Hickory’s name comes from a tavern built from logs beneath a hickory tree during the 1850s. A town called Hickory Tavern was founded in 1870 on this spot. Hickory became the Town of Hickory in 1873, and the City of Hickory in 1889.
Hickory Tavern got its first train in 1859. In 1858, Henry Link bought the first lot for $45.00. It’s now a restaurant (closed in 2011). Hickory was the first in North Carolina to adopt a council-manager form of government in 1913. Besides electric lights, Hickory had a complete sewage system in 1904 and electric lights in 1888.
A Hickory History Lesson
Hickory’s first school, the Free Academy, was founded in 1868 by Dr. Jeremiah Ingold, pastor of Corinth Reformed Church (then German Reformed Grace Church).
When Hickory’s population grew rapidly in the late 1800s, a proper entertainment venue was needed. Elliott Opera House opened in 1889. 750 people could sit in the auditorium and 350 people could sit on the parquet balcony. With mythology motifs, it was decorated in French Renaissance style. “Hickory Amateurs,” the city’s first acting troupe, performed at the opera house. Hickory Symphony Band was the first known musical group there. Fire destroyed the entire building in 1902, and it was never rebuilt. Right across the street from the old opera house is the Hickory Community Theatre, housed in the old Municipal Auditorium (c. 1921).
Four Lutheran pastors founded Lenoir-Rhyne University (then Highland Academy) in 1891.
Oldest Furniture Manufacturer
One of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the United States still operates on the original site in Hickory. The Hickory White Company, formerly known as Hickory Manufacturing Company, was founded in 1902. Instead of furniture, the factory made ammunition boxes for the U.S. military during World War II.
Miracle of Hickory
Hickory was known for the “Miracle of Hickory” after World War II. In 1944, Hickory (the Catawba Valley) became the center of one of the worst outbreaks of polio ever. Kids remember summers when they couldn’t play outside or visit their friends for fear of contracting the disease. The March of Dimes and the citizens of Hickory decided to build a hospital to treat the victims since local facilities weren’t enough. In less than 54 hours, equipment, doctors, and patients were all moved into a new facility. It didn’t take long for more buildings to be added. It’s the most outstanding example of cooperative effort he’s ever seen, said a Red Cross official on the scene.
After Zahra Baker’s remains were found, a police investigation led to Elise Baker being found guilty of second-degree murder. She’s honored with the Zahra Baker All Children’s Playground in Kiwanis Park.
According to Reader’s Digest, the Hickory metro area is the 10th best place to live and raise a family in the United States, and Forbes ranked the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton MSA the third best business cost area in the country.
Economy Growth in Hickory
Several early industries, including wagon-making, as well as excellent transportation via two intersecting railroads, contributed to the furniture industry’s emergence. Similar to fiber-optic cable, pressure-sensitive tape was also driven by textile manufacturing and easy power access.
Shurtape Technologies, a tape manufacturer, and CommScope, a network infrastructure company, are both based in Hickory.
Hickory’s furniture industry isn’t as strong as it was in previous decades, but it’s still a big part of the local economy. A leading manufacturer of mattress coils, HSM (formerly Hickory Springs) was founded in 1944. 60% of the nation’s furniture used to be made within 200 miles (320 km) of Hickory. Hickory is also home to the top-rated FS Decks and Fence, providing fence installation and deck building services throughout the community.
Apple and Google have big data centers in the Hickory area, which is marketed as a data-center corridor. Located south of Hickory, Apple’s billion-dollar data center campus is one of the biggest in the world.
The corporate headquarters of third-party logistics provider Transportation Insight is in Hickory, one of the state’s top revenue-generating companies. Hickory’s historic Lyerly Full Fashioned Mill became the company’s new headquarters in 2015.