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Lighting of the Fall Fires in Gold Hill warms holiday nights

GOLD HILL — The Lighting of the Fall Fires in historic Gold Hill Village, held on Saturday, continued an 18-year-old tradition that kicks off the holiday season.

Upon purchasing a ticket, participants are awarded a bag of “gold nuggets” — gold-painted rocks. The nuggets are an invitation to visit each of the shops in the village and sample finger foods in exchange for a nugget.

While sampling food, you have an opportunity to browse the vendors’ Christmas goods to start your holiday gift buying.

The village shops are decked out for the holiday with colorful trimmings and lights dressing up the historic buildings. White lights  illuminate picket fences that line the road through the village. Christmas ornaments and green wreaths with red bows dress the shop windows.

Some shop owners dress in vintage clothes to give you a feel for an old-time Christmas in the former gold-mining town.

At Filling Station Artist’s Studio, visitors are given a jingle bell necklace so they can jingle the night away while walking the lantern-lit streets and lanes.

The studio is stocked with winter clothes and wraps, jewelry and collectibles. Shop owner Ellen Morris said attendance was good this year.

All the village lanes are filled with shoppers talking and enjoying the food as they mill around in the cool night air. Tom Knowles prepared a giant iron pot of Brunswick stew for folks to sample. The stew is served near one of the bonfires that are used for light and a chance to get up close and warm cold hands.

Nolan Joyce and Kelsey Briggs drove from Charlotte to experience the occasion.

The E.H. Montgomery Store run by Vivian Hopkins and her husband seems to be a gathering venue. Musicians Taylor Trews and Matt Lackey played bluegrass in the back of the store, and three-time Grammy Award winners Mark O’Connor and his wife, Maggie, joined the group with their fiddles to speed up the tempo. 

People crowded in closer to listen. Some sampled ice cream while standing close to the pot-bellied wood stove in the center of the store. Mary Vrabel held her granddaughter Sumner close and swung to the beat of the music. Summer clapped her hands with a smile.

Outside, 7-year-old Breanna Earnhardt sat down to enjoy her ice cream. As folks walked past on the wooden walkways, their steps on the irregular plank surface seem to have a rhythmic beat.

In the night air, the sounds of bluegrass string instruments still rule the night. 

Your sense of smell is jolted by pinto beans boiling, the sweets of the bakery, the simmering Brunswick stew, cheese balls and dips, as well as the ever present smell of firewood burning in the bonfires.

Sandy Hickman’s shop, Back Home Store, is packed with Christmas decorations, winter clothes and the sounds of laughter as friends say hello and get hugs during the celebration.

Singer and guitarist Danny Basinger entertained outside near the old Gold Hill Post Office, where Ann Cooper offered samples of  Wind & Willow Cheese Ball and Dip Mix. She has shelves lined with pottery to view while eating cheese.

The 1890 Mauney Store is loaded with antiques.

“We have sold a lot of stuff,” said shop operator David Drye. He was offering pinto beans outside in the courtyard.

The Buckle & Bell, located in the old File’s Store, served soup and chicken and dumplings. A group of women from Novant Hospital Imaging Center gathered on the porch in the white Christmas lights for a group photo.

To end the night with something sweet, The Bakery run by Lindsay and Henry Pless offered all sorts of baked goods and cakes. Lindsay has brownies, pretzel twists and candy-coated cakes, pumpkin spice cakes and an array of sweets to match any taste.

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