EDITOR’S NOTE: First in a series on places that made the Moravian Falls community a center of water-related recreation for many years. Coming up, stories on Yellow Jacket Lake and Hollywood Lake.
The waterfall for which the Moravian Falls community was named was well known as a source of power and a destination for outings when Roscoe “Ross” Pardue bought it and surrounding acreage in the early 1950s.
William Pitt Waugh was the first in a long line of entrepreneurs to utilize the 40-foot-tall, 60-foot-wide waterfall for profit when he built a grist mill there soon after moving to Wilkes from Pennsylvania in 1800. It powered the electricity plant in Wilkes in the early 1900s.
It was fitting that Pardue would build and operate an early and ambitious version of today’s water parks on the property, part of about 8,700 acres first deeded to Moravians wanting to establish a settlement in the Southern colonies to help spread the gospel in the 1750s.
Pardue trucked in numerous loads of sand for a swimming lake with a sandy bottom and beaches along the side of Moravian Creek, opposite a fishing pond he built earlier.
He also owned and operated Bob’s Fish Lakes on the east side of Cub Creek off what now is Country Club Road, building the first pond there in the 1940s and a second one in 1950. It was named for his father, Bob Pardue, who helped with the operation. The Pardue family lived nearby.
Retaining “Bob’s Fish Lake” as the name of the new enterprise, the Pardues made it a popular destination for swimming and sunbathing for hundreds of residents of Wilkes and surrounding counties.
Cathie Pardue Szwankowski said she remembers Ross Pardue, who was her father, diligently smoothing out the beach sand with a hand rake after busy summer days.
He also built a mill house on the waterfall and installed milling equipment. “He would occasionally grind corn into meal…. He was handy to do things like that,” said Szwankowski.
She said her parents also ran a campground on the property.
Moravian Creek water was piped by gravity from atop the waterfall to fill the swimming and fishing areas, each covering over an acre. Fresh water constantly flowing into the swimming lake was released by a fountain consisting of a pipe in the center rising several feet above the lake surface.
There were two diving boards, one taller than the other, and an additional wooden platform. A three-sided wooden fence extended a short distance from shore to create a shallow play area for young children, with tadpoles and little frogs as added features.
Each patron received a small rectangle of vinyl and a safety pin for attaching it to a bathing suit upon paying at the office, in a building that also included a store and small café. Some kids had long chains of vinyl rectangles, one pinned to the other, dangling from their bathing suits by summer’s end.
Szwankowski said Pardue sold the waterfall, swimming lake, fishing pond and campground to a woman with the last name Devries from Florida in the late 1960s. She sold it to Barrie Miller, who was Szwankowski’s husband at the time, a few years later.
Miller built a large waterslide known for its fast rides on a wooded hillside near the waterfall. The slide ended just before Falls Road, directly opposite the swimming area on the other side of the road. Miller also made the fishing pond a place for paddle boats.
Ralph Williams of North Wilkesboro, who started several local businesses and was a key volunteer in the early years of Wilkes Community College’s MerleFest, fulfilled a longtime goal when he bought about 26 acres with the waterfall and swimming and fishing lakes from Miller in 1980. He also purchased a nearby 12-acre mobile home park on Falls Road, but soon sold it.
Williams remembered visiting the waterfall on a school trip while a ninth-grader at North Wilkesboro High School in 1937, when it was at the end of a dirt road.
Early on, Williams replaced the sand-bottomed swimming lake with two concrete bottom swimming pools and a large water slide. Having recently traveled with his wife in a camper, Williams also established a KOA campground on the property.
Nearly 15 years later, he put the property up for sale in a highly-publicized auction that drew people from up and down the East Coast and as far away as Michigan. Williams said at the time that he decided to have the property auctioned off because of difficulty finding someone to properly manage the campground.
On a frigid day in mid-January 1994, Kenneth R. “Ken” Wike bought the 26-acre swimming, fishing and camping complex with a high bid of $165,000.
After spending nearly $286,000 on buying and working on the property, Williams said he had expected it to sell for more. He said he still was satisfied, especially knowing the waterfall was always there for him to see.
Wike operated a floor tile company in Charlotte at the time, but often visited the waterfall and swimming lake while growing up in nearby Alexander County.
“I had gone here with my mom and dad and a church group. I fell in love with it again when I came here with my wife, son and daughter about two years before it came up for sale in an auction,” said Wike.
Wike and his wife, Anita Wike, now live on the property and own and operate Moravian Falls Family Campground & Cabin Rentals there. This includes 50 camper sites with electrical, water and sewer hookups, 30 camper sites with water and electrical hookups and 150 tent sites. Also for rent are a villa on the left side of the waterfall and a cabin below the falls, both for two to four people at a time.
Their customers include spillover when W. Kerr Scott Reservoir’s campgrounds are full, plus a substantial number of returning campers. They always sell out during MerleFest.
The original fishing pond, surrounded by wooden benches in three-sided shelters, is still open for business every day from 8 a.m. to midnight.
The Wikes closed the water slide in the pool about 1998. After closing the entire swimming area about 10 years later, they had the swimming pools drained.
The campground office and store is in the same building on Falls Road constructed by the Pardues over 60 years earlier.