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NC 226A - The Diamondback

Matt Steffora, the former webmaster of ncroads.com, once described NC 226A as "No other road's like it."  With 11 miles of curves, 190 in total, NC 226A is a motorcyclist, performance car, or pleasure driver's treat.  Known as 'The Diamondback,' the curves of NC 226A are called 'Down & Dirty,' 'O'Dear Corner,' 'Off The Deep End,' and 'Post Office Sweeper,' among others.

It is a scenic drive that showcases mountain vistas, stunning fall scenery, and waterfalls. The highway serves the summer mountain resort town of Little Switzerland and also the small community of Turkey Cove.

For all of its curves, the history of NC 226A/The Diamondback has a few twists and turns of its own.

History:

The story of NC 226A would not be possible without the formation of the "Switzerland Company" and the town of Little Switzerland by North Carolina Justice Heriot Clarkson.  In 1910, Clarkson purchased nearly 1100 acres of land to start a summer resort community.  A year later, the Switzerland Inn opened. Then, Clarkson and his fellow investors convinced the Carolina, Clinchfield, and Ohio Railroad to construct a station near Gillespie Gap - about four miles east.

The Switzerland Company then constructed a four-mile toll road connecting the station to Little Switzerland.  The road was called the Etchoe Pass Road.  Visitors to Little Switzerland would pay local hack drivers to transport them to Little Switzerland for 60 cents per adult, 30 cents per child, and 60 cents per trunk. (1)

The Etchoe Pass Road was a predecessor to what would become NC 226A.

Tolls on the Etchoe Pass Road wouldn't last long - and by 1921 - was added to the newly created state highway system as state highway number 19.  The now-christened NC 19 continued past Little Switzerland down the escarpment and eventually south into Marion.  In the late 1910s, McDowell County had paved the entire mountain road with gravel. (2)

Map of NC 226, 226A, US 221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Etchoe Pass Road ran from the rail station to just outside of Little Switzerland. (Adam Prince)

Yet, even in those early days of the automobile, nearby residents and officials wanted to build a more direct connection between Marion and Spruce Pine.  The proposed route would run directly from Woodlawn north to Gillespie's Gap, bypassing Little Switzerland.  The new alignment would reduce the travel by about seven miles, have less severe grades, and decrease the travel time between the two communities.

However, two key political figures had specific interests in Little Switzerland that kept then-NC 19 routed on Etchoe Pass Road into the resort community, the founder of Little Switzerland, Justice Clarkson - who was an influential supporter of Governor Cameron Morrison and his 'Good Roads' campaign - and Harriett Morehead Berry.  Berry, a leader of North Carolina's Good Roads Movement, had a cottage in Little Switzerland. (3)  Clarkson and Berry influenced the early State Highway District Eight Commissioners, John C. McBee, and A.M. Kistler, to keep the routing as is. (2)

As viewed from NC 226A, NC 226 still is a windy road as it approaches Gillespie Gap.

It wasn't until after World War II that the more direct connection to Gillespie Gap was constructed and opened to traffic.

It was at that time that the old twisty highway became NC 26A.  NC 19 was renumbered NC 26 in 1934.  Finally, in 1961, NC 26 was redesignated as NC 226.  The old mountain road became NC 226A, as it is known today.

The Drive:


Undoubtedly, The Diamondback is more treacherous when driving South/downhill.  However, it's still a challenging drive North/uphill, which I did in March 2024.

NC 226A winds past Turkey Cove Baptist Church.

After it branches off of NC 226 near Woodlawn, 226A starts tame as it gently rolls and curves towards Turkey Cove. It is at Turkey Cove Baptist Church - known as Church Corner - where the fun begins.

Turkey Cove Cemetery

Further up the highway, near a series of switchbacks known as the Buchanan Bends, sits the Turkey Grove Cemetery.  Just across the cemetery entrance is a waterfall along Buchanan Creek.

Buchanan Creek Waterfall

Here, the highway begins to climb towards Little Switzerland, and many curves and steep drop-offs on the roadway's shoulders become too numerous to count.

NC 226A is so twisty that even the signs can stay on straight!

After navigating through O'Dear Corner and passing the Alpine Inn, the Diamondback travels into Little Switzerland, offering occasional glimpses of the landscape below.

Downtown Little Switzerland

Little Switzerland embraces The Diamondback. The town is a popular summertime escape for numerous North Carolinians, whether as a day trip or an extended stay.  Its small downtown sits yards from the historic Switzerland Inn and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From here, NC 226A curves along the top of the escarpment while paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It passes a few more inns, cabins, and viewpoints before returning to NC 226 at Gillespie Gap.

The Diamondback is about a 30-minute drive in total.  Add more time if you wish to stop and explore Little Switzerland or around Turkey Cove.

All photos taken by post author - March 29, 2024.

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