Traveling to places new to me and meeting people will never get old. Having conversations with complete strangers who obviously love their community is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts about writing this blog.
This week I traveled to the town of Concord. Founded in 1796 as the county seat of the newly formed Cabarrus County, a compromise had been reached to pick the location so it was fitting for the city’s name to mean “harmony.”
As with many towns in this part of North Carolina, its economy was largely based on textile mills. The railroad came in the 1850s and that helped secure Concord’s status and future. The first mill opened in 1839 and many followed. J. M. Odell and J.W. Cannon would soon become the town’s textile magnates. By 1900 the town had a population of 8,000 and growing. Manufacturing is still an economic giant in Concord today.
As a history nerd it is easy for me to get lost amongst the architecture and town history so my next stop was the home of the Cabarrus Arts Council and Historic Cabarrus, Inc. I can’t help it that they happen to be located in the 1876 county courthouse… Such a beautiful building!
Today it houses offices for the two organizations plus an art gallery and the Davis Theatre, which hosts musical acts throughout the year. The current art exhibit, featuring eight artists, is “Finding Solitude” and runs through October 21st. The gallery does have the advantage of being located in an architecturally beautiful building but even if the exhibit was located somewhere else it would still be just as wonderful.
My eyes are always drawn towards oil paintings and there were quite a few pieces in this exhibition. My favorites by far were by Chrys Riviere-Blalock. In her artist statement she talks about how she wants “to put the viewer ‘in’ the space” and you can easily feel that as you view her paintings.
After spending quite a while gazing upon such beautiful artwork I walked back up Union Street (downtown Concord’s main drag) to check out Villiani’s Bakery. Owned and operated by Amanda and Paul Villani it has only been open for about 16 months but has quickly become a town favorite. The Villanis used to bake solely for restaurants but decided they wanted to have a retail store in order to expand their offerings. The day I visited the cases were filled with bread, cakes, cheesecakes, pastries, cookies, and macaroons- everything is made fresh in house. They also offer espresso coffee drinks. I confessed to Amanda that I had never tried a macaroon so she recommended an orange creamsicle one and a blackberry one. I was quite delighted with them and am already planning to go back to try other flavors. One of their specialties is making cereal macaroons and there last batch was Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles! As for the coffee I give my small mocha a five out of five coffee beans. Delicious!
Re-energized with coffee and sugar my final stop was the 3-acre Memorial Garden, which is only a block over from Union Street. The land was originally purchased in 1804 by the First Presbyterian Church for its sanctuary, but when the building was moved in 1874 it became the church cemetery. It became neglected and in 1931 Sally Phifer Williamson restored it as a memorial to her mother. Today it is easily one of the best hidden gems of the Piedmont area.
What makes the cemetery so unique is that it doesn’t feel like a cemetery. It feels much more like a botanical garden that happens to have headstones in it. The variety of plants is in the 100s and they are tucked amongst fountains and sculptures and a stone walkway. I can’t wait to come back in the spring!
Concord is such a beautiful town and I look forward to coming back for many more visits. As always, I only scratched the surface!