Pittsboro: The Epicenter of Groovy

“Pond Scene” by sculptor Kimberli Matin was commissioned for a retirement community in Winston-Salem that was never built. Lyle Estill, owner of The Plant, bought the work, and it is now one of about 30 pieces of art on display at the eco-industrial park in Pittsboro.

Take a scenic drive across Jordan Lake on U.S. 64, and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Pittsboro, known for its beverage game, music scene and small-town feel.

The Chatham County town of 5,000 boasts a single Food Lion, one charming city block of downtown shops and restaurants, and a growing art presence.

Pittsboro’s historic district includes 131 buildings, including the Chatham County Courthouse. The district is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s a wacky and wonderful place to live,” said nonprofit Chatham Arts Council member Catherine Hobbs, who has lived in Pittsboro since 2006.

The nonprofit’s mission is to invest in the arts and to educate children through the arts. Thanks to the council, murals have been painted on empty walls downtown, and there’s been an increase in creative classes for all ages in and around Pittsboro.

Deep River Mercantile is one of several specialty stores nestled in historic Pittsboro. The one-stop shop offers gifts for the home as well as a full-service interior design studio.

Hobbs’ focus at the Chatham Arts Council is community outreach – something that comes easy to her in Pittsboro. Her husband’s family has lived here for generations, and their house stands on land he inherited from his great-grandfather.

“I love going into the library and knowing the librarians and the people who are working at the post office and the grocery store,” she said. “Living in a place where people know you and care about you has really been remarkable.”

A COVID-conscious rabbit sculpture appears absorbed in a book outside McIntyre’s Books at Fearrington Village, a residential community on an historic farm site between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro. The village offers visitors luxurious accommodations, fine dining, specialty stores and beautiful gardens.

Whether it’s taking her kids to S&T Soda Shoppe for an old-fashioned malted milkshake or grabbing a beer and oysters at Postal Fish Company, these experiences have helped her make a home in the close-knit community.

“We have a lot of transplants and a lot of people who have lived here their whole lives, and that creates a dynamic and interesting place to live,” Hobbs said.

A couple enjoys ice cream sundaes at S&T’s Soda Shoppe, Pittsboro’s iconic lunch, dinner and ice cream restaurant. Filled with antiques and collectibles, this old-time destination gives patrons a blast from the past, as well as a full menu that includes a Bottomless Banana Split.

Maria Parker-Lewis moved to Chatham County from Cary 13 years ago seeking a slower pace of life. She and her husband owned the Pittsboro Roadhouse from 2012 until earlier this year, and they plan to open The Sycamore, a high-end steak house, this fall.

“Even though [Pittsboro] is so close to Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Cary and Apex, you feel like you’re somewhere else,” she said. “You will certainly experience local and small – because that’s what we are.”

Parker-Lewis is also president of Main Street Pittsboro, which promotes economic development downtown while preserving its deep-rooted history. The initiative began in 1980 to attract consumers back to local mom-and-pop shops after big-box stores opened in the area. Lately, the nonprofit organization has broadened its focus, backing a new welcome center downtown, where visitors are encouraged to explore all of Pittsboro.

“There is so much to this small town that you’re not going to see just on our main street,” Parker-Lewis said. “Our district is so small; we don’t want you being deceived into thinking that’s all there is to Pittsboro.”

The Plant is an eco-industrial park that highlights local art, food, a hemp boutique and the Chatham Beverage District, where visitors can taste and purchase spirits, beer and wine at Fair Game Beverage and Starrlight Mead.

The Plant is just one hidden gem not found downtown. Home of the Chatham Beverage District, a restaurant, art walk and a hemp boutique — this place is not to be missed for its unique Pittsboro flavor.

The area got its name from the Piedmont Biofuels Plant, which aimed to create sustainable biodiesel for an affordable price. The building still sits on the 17-acre property, and while making sustainable biofuel did not turn out to be a feasible endeavor, the name stuck after the facility closed in 2013.

Lyle Estill moved to the Pittsboro area 30 years ago, to work for the biodiesel plant. Now he owns The Plant, a beverage district and art destination serving up mead, spirits and cider – made daily on the property.

“It used to be forklifts and totes full of acid and big, boring pumps and 18-wheelers buying our product,” Estill said. “Then the Fair Game Beverage Company popped up across the street, and they rapidly changed our consumer experience at The Plant. We kind of went from everyone wearing steel-toed boots and uniforms; next thing you know, we’re a beverage district.

Starrlight Mead’s spacious tasting room is the perfect place to sample its award-winning meads, or honey wines. The meadery is open daily for tastings and tours.

“We’re a place where people go and taste, and we’re a place where people go and buy bottles and hang out.”

Guests can also grab their beverage of choice and walk the property, strolling around roughly 30 art installations that Estill describes as “distressed industrial chic.” These pieces were made by artists from South America to Estill’s own backyard.

The Copper Frogs at The Plant were created by Orange County artist Daniel Mathewson. They were originally installed at the now closed garden center, Reba and Roses in Hillsborough, N.C.

Whether you come for the art, a tasting or a picnic in the fields, The Plant offers plenty of options that allow for social distancing — so your visit doesn’t have to wait.

“I heard [Pittsboro] referred to as the ‘epicenter of groovy’ in 2005,” Hobbs said. “My wish is that in 2045, we can still confidently refer to it as the epicenter of groovy. People come here, and whether it’s to live or enjoy for a day, they still find all of these enchanting components in place.”

Make a Day of It!

Chatham Mills Farmers Market for a grab-and-go breakfast. Open on Saturday mornings.

480 Hillsboro St.

Take a kayak or canoe ride down the Haw River via the Robeson Creek Boat Ramp. Rent through hawrivercanoe.com or bring your own.

Enjoy American classics and local favorites at S&T’s Soda Shoppe, but be sure to save room for dessert!
85 Hillsboro St.


Browse downtown shops and murals, such as Deep River Mercantile or Liquidambar Gallery & Gifts, or visit idyllic Fearrington Village.

115 Hillsboro St.

80 Hillsboro St.

Have a meal on the patio at Postal Fish Company and dessert at S&T Soda Shoppe.

75 W. Salisbury St.

85 Hillsboro St.

After-dinner libations and a stroll through the art installations at The Plant.

220 Lorax Lane

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