," Hickory Crawdads general manager David Haas said. "People fly in from all over the country to buy furniture."

Hickory is referred to as the unofficial furniture capital of the world, and the furniture goes much deeper than wooden bats that belong to the Crawdads. A billion dollar furniture retail industry attracts many to the region, as does Hickory's small town atmosphere. Approximately 60 percent of the furniture manufactured in the United States is produced within a 200-mile radius of Hickory, which is 50 miles from Charlotte.

Hickory has a 20-mile corridor of furniture outlets along U.S. Highway 321. There is also the huge Hickory Furniture Mart complex and the Catawba Furniture Mall houses more than eight acres of furniture.

It has made Hickory into an attractive place to live and watch baseball. In 1997, Hickory was named "One of the 10 Best Places to Live" by Reader's Digest. While the community has a modest population of some 40,000, it boasts a range of interesting sites for visitors and residents. The Crawdads, in particular, have been one of the top draws for sports fans since 1993.

"The Crawdads are a big deal simply because of our market," Haas said. "We don't have any major college sports or an ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) team here. A lot of cities will have Arena Football or soccer or something else. But in Hickory, we're the only professional sports team in the area."

L.P. Frans Stadium hosts 70 South Atlantic League games a year and is a comfortable spot to watch a game, with amenities including an outdoor cafe with patio seating and a playground. It was one of the first parks with a working carousel, sparking a trend that has taken off in Minor League Baseball.

Solid talent has come through Hickory on the way to the Majors, including Magglio Ordonez, Jason Bere and Carlos Lee, who played in the Chicago White Sox organization in the 1990s. Since the Crawdads became the Pirates' Class A affiliate in 1999, Jason Simontacchi, Brad Eldred and Zach Duke have played at L.P. Frans Stadium.

If it's a need for speed, sports fans can find the birthplace of NASCAR at Hickory Motor Speedway. The famed track is emblazoned with the words "history, tradition and mystique" at its entrance. "The World's Most Famous Short Track" has hosted races since 1951 and was a starting ground for many of the sport's greatest drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, "The Intimidator," who hailed from Kannapolis, N.C.

"The big boys started here: Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, David Pearson," Haas said. "It was one of the earliest sanctioned NASCAR tracks and they call it the birthplace of NASCAR. NASCAR has just gotten so big now that it's easy to forget that."

The culturally inclined can find an array of choices in the Hickory area. The Hickory Museum of Art was founded in 1944 and is the second-oldest art museum in North Carolina, featuring more than 1,200 works and hosting traveling exhibitions, art classes, workshops, tours and lectures. Hickory Public Library was named one of the five best in the nation by Gale Research and Library Journal in 1998. For golfers, there is the Rock Barn Golf & Spa that also hosts The Hickory Classic, an event on the PGA Champions Tour.

A history dating back to the 1880s can be found at two spots on the National Register of Historic Places. Maple Grove is a 19th Century residence that operates as a museum. Propst House is a three-story Victorian gem that inspired the founding of the Hickory Landmarks Society.

There also are a number of ways to get back to nature in the vicinity of Hickory, which is located in the western part of the state. Linville Gorge in nearby Caldwell and Burke counties was designated a wilderness area in 1951 and encompasses nearly 11,000 acres. The scenery at Wilson Creek includes fast-moving mountain streams along with areas to swim, canoe, fish, camp or hike. Bakers Mountain Park features 189 acres of mature chestnut oak forest with nearly six miles of trails to explore. Much like the rest of Hickory, it's another place to see quality woodwork.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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