When I began collecting postcards I was tantalized with views of Point Lookout. Every time I drove up or down Old Fort Mountain I wondered “Where was Point Lookout’? After driving up and down I-40/U.S. 70 for fifty years, comparing what I saw through the windshield with what I had seen in postcards, I finally did a bit of research. I was wondering on the wrong road, so to speak.
The road to Point Lookout appears as Highway No. 10 in early advertisements and postcards. Highway No. 10 was referred to as the “Central Highway”. When U.S. 70 was constructed in the 1920’s as an east west artery from Goldsboro to New Mexico it took over the existing roadbed. The newer highway was referred to as “The Broadway of America” in many tourism ads. The present route of U.S.70/I-40 was proposed in 1954 in conjunction with Eisenhower’s proposal for an interstate system. When all the lanes were completed on U.S 70/I-40 in 1982, old U.S. 70 was closed to vehicular traffic.
The description of Tour 30 in North Carolina: The WPA Guide to the Old North State says it all. ” Point Lookout (parking space; refreshment, service for cars), popular with motorists because of its sweeping view of the ROYAL GORGE and surrounding peaks.”
The main building sold souvenirs, gas, and food. It was right on the curve of the road. There was just enough space for cars to pull over and park as you can see. A dining deck precipitously jutted out over the steep embankment. There were a few rooms and a couple of small cabins to rent on the opposite side. A stairway climbed to a level area with a viewing platform.
Point Lookout was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Henry A. Ragle of Old Fort. Mrs. Ragle was a native of Old Fort; Mr. Ragle worked on the construction of the Western North Carolina Railroad before his wife was born. He still worked for the railroad when they married.
The “barometer” below is an example of the type of souvenirs sold alongside postcards, hooked rugs, baskets, and apples. Mr. Ragle also owned apple orchards adjoining the business property.
Aside from the stunning long-range views, the prime attraction at Point Lookout were the bears. But not just any bears. They were Sonny “the Waltzer” and Sally the “talking bear”! Sally was also known as “Prohibition Sally” due to her fondness for soda pop.
The Ragles operated Point Lookout until they sold it in 1947. As cars began whizzing up the new U.S. 70 and future I-40 in the 1950’s fewer and fewer drove the winding old road.
Today, you can still travel up the mountain by bike or on foot via The Point Lookout Trail. Thanks to private volunteers and NCDOT maintenance there is an asphalt bike path that follows the road bed up the mountain. Parts of the old road are still visible; you’ll see how portions of the road that have eroded away. It’s a very enjoyable hiking experience. You can start your walk up starting just outside of Old Fort or walk down from the back side of Ridgecrest.
When you reach Point Lookout a rock stairway leads to what was the upper viewing platform. The largest of a series of 4 railroad tunnels runs beneath the mountain behind where the gentleman in blue is standing. You can see rock foundations for the main building and bears’ home across the trail if you get there before the kudzu leafs out. If you’re really lucky, a freight train may make its way up or down the mountain. You’ll hear the train a’coming! And you’ll have time to get to one of two viewing spots on the old road. Take your pick. Both are a short walk of a hundred yards or so from Point Lookout.
The best time to go is in early spring. Red, fire pinks; tiny, wild iris: old, scrawny apple trees, and Carolina Silverbells were blooming the day we hiked. I’m planning on going again in late fall to catch a last bit of color in the distant piedmont.
Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the N.C. Room Board Member