When the Norfolk & Western Railway ran a spur line from Abingdon, Virginia, into Ashe County in the early 1900s, engineers determined it wasn't feasible to run track into the county seat of Jefferson due to the mountainous terrain. A station was built southwest of Jefferson, and the new town of West Jefferson sprang up around the depot. West Jefferson became the county's commercial hub, a role it continues to hold even though N&W ended service to Ashe County after tracks were washed out in a flood in the mid-1970s. Today it's difficult to trace the original railroad bed, but West Jefferson remembers the role the train played in its development through murals on buildings and through preservation of the original depot.
From Boone, you follow US 221 to the traffic light at the intersection of 221 and NC 163, where you turn left and take Business 221 into West Jefferson. From Glendale Springs, Miller's Creek or Wilkesboro, you take NC 163 and go straight at the light onto Business 221.
Business 221 becomes Jefferson Avenue, the town's true main thoroughfare even though a short Main Street bisects Jefferson Avenue in the center of town. While the center of town is walkable, there's no public transportation and a car is necessary to get from one of the hotels to downtown.
The Ashe Arts Center is at the intersection of East Main Street and School Avenue (across the street from Badger Funeral Home). The center is in a picturesque gray stone structure that was built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project. The building houses an art gallery and is sometimes used for concerts.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church is southeast of town on Beaver Creek School Road. The green-and-white Carpenter Gothic church, which dates from the early 1900s, contains several frescoes by the artist Ben Long.
The Christmas in July festival is held on the Saturday closest to July 4 to showcase Ashe County's Christmas tree industry. It features performances by bluegrass, country and gospel musicians, traditional fair food, and various vendors.
Smoky Mountain Barbecue, at 1008 South Jefferson Avenue (between the heart of town and US 221), is a fast casual restaurant popular with locals when they're in the mood for barbecue.
- Hampton Inn, 203 Hampton Place Court, ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Three-story hotel on side of mountain east of downtown. Entrance is off Business 221 just west of intersection with US 221. Interior corridors, elevator. McDonald's, KFC/Taco Bell, Ingles supermarket, gas station/convenience store, 24-hour diner are nearby but on opposite side of busy multi-lane highway. $$-$$$.
- Nation's Inn, 107 Beaver Creek School Road, toll-free: . Two-story motel located just south of Business 221 at intersection of US 221. Exterior corridors, rooms face parking lot. KFC/Taco Bell, diner, gas station/convenience store and Family Dollar store within walking distance; Ingles supermarket and McDonald's nearby on opposite side of two-lane highway. $-$$.
- Buffalo Tavern Bed and Breakfast, 958 West Buffalo Road, toll-free: , e-mail: DocAdams@BuffaloTavern.com. Located west of West Jefferson, Jefferson and the Smethport community in a quiet rural setting on a two-lane road. $$-$$$.