Wilkes County Makes Effort to Honor Poultry Pioneer

The man widely considered as the cornerstone of modern poultry farming in Wilkes County, North Carolina may soon have a road named after him.

Wilkes County commissioners unanimously approved a motion asking that the section of N.C. 16 from U.S. 421 in Wilkesboro to the stoplight intersection with Boone Trail be named in memory of the late Charlie (C.O.) Lovette.

The resolution stated the Wilkes County commissioners “desire to honor the life and achievements of Charlie O. Lovette and express the appreciation of this county and its citizens for the service he has rendered his community, state, and nation by officially requesting that N.C. Highway 16 North from the intersection with U.S. Highway 421 to the intersection with Boone Trail… be named the ‘C.O. Lovette Highway’ in his honor.”

It was also noted in the resolution that C.O. Lovette was also a leader in the Millers Creek area and helped secure the section of N.C. 16 that links Boone Trail to U.S. 421.

The N.C. Board of Transportation makes the final decision on naming highways in honor or in memory of people.

Let us share with you a story about Lovette’s contribution to Wilkes County’s poultry industry courtesy of the site journalpatriot.com.

Lovette was born in 1900, the ninth of the 13 children of James Nelson and Lillie Riggs Lovette. He learned to grow crops at an early age, and from ages 14-18 he spent his summers farming and worked as a teamster during winter. He also worked for R.J. Reynolds and in the coal mines in West Virginia from 1918 to 1923 during the winters and returned to Wilkes to farm in the growing seasons.

Lovette bought his first truck in 1924 for his produce business and traveled throughout the foothills and mountains of Wilkes buying chickens, eggs, hams and other farm products to sell at markets in Winston-Salem and Charlotte.

He and his wife, Ruth Bumgarner Lovette, raised seven children, all of whom worked on their farm on Pleasant Home Church Road and in the produce business. The resolution said Lovette’s business provided a market for local farmers to sell and trade their produce to supplement family farm income.

From the early 1930s through World War II, chicken production progressed from barnyard operations to hot house chickens and provided Lovette and other farmers in western Wilkes more chickens to sell.

Lovette continued his egg and produce business while his trucks delivered live chickens from Wilkes to processing plants in the major cities along the East Coast.

In 1946, Lovette sold the live chicken business to his oldest son, C. Fred Lovette. He continued to run his smaller farm-raised food produce and trucking businesses and partnered with J.C. Bumgarner to form Lovette Egg Company.

The resolution said Fred Lovette, with his father’s help and support, grew the live chicken business into what became Wilkesboro-based Holly Farms Poultry Industries. The other six Lovette children followed their oldest brother by working in the commercial chicken business.

C.O. Lovette was instrumental in laying the foundation that grew and integrated poultry farming in Wilkes through Holly Farms into the largest chicken company in the world during the 1970s, with operations is North Carolina, Maryland and Texas.

This brand became the first nationally distributed chicken in the United States. In 1989, Holly Farms was acquired by Tyson Foods and today this chicken business generates more than $300 million in gross annual revenue, employs 3,300 people and supports 200 family farms in Wilkes County.

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