Seat of the county, hub of history.
As McDowell’s county seat, Marion is the center of commerce, the hub of history, home to the county’s economic development organization and arts association and host of what is probably the nation’s only festival dedicated to livermush, a food processed from hogs.
Named for Revolutionary War officer Francis Marion of South Carolina, Marion, established in 1843, became a railroad town early on, and today the railroad crosses the county east to west and north to south. Though the city was destroyed by fire in 1894, determined residents rebuilt Marion, and today the downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, with 11 structures in the historic district.
The Carson House, a former stagecoach stop just outside the city that dates to about 1793, is open to the public. Another historic home, the McDowell House in the city, built by the son of county founder John McDowell, is part of the National Park Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which commemorates Revolutionary War history. The McDowell House will be made into a museum and eventually connected to a greenway along the Catawba River.
With a population of about 7,000, Marion is home to the McDowell Economic Development Association, which recruits and assists industries in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Manufacturers in the city include metalworking and machining companies. The city’s large water capacity, proximity to Interstate 40 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte and modest business tax rate are among Marion’s business-friendly attributes.
The Marion Business Association promotes small businesses in part through events—including a summer concert series, a Fourth of July celebration and the annual Mountain Glory Festival in October—that create traffic for merchants in the central business district. The association also promotes a walking tour of historic downtown Marion.
As a Main Street city, Marion participates in the national program that works to generate economic development through assistance to small businesses with business plans, an entrepreneurship class and other initiatives.
The city is home to McDowell Hospital and McDowell Technical Community College, which offers training for manufacturing jobs.
But Marion isn’t all business. There’s live music regularly at the former Eagle Hotel, which dates to around 1910. In addition to specialty shops and restaurants downtown, there’s a shop dedicated to doughnuts and a dairy bar that’s half a century old just outside the city. The city has a new YMCA, neighborhood parks and the greenway being developed that will include fishing piers and kayak access to the Catawba.
The McDowell Arts Council Association operates a gallery in Marion and sponsors programs and community events. McDowell’s community theater is based in the city.
And the Livermush Festival? Well, it’s an annual event downtown in June with music, a cooking contest, livermush Haiku, livermush toss and, of course, tastings of livermush, a delicacy made from hog parts mixed with cornmeal and spices and usually eaten at breakfast. TA livermush manufacturer has operated in Marion for over 50 years, so the event can rightfully claim authenticity.