Gaston & Catawba

Have fun learning about agrarian life

When Ken Hildebran first told me that some people have never seen a cow milked, I laughed.

“You mean milk doesn't come from Target?” I said.

I always took a rural lifestyle for granted, and I thought that living in North Carolina meant that agriculture was important. Growing up, I never had cows, but we did have hens that laid eggs. We had never heard of Target.

For years, Hildebran, who grew up in Catawba County, has been involved with the Murray's Mill Harvest Folk Festival, an annual event happening today in the Historic Murray's Mill District off N.C. 10 in eastern Catawba County.

A former trustee with the Catawba County Historical Association, Hildebran says the annual festival not only showcases the historic structures at Murray's Mill, but also gives visitors a chance to relive history. “The whole purpose of this festival is to educate people on the agrarian lifestyle,” he said.

That includes milking cows. The festival features a petting zoo and old-fashioned games for children. Visitors can view demonstrations of open-fire cooking, cider making and woodcarving. The Cockman Family from Sherrills Ford and other bluegrass gospel groups will perform. The festival also includes local crafts and food vendors.

Festival visitors can tour the 1913 mill, preserved by the Catawba County Historical Association. Also on the site are the landmark overshot water wheel on Balls Creek, the Murray and Minges General Store, the 1880s wheat house and the 1912 John Murray House.

The festival, now in its 24th year, is the second-oldest festival in Catawba County. It has lately become more of a regional, rather than merely a local, attraction. Still, the festival relies heavily on support from local groups, particularly the county's Boy Scout troops. Hildebran said that during the festival, more than 125 Scouts will camp on the site and help to organize activities and displays for the festival. Bandys High School, just a few miles away from Murray's Mill, also sends student and club volunteers.