History & Nostalgia

A Self-Guided Stroll through Historic Boone

By Tamara Randolph and Mark Freed

Visitors and residents alike enjoy a leisurely stroll through downtown Boone, North Carolina, in every season. Quaint shops, restaurants, coffee bars and galleries line either side of King Street, but unless you’re aware of the town’s deep, historical roots, you might walk right by some significant sights.

“Virtual” and “Self-Guided” are two terms that have become quite popular in today’s vernacular as the pandemic pushes on. And while we all long for greater personal interaction, we’ve learned that some wonderful resources are available to us that we might otherwise overlook. One of these resources is the PocketSights self-guided tours of notable towns throughout the U.S., including Boone.

Start by visiting the PocketSights website, or download the mobile app at Apple Store or Google Play. The website and App share a quick introduction to Boone, with a general overview of its origins. You’ll also find a summary of all stops on the self-guided walking tour so you can do some research beforehand. Or, opt for spontaneity and make all your discoveries once you’ve hit the sidewalks.

A digital map visually lays out the entire tour route, with photos and descriptions of each point of interest and recommendations on where to begin and end. Short on time, or interested in only select stops? With the PocketSights map, you can customize your tour based on your own interests.

Say your focus is on the arts. A great place to start would be the Jones House Cultural and Community Center at 604 W. King Street. Built in 1908 by Dr. John Walter Jones, this Queen Anne style home sits prominently in the heart of Boone. The family sold the house in 1938 to the Town of Boone with the stipulation that it be used as a cultural and community center. Today, in addition to a community art gallery and offices for the Cultural Resources Department, the Jones House is a center of activity, offering weekly live music performances, music lessons, holiday events, and a lush outdoor gathering space. While many activities have gone virtual for the time being, the Jones House has something for all ages, both online and in person, year round.  

Next on your cultural tour, enjoy a close encounter with an eternal smile that will warm your soul. The Doc Watson statue, sculpted by Blowing Rock artist Alexander M. Hallmark, sits at the corner of King and Depot Streets. It is both a tribute to a local legend and an example of excellence in craftsmanship.

Arthel “Doc” Watson (1923-2012) preferred to be known as “just one of the people,” as the plaque reads next to his statue. Blind from infancy, Doc started his career in his 20s busking in front of Boone Drug and playing his guitar at local spots like the Appalachian Theatre. Watson was a neighbor and community member to many in Watauga County, and he was also the recipient of eight Grammy Awards—including a Lifetime Achievement—and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Bill Clinton in 1997. Though he remained humble, Watson had an illustrious career, and his legacy is celebrated each June in Boone during “Doc Watson Appreciation Day.”

Another brush with fame along the PocketSights tour route is the Ned P. Austin Star Marker. Watauga County native Ned Payne Austin (1925-2007) was an American film actor, and from 1952-1954 he portrayed Daniel Boone in the Horn in the West production. His acting credits include appearances on the television show Movin’ On and roles in the movies The Happy Ending, Hot Summer in Barefoot County, Annie Hall, and Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive. Later in life, Austin returned to Boone where he continued to produce films and act in local theatre productions.

While continuing your “walk of fame,” be sure to check out the recently restored Appalachian Theatre. Built in 1938, this historic theatre was primarily a movie house, with occasional live performances by acts such as the Foggy Mountain Boys, Minnie Pearl, and of course Doc Watson. In 1950, the building was badly damaged, and continued its decline into the 2000s. The Town of Boone eventually acquired the building and then sold it to the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, a nonprofit organization. Doc Watson himself attended the very first interest meeting of the “Save the Appalachian Theatre” task force in 2011, and he gave the organization permission to use his name to renovate and restore the theatre. After undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation, the Appalachian Theatre reopened in 2019 and is now home to the “Doc Watson Stage for Americana Music.”

The stops listed above are just four of the more than 25 noteworthy sights on the official walking tour of downtown Boone. The tour also highlights Civil War sites, municipal buildings and architecture, Daniel Boone monuments, historic markers, and so much more.

Don’t miss your winter walk through a mountain town known for its colorful people, enduring creativity and rich heritage. Visit https://pocketsights.com/tours/tour/Boone-Historic-Boone-Walking-Tour-3449 for more information.

Want to take a self-guided walking tour through another High Country town? PocketSights also features a tour of Historic Downtown Banner Elk at https://pocketsights.com/tours/tour/Banner-Elk-Historic-Downtown-Banner-Elk-4037. 

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