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Washburn General Store N.C.'s oldest general store still going strong

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Photo by Casee Freshour

If you want to see what a community dry goods and hardware store looked like 100 or more years ago, then you need to hop in your car and head for Washburn General Store near Bostic in Rutherford County.

Washburn General Store is the oldest, continuously operating, family owned, retail business in North Carolina.

It was first established in 1831 as a tavern on the Lincoln-Rutherford counties stagecoach line by Benjamin Washburn, and has been handed down through brothers and sons to his current owner great-great nephew Edward Nollie Washburn III.

The National Department of the Interior inducted the General Store, the family mansion, a classic wooden barn built in 1915, and several other buildings as a historic district in 2002. The other structures include several rental houses, a funeral home, a 1915 powerhouse, and a pump house.

The Washburn family mansion-house located across the street from the store has a twin in Belmont, the Albert Hand House at 211 N. Main Street, that was built in 1907. In 1914, Nollie Washburn traveled to Belmont and bought a copy of the Hand House blueprints for two dollars. A Washburn ledger reveals that it cost $8,005 to build the house. Materials for the massive Tuscan columns on the front porch cost $240. Slate for the roof set Washburn back $226 and maple flooring another $117.

The store's present location opened in the late 1920s. It's the fourth building the business has been in.

The Store's original building actually stood on the other side of the Washburn's Crossroads to its current home. It began as a tavern, inn, and mercantile store that served stagecoaches traveling between Rutherford and Lincoln counties.

Today, Washburn General Store operates as a business, local hangout, and tourist attraction- pretty much in that order. Want some lunch at Washburn? Grab a can of beanie weenies or make your own sandwich from cold cuts and loaf bread. Grab a slice of hoop cheese. Wash down the eats with a cold, bottled Blenheim ginger ale or Cheerwine. As you partake of your Southern style plowman's lunch, let your eyes also feast on the multitudinous amount of old timey "stuff" available for sale at Washburn. Here's a partial list- Aladdin oil lamps and lanterns, aluminum wash tubs, butter churns, pottery, kraut crocks, cast iron pots and skillets, Amish molasses old time stick candy, pine tar soap, canning supplies, pecan pickers, local sourwood honey, all types of jams and jellies, Radio Flyer wagons, Troutman rocking chairs, old time ice cream churns, wood stoves, hand made afghans, and canning supplies. Need a new pair of overalls? Washburn sells Pointer brand in sizes small enough to fit a tot or big enough to serve as Omar's tent.

Other fascinating features of Washburn Store include a 3,800-pound safe, a reminder that Edgar Nollie Washburn was once president of the First State Bank of Bostic. Legend has it that during the Great Depression, Edgar went to the Federal Reserve in Charlotte and brought back two suitcases of cash to keep the bank open.

Store manager Casee Freshour explains the store's charm.

"They don't make stores like this any more," she said. "It brings back memories for a lot of people."

Washburn General Store has a broad following.

"People have come to the store from as far away as Germany, Australia, Switzerland, and Peru," Freshour said. "We have a log book where visitors can write their names and where they are from."

Patriarch Edward Washburn, 88, still works at the store in the afternoon and enjoys his time there.

"I love talking to the people who stop by," he said. "We plan to keep the store running for a long time."

Washburn General Store is a great place stop by on your way to the mountains or Lake Lure. It's a short trip that will form long lasting memories.

Washburn General Store is open every day but Sunday and Wednesday. Hours Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are 9am to 4:30pm and Saturday from 9am to 3pm. It's located at 2426 Bostic-Sunshine Highway. The phone is 828-245-4129.

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