When walking into Love Valley, you may assume that you’d stumbled across the set of a 1950s Western film. You may even half-expect to see a tumbleweed blowing across the street in front of you or a couple of cowboys facing off in a shootout. But this peculiar little place is in fact real. And you’ll be surprised just how much the people who call it home are set on living like they do in the movies.
Hidden away in the foothills of North Carolina’s Brushy Mountains, Love Valley is an old-fashioned settlement that was built with one mission: to keep the Wild West alive. But the town is no mere tourist attraction; instead, it’s a fully functioning community that plays home to dozens of people. And when it comes to living life as it would have been more than a century ago, the locals are remarkably faithful to the period.
Love Valley, located just under 20 miles north of Statesville, North Carolina, was founded in 1954 by one man with a vision. That man was Andy Barker, a contractor from the nearby city of Charlotte, who had been holding onto the same dream since childhood – an aspiration no doubt shared by countless young boys before him, too.
You see, Barker had dreamed of being a cowboy – the kind he’d grown up admiring in classic Western movies. And in a 2011 interview for UNC-TV, Barker recalled a time in the fourth grade when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. But while his friends had aspired to become doctors or lawyers, Barker had replied, “I’m gonna build me a Western town.” And as it turned out, that’s just what he did.
Now, although Barker would have to wait many years before his dream came true, he never lost sight of it. Even while serving with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers during the Second World War, he held onto his vision of constructing an homage to the Wild West. Indeed, he even described his ambition in the letters he sent back home to his mother.
And then, years later, after Barker had returned from war and begun working for the construction business he and his father owned together, he still refused to let go of the dream of having his own authentic Western town. But it wasn’t until the cowboy fan had turned 29 that his remarkable journey began.
By that time, life was treating Barker well. His family company, JA Construction, was thriving, he’d married and he and his wife Ellenora had had a son and daughter together. But, nevertheless, he still yearned for his Western town. In 1954, then, Barker decided that it was finally time to realize his ambition.
During a trip to Iredell County, North Carolina, Barker was taken by a particular part of the region. And so he decided to bite the bullet: he moved out of his nice house in Charlotte, uprooted his wife and children and sold his shares in the family business.
Then Barker used his money to buy 380 acres in a remote area of the scenic Brushy Mountains – a plot of land that would one day become Love Valley. So, he and his family moved into a single-room cabin, and he set to work constructing a town that looked just like those from his Western movies.
To start, Barker enlisted some buddies from his former construction company. And with their help, the first building went up: a Presbyterian church. Barker was a man of faith and wanted Love Valley to be a firmly Christian community; that same place of worship still rests on the hill above the town today. Gradually, other Western-style buildings followed.
And, eventually, just one thing was missing from Barker’s dream town: citizens. To fill the place up, then, he began asking friends and residents of neighboring areas to join his community. Then, in 1963 and with a population of less than 40, Love Valley was granted official town status. But what’s life like there today?
Well, Love Valley is certainly different to practically any other place in the U.S. Rather than the usual asphalt streets, taxi cabs and parking meters, there are dirt trails, horse-drawn wagons and hitching posts instead. Meanwhile, buildings in the town are principally constructed of wood and boast covered verandas. But the Western theme doesn’t stop there.
You see, there’s also a one-room shack that has served as the town jailhouse. And besides that, there are a couple of eateries serving up Southern cuisine, the general store and café and neighborhood tavern Shelby’s Place. Love Valley is almost as authentic as it gets, then – especially when it comes to one particular custom.
Apparently, no cars are permitted inside the town. That rule was first implemented upon Love Valley’s founding, but it still stands today. Even visitors just passing through are obligated to park outside the town limits and make their way in from there. So just how do folks get from A to B?
Well, four-legged transport is the favored means of getting around. In fact, day-to-day life in Love Valley revolves around its steeds, with one of the most popular hang-outs in town being the blacksmith. And tourists to the area can hire a horse for their stay, too, in order to really immerse themselves in Love Valley life.
This cowboy’s paradise also boasts a saloon fit for a Clint Eastwood movie – complete with swinging doors and a post outside to hitch your steed when you fancy a finger or two of whisky. It’s called The Silver Spur, and it offers good old Southern hospitality in the form of steaks, ales and bands. Unsurprisingly, rodeo can be seen in Love Valley as well – typically at the town arena.
And there are a whole host of other events taking place throughout the year – some more conventional than others. The chili cook-off, for example, sounds especially intriguing. Perhaps Love Valley’s biggest moment came back in 1970, however, when the town hosted a three-day rock festival to as many as 200,000 people – a far cry from its population at the time of just 40.
Today, Love Valley’s residents number approximately 100 – not including the horses, that is. And although permanent citizens are few, this quaint area of North Carolina has attracted visitors from all over the world; back in 1962 it even played host to then-U.S. vice president Lyndon B. Johnson. Furthermore, the town’s one-time leather smith Joe Ponder could boast of having appeared in the Guinness World Records book; apparently, he had the strongest teeth in the world.
In August 2011 the town experienced a devastating loss, however, when Andy Barker, Love Valley’s creator and subsequent mayor, sadly died aged 87. But his legacy will always be remembered. After all, he built the one-of-a-kind community from the ground up and made it what it is today.
So, although Love Valley may seem a little eerie to some with its car-free roads and old-timey way of life, the community has captivated those who call it home. But where did the town get its name, you may ask? Simply, Barker named it Love Valley because he just loved people.