1. Year of COVID
Though it’s name is a reminder that it originated in late 2019, the coronavirus has undoubtedly been the defining event of 2020. For Macon County residents, the pandemic shifted from a troubling idea to a life-changing reality in March when, in the span of a couple of weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper imposed his first public gathering restrictions, Macon saw its first positive case and its first death. Schools, restaurants and some retail businesses were forced to close. Nine months later, the virus still impacts where people shop, eat, work, go to school and more. The arrival of vaccines in December brought some hope that the country is turning the tide, but it’s a good bet that COVID-19 will make this list again in 2021.
2. A school year like no other
Macon County Schools shut down in March along with most of the rest of the state. Teachers rapidly pivoted to teaching through take-home packets and online via Google Classroom. In the fall semester, the school system adopted a hybrid schedule that incorporates online and in-person instruction. The schedule and a vast array of preventative measures have gone a long way toward keeping the community safe, but with 134 cases confirmed in schools since the start of the school, hundreds more quarantined in that time and many families unhappy with academic performance under the new system, Macon County Schools still has questions to answer before passing this unprecedented test.
3. Macon County stands strong
The pandemic and the clampdown that followed brought normal life to a grinding halt in the spring. But in the face of enormous hardships, the residents of Macon County endured. When restrictions allowed, restaurants and other businesses found a way to adapt and survive, though all of them suffered and a few closed. Real estate sales saw a surprising surge thanks to Macon’s status as a refuge from big-city troubles. Most churches took worship services online to help keep their members safe. Workers deemed essential, including those in health care, food services, law enforcement and emergency services, stepped up to serve and protect their community. There are more hard times ahead, but the pandemic has brought out the best of Macon.
4. Black and Blue Rallies
On May 25, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis over his alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill, and racial tensions in the United States ignited. The Black Lives Matter movement gained traction with calls for stronger regulation of police violence, which prompted a rise from the Blue Lives Matter movement demanding more support for the police. Both causes had their moments in the sun in Franklin with downtown rallies, first for Black Lives Matter and then for Back the Blue. Both rallies were peaceful.
5. Still under construction
The last of four roundabouts opened in August, bringing an end to years of hand-wringing and predictions of mayhem in the streets. Despite the controversy and concerns, there have been no disasters, just a few fender-benders. The loss of iconic trees was tragic, but the roundabouts are doing their job in keeping traffic flowing. Definitely not completed is the project to widen and improve Georgia Road. The project to convert a 2.8-mile stretch of Georgia Road from five lanes to four lanes and a median has been chugging along since last year. The latest information from the NCDOT suggests that the project will be finished by August 2021. And that’s just Phase 1 of the long-term project.
6. Elections draw historic turnout
The most partisan and presidential election in memory drew voters to the polls in historic numbers, including in Macon County, where 76.6 percent of the county’s 27,162 registered voters cast ballots, including record numbers in early and absentee voting. Macon voters overwhelmingly backed Republican candidates, with about two-thirds of voters choosing Donald Trump for president, Dan Forest for governor, Thom Tillis for senator and Madison Cawthorn for congress. On the local level, Josh Young and Paul Higdon won races for the board of commissioners, while Hillary Wilkes, Melissa Evans and Jim Breedlove won races for the school board. Macon County natives fared well at the state level too, with Kevin Corbin elected as District 50’s state senator and Karl Gillespie becoming District 120’s state representative.
7. New police, fire chiefs
Franklin Police Department chief David Adams left town in February to take the top job with Hendersonville police. In June, he was replaced with Bill Harrell, a former officer with FPD who had been serving as police chief in Highlands, after three months of service from interim chief Danny Bates. Then, in September, fire chief Matthew Breedlove said he was leaving Franklin Fire and Rescue for a detective position with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, though he stayed on during the search for a new chief. He’ll hand over the reins to incoming chief Benjamin Ormond, a former military contract firefighter, in January 2021.
8. Second Amendment Sanctuary
Though it faded from the public eye when the pandemic took root, a resolution to make Macon County a “Second Amendment sanctuary” held county residents in rapt attention last winter. Proponents demanded that the Macon County Board of Commissioners resolve to fight infringements on gun rights regardless of laws that may be passed at higher levels of government, while opponents argued that the resolution was unnecessary and invited legal trouble for the county. After multiple board meetings with dozens of public comments and hundreds of supporters in attendance, the commissioners approved a resolution drawn up by former county attorney Chester Jones that reaffirmed a commitment to the Constitution but stopped short of endorsing a sanctuary designation.
9. RIP David and Dawn Head
Macon County Sheriff’s Office deputy David Head and his wife Dawn Head were tragically killed this summer when they were involved in a multi-vehicle collision on their Harley Davidson. Hundreds of people attended a memorial service for the couple in Scaly Mountain following a procession from the sheriff’s office. Mourners lined the streets for 23 miles along the processional route to show their respect and love for David and Dawn.
10. FHS band triumphs
After showing their strength in a rigorous qualification process and an equally challenging fundraising campaign, Franklin High School’s marching band made it to New Orleans to play at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January. In addition to participating in the halftime show, the band got to play an impromptu concert on the steps of Jackson Square and won second place in their field competition. It’s a massive achievement for a high school band to make it to a college bowl game, especially the Sugar Bowl, and band director Buddy Huckabee considers the trip one of the highlights of his career, an opinion his students share.