‘Maverick Highway’ U.S. 52 connects Stanly County to North Dakota, South Carolina and many sites in between

Published 4:15 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Although only 26 miles of U.S. Highway 52 pass through Stanly County (about 1.3% of the road’s total mileage), the thoroughfare links the county with countless notable and unique communities between North Dakota and South Carolina, according to information compiled and presented by Dr. Eric Johnsen on Monday evening.

The presentation, one of a number offered by the Stanly County Historical Society, drew a crowd of around 200 to Central United Methodist Church in Albemarle.

Johnsen, who describes U.S. 52 as a “maverick highway,” presented an informative and light-hearted look at towns, cities and states along the road’s 2,072-mile route from the Canadian border at Portal, North Dakota to Charleston, South Carolina.

The highway’s curious directional signage, which conflicts with accepted highway numbering standards, earned the road a “maverick” designation from Johnsen.

“When we first moved here in 1980, I noticed that U.S. 52 was designated as a north-south route,” said Johnsen, who knew that even-numbered highways customarily are signed east and west.

“That caught my attention,” he said.

Upon further research, Johnsen found that through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota, U.S. 52 is indeed signed as an east-west highway. However, at the highway’s crossing of the Ohio River into West Virginia (at Huntington), the road shifts to a north-south designation and remains such to its southern terminus at the intersection of Market and Line streets in Charleston, South Carolina.

The presentation focused on sections of, and towns along, U.S. 52 not well-known to most local residents.

“Most everyone here has probably traveled (Highway 52) through most of North Carolina, so I decided to focus on the states in which they most likely haven’t traveled,” said Johnsen, whose talk focused on little-known facts regarding the people, places and sights in those areas.

Among the more interesting facts about the highway are:

● U.S. 52 passes through the hometowns of numerous American entertainers, including Peggy Lee (Jamestown, North Dakota), Prince and Tiny Tim (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Lionel Ritchie (Joliet, Illinois), Fred MacMurray (Kankakee, Illinois), Roy Rogers (Portsmouth, Ohio), Hawkshaw Hawkins (Huntington, West Virginia), Steve Harvey (Welch, West Virginia), Andy Griffith (Mt. Airy), Dizzy Gillespie (Cheraw, South Carolina), and Teddy Pendergrass (Kingstree, South Carolina). In addition, author Louis L’amour was a native of Jamestown, North Dakota;

● The highway connects the hometowns of sports figures Roger Maris (Fargo, North Dakota), Jay Berwanger (Dubuque, Iowa), George Mikan (Joliet, Illinois) and Branch Rickey (Portsmouth, Ohio);

● United States Presidents William Henry Harrison (Harrison, Ohio), William Howard Taft (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Ulysses S. Grant (Point Pleasant, Ohio) as well as 1940 presidential candidate Wendell Willkie (Rushville, Indiana) were all born in towns connected by U.S. 52; and

● Twelve astronauts grew up in towns along U.S. 52.

Among the more unique sights along U.S. 52 include:

● The world’s largest buffalo statue (Jamestown, North Dakota);

● The “sinkhole capital of the world” (Fountain, Minnesota);

● An island town in the northern Mississippi River (Sabula, Iowa);

● The site of the nation’s first Dairy Queen (Joliet, Illinois);

● The site of the nation’s first air mail flight — utilizing a balloon (Lafayette, Indiana)

● The site of the first Kroger grocery store (Cincinnati, Ohio);

● The nation’s largest bituminous coal deposit (Bluefield, West Virginia);

● One of the nation’s largest flea markets (Hillsville, Virginia — Labor Day weekend);

● A massive quartzite outcropping (Pilot Mountain); and

● The “bean capital of the world” (Lake City, South Carolina).

A video of Johnsen’s presentation will be available on the Stanly County Historical Society website — historicstanly.org.