Charlotte Magazine
Burnsville Image Credit: Charlotte Magazine
Burnsville Image Credit: Charlotte Magazine


A desire for isolation brings people here. A close-knit community keeps them. If you’re headed to the hills this fall, this town northeast of Asheville might surprise you

Chuck McShane

FISHING NETS, HARPOONS, AND MODEL SAILBOATS in bottles line the walls of the Snap Dragon bar in Burnsville. A ship’s wheel hangs between shelves of liquor in the middle of a brick wall behind the bar. This is not the type of place you’d expect to …nd on a mountain town square across the street from a 184-year-old inn, a 109-year-old courthouse, and a Baptist church.

The nautical theme at Snap Dragon is a nod to Otway Burns, the town’s namesake, who never set foot in these mountains. He was a privateer during the War of 1812, when he and his 80-man crew harassed British ships from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. Later a state assemblyman, he voted to give the newly settled western areas of North Carolina, then a loose collection of rocky farms and small mica mines, more political representation in Raleigh. That lost him his seat in the state senate, but earned him the town’s name and a bronze statue in the town square, with his naval hat and sword by his side.

Burns also owned a taproom in Beaufort, a coastal town 400 miles east of Burnsville, but that little detail doesn’t make the official histories. In fact, in the town that bears his name, places such as Snap Dragon couldn’t have existed until 2010, when Yancey County became the second-to-last county in the state to allow alcohol sales. (Graham County, farther west, remains the last dry county in the state.) And while some members of the Baptist church thre

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