Located in the southwestern tip North Carolina, Hayesville offers visitors small-town charm with its quirky festivals and traditions as well as cosmopolitan dining and historical significance as the beginning of the Trail of Tears.
"This is a very small retirement town; about 65 percent of the population is over 50," says Pam Roman, executive director of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce. "We have a blinking red light and a Dollar General. We're 30 minutes away from the nearest Walmart, but we have a five-star restaurant, The Copper Door."
Hayesville, once occupied almost entirely by Cherokee, was one of the first stops on the Trail of Tears.
In 1837, U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott was commissioned to round up Cherokee throughout the mountain region, detain them in improvised stockades and take them to the Oklahoma Territory, which had been set apart by the U.S. government as a reservation.
A stockade, called Fort Hembree, was constructed about a mile southwest of what is now Hayesville, and the Cherokee were there held until the Trail of Tears began in 1838.
• Landmarks/geographical features: Hayesville is nestled in the Hiwassee River basin and is set against a backdrop of the Tusquitee Mountains, which were called "Great Blue Hills of God" by the Cherokee. Nearby Lake Chatuge, which is actually a reservoir, has more than 130 miles of shoreline, much of which belongs to TVA.
• Things to do: Camping, golf, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and water sports. Rent jet skis from Chatuge Cove Marina, 2397 Highway 175, 828-389-6155.
"We have one of the best bicycling tracks in Jack Rabbit State Park. People from all over the world come to bike on these trails. It's right on the lake," says Roman.
BEST-KEPT SECRET: SHOPPING AND DINING
Fine dining and fine craft are found right on the square in Hayesville, says the chamber director.
• The Cooper Door Cafe: 950 Highway 64, 828-237-4030. A critically acclaimed restaurant with a wine selection that is continually ranked among the best in North Carolina. The restaurant received the Open Table Diner's Award in 2011, having been ranked in the top 100 of 12,000 restaurants nationwide, according to the chamber's website.
• Cottage Salad Station Market & Deli: 955 Highway 69, 929-389-8473. "If you want five-star restaurant quality, you'll find it at Copper Door. Cottage Deli is where the locals stop and eat," says Roman.
• Art Matters: Right on the town square is this co-op gallery run by a group of local artists and craftspeople. 828-389-0804.
• Goldhagen Studios: 7 Goldhagen Studio Road, 828-389-8847. Watch glassblower David Goldhagen at work or view his pieces in the gallery.
UNIQUE TOWN TRADITIONS
• New Year's Eve Possum Drop: Although the fun happens in nearby Brasstown, N.C., Roman says Hayesville claims the New Year's Eve party as well since many of the tourists will stay and dine there. A possum in a Plexiglas cage is suspended above Clay's Corner gas station, slowly lowered by pulley as the crowd counts down the last 10 seconds of 2012. Then the cage is opened and the possum released.
• Punkin' Chunkin': At this annual event the last weekend of October, participants make catapults that fling pumpkins. While air time is impressive, it's distance that crowns the winner.
• Dr. John Killian: Turn-of-the-century doctor for whom the Clay County Historical & Arts Council Museum is dedicated. Roman says the museum houses many of Killian's medical instruments.
• Clay Logan: Founder of the New Year's Eve Possum Drop.
• Rob Tiger: Clay County Revitalization Association member who helped build a Cherokee village in Hayesville for schoolchildren to tour and learn how American Indians lived. The village is now open to tourists year-round. The Smithsonian Institute has recognized Tiger for his work in the North Carolina community.
• Mayor Harrell Moore: Hayesville mayor for 35 years who is retiring in 2013.
• Distance from Chattanooga: 105 miles.
• Biggest employer: Clay County Board of Education.
• Date founded: Downtown Hayesville celebrates its centennial in 2013; Clay County marked its 150th anniversary in 2011.
• Population: 10,580 in summer, 7,000 in winter.