New historic marker

Members of the Wilcox family and the Boone Historic Preservation Commission celebrate the unveiling of a new historic marker on King Street.

Members of the Watauga County Historical Society, the Town of Boone Historic Preservation Commission and their supporters gathered at the corner of King St. and Water St. in Boone on Friday, Nov. 6 for the official unveiling of the High Country’s newest historical marker.

The marker honors our region’s ginseng trade and reads, “Ginseng Trade: Native root valued in China for medicinal uses; long collected by locals. Wilcox Drug (est. 1900), among its exporters, operated 175 yds. SE.”

Wilcox Drug was located on Howard Street, around the corner from the new historic marker.

“A hardy perennial that was once abundant in western North Carolina, ginseng became a highly prized commodity for the medicinal uses of its root,” said Eric Plaag, head of the Boone Historic Preservation Commission, at the unveiling ceremony.

“By the late 1700s, traders were sending large shipments of ginseng root to China, with over 95 percent of what was harvested in the North Carolina Mountains being sent to East Asia.

“During the 19th century, several Watauga County residents became famous for their ‘sang hunting’ skills, including Betsy Calloway of Foscoe, who often collected the root with one of her children strapped to her back, then delivered the harvested root to traders in Abingdon, Virginia and Blountville, Tennessee.

“Perhaps the best known local trader during the 1800s was Bacchus Smith, who established a ginseng drying shed near modern Vilas and often sold his cache in Haywood County.

“During the 20th century, local export companies established a rigorous botanicals trade in Boone, including the Appalachian Evergreen Company and Wilcox Drug Company. Dried ginseng root remained a key element of this trade, and by 1976, Wilcox Drug was the largest purchaser of botanical goods in the United States.

Established in Boone in 1900 by Grant Wilcox, the Wilcox Drug Company merged with Appalachian Evergreen and became Wilcox Natural Products in 1982, when the Swiss firm Zuellig Group North America purchased the company. Wilcox Natural Products closed in 1982.”

According to Plaag, Watauga County continues to produce hundreds of pounds of wild ginseng sold legally each year, while poaching and the illegal trade accounts for even more of the local ginseng harvest.

“With the erection of this new North Carolina Highway Historical Marker, the Boone Historic Commission honors the significance of the ginseng trade and the Wilcox Drug Company to our town and region,” Plaag said.

Attending the unveiling ceremony were Boon mayor-elect Rennie Brantz and his wife, Lana, Boone commissioner-elect Loretta Clawson, and members of the Wilcox Family.

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