Far removed from the sprawling asphalt and homogenized landscape of the interstate is North Carolina Highway 115. Cruising down the two-lane corridor is a bit like take taking a trip back in time, past historic homes and businesses, quaint mom-and-pop operations, bustling town squares, and several blink- and-you’ll-miss-it oddities. It’s ideally suited for a leisurely road trip, one where you can discover all kinds of little-known attractions right here in our own backyard. The 68-mile two-lane highway runs alongside the Norfolk Southern railroad along the eastern side of Lake Norman. It begins at U.S. 21 near Charlotte and meanders through the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and Statesville before ending at North Wilkesboro. We’ve highlighted some of the attractions along the Lake Norman stretch of this road that provide an intimate look at Lake Norman’s close-knit communities. So what are you waiting for? The open road beckons.
What-a-Burger 210 South Main Street, Mooresville
Back in the 1960s, everyone from families and high school kids to little league baseball teams would gather at What-a-Burger in Mooresville. Today, not much has changed at the drive-in burger joint, which turned 45 last year. The towering sign out front still beckons hungry motorists with a big picture of a pickle-topped burger and the lure of a Cherry Lemon Sun Drop. Diners can eat in their car at one of the covered drive-in spaces, or grab one of the big yellow booths inside. To wash down your burger – served with slaw, chili, mustard and onions – assistant manger Dianne Burkin, who’s been there 24 years, recommends an original concoction called the “Witchdoctor.” “It’s Coke, Sprite, Sundrop, a cherry, three pickles and a lemon,” she said. “People have been drinking for years and just love it.” It’s a favorite spot for participants in the Mooresville Cruise-In, a gathering of classic car and hot-rod enthusiasts that gathers monthly from March through October (this month’s event is April 2; www.mooresvillenccruisein.com)*.
Summit Coffee 128 South Main Street, Davidson
An integral part of Davidson’s picturesque and lively downtown is Summit Coffee. On most mornings you can find everyone from college students, joggers and business commuters enjoying an eye-opening cup of java at one the little tables out front on the sidewalks. During the evenings, Summit Coffee is also a popular gathering place for live music, and is noted in the community for its many charitable donations and fundraisers.
The Cycle Path 20900 North Main Street, Cornelius
The Lake Norman area is a haven for bicyclists with its many parks and greenways. And when these folks are looking for a new bike, need replacement parts, a tune-up or just some good advice, many head to The Cycle Path in Cornelius. Unlike the big sporting goods chains, The Cycle Path specializes in bikes only, and with a staff of two, there’s always a familiar face around. Owner Mark Sullivan opened the shop in 2006. For the majority of his career the Mooresville resident worked as an auto mechanic, but when he decided to open his own business, he turned to biking, a passion of his for over 15 years. “There’s a very strong biking community in Lake Norman,” says Sullivan, who often hits the mountain bike trails at North Mecklenburg Park in Huntersville. “And I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
The Tuscan House 20722 North Main Street, Cornelius
The Tuscan House offers the Lake Norman area a bit of international flair. Lisa Gabrielli opened the funky and eclectic shop about two and a half years ago. The quaint brick cottage with blue trim is filled with unique gifts, furniture, jewelry and accessories from around the world, including India, Spain, Italy, Romania and Ireland. And scattered around little courtyard around back is a wide variety of cool wrought-iron yard art and sculptures. Gabrielli previously worked as a hair stylist in Davidson, and a little over a year ago added a salon to the international gift shop.
Dearness Gardens 13501 Old Statesville Road, Huntersville
The rusted tractor by the sign out front says it all – this is the place to find plants, birdbaths, fountains, yard art and other knickknacks you can’t find at a big-box store. (Owners found the tractor out in the woods behind the business, a private residence before it became a nursery in 1995). When you stop by, you’ll get an invitation to meet Myrtle the cat, who lazes the days away inside the greenhouse out back. Owner Ken Forster says he has a hard time naming his favorite plant the business sells (though he thinks the Japanese maples are beautiful). “It’s like asking which is my favorite child,” he says with a laugh.
Tienda Mexicana La Pasadita 500 North Old Statesville Road, Huntersville
This unassuming brick building painted white and red with a corrugated metal roof has been serving the area’s growing Hispanic community for a decade. Owner Jesus Martinez, who lives in Huntersville, moved to the U.S. from Mexico 27 years ago, and also operates a drywall business. Inside the little store there’s a wide variety of Mexican spices, drinks, and groceries. Martinez also sells long-distance phone cards, which many of his customers buy to call loved ones in Mexico.
Ink Asylum 501-B South Statesville Road, Huntersville
Sandwiched between a newspaper office and a church and across the street from a business selling both pizza and car engines is Ink Asylum. Here, inside this tiny space just over 700 square feet, owner Chris Geming stays busy plying his art: tattoos and piercings. Originally from Ohio, Geming, 30, has been a tattoo artist for nearly half his life. He used to work in the construction industry, but after the economy crashed and worked dried up, he decided to turn the hobby into a full-time profession. “Business has been really good and I’ve never advertised,” he says. “It’s all word of mouth. So I must be doing something right.”
*Members of the Downtown Mooresville Cruise-In at the Mooresville What-A-Burger on N.C. 115: Dean and Maryann Baker with a 1963 Ford Galaxy; David Pelto with a 1931 Ford Coupe; Jonnie Scercy with a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS; Doyte Miller with a 1957 Chevy; Kirk Miller with a 1952 Plymouth; Emory McLaurin with a 1939 Chevy; and Don Moore with a 1964 Ford Galaxy.
See our road trip on WCNC! Inspired by this story, the folks at Charlotte Today took this road trip - get a look at what they found! Click here to see it.