North Carolina's High Country

High Country, nestled in the northwestern, North Carolina Mountains

When one millenium ends and another begins, people tend to reflect on the changes that have taken place in the world. By looking at where we've been, it's easier to see where we're going. The Mountain Times has taken a look at the history of the High Country in the Twentieth Century, the key world events that set the stage, and how the region has grown from a cluster of rural communities to a diverse and charming region.

In this section we take a look at the ten decades of the 20th Century, covering topics from politics to electricity to education and road systems, as well as personal features. Also included are interesting facts about each decade, both worldwide and regional.

Wade Brown: Boone's Elder Statesman

You can't talk about this century in the High Country without mentioning Wade Brown. Brown was born in the Blowing Rock area in 1907, and with his license plate motto of "Think Positive," has seen and been a part of many changes in the area. He settled in Boone and started a law practice in 1931, and served a term in the state Senate and two terms in the House of Representatives. He was also mayor of Boone from 1961 to 1968, and currently serves as one of the High Country's great historical resources.

Blowing Rock was already something of a resort town, with wealthy summer visitors coming up from other areas to pass the hot months on a shaded hotel porch. Green Park Inn was the destination of choice, and opened a nine-hole golf course around 1910. "It was crowded in the summertime, and the hotels would fill up, but in the wintertime, you couldn't find enough people to put out a fire," Brown says.

There were very few second-home owners in the area at the time. Of course, the most famous one, Moses Cone, who owned an estate above Blowing Rock, died around the time Brown was born, but his widow kept the estate going until it was donated to the National Parks Service after her death. Brown's father J.D. Brown had owned the land where Cone's manor was built, then became manager of the estate. J.D. Brown bought another piece of land and operated a farm, and Wade Brown says the family raised much of its food.

"We had plenty of vegetables, and we'd kill a beef each fall and cut it up and put it in brine, then put it in a big barrel down in the spring and eat on it all spring. "Nobody had much money. It seemed like a rarity. The rich people would come up and play golf. I caddied for two of them all day and made four whole dollars. I thought I was rich."

"Most of the folks who stayed in Blowing Rock stayed at the hotels," Brown says. "There weren't any motels. A few houses in town had gas generators for electricity. The town had a generator that made a thumping noise that you could hear for miles."

Brown saw his first automobile at the age of three or four. His uncle George Suddreth had one of the earlier cars in Blowing Rock, and came down to give the children a Sunday afternoon ride. "We were thrilled with seeing it," says Brown. "When he started to take us for a ride, he found he'd lost his crank. It cranked from the side, not at the front. We pushed it to a hill and got it started it. It made a right loud noise."

Brown says that transportation is one of the most obvious difference between then and now in the region. Boone was the only place that had a paved street. All the other roads were dirt, which made travel difficult or impossible in bad weather.

"It was a different life, and we didn't consider it hard," says Brown. "I thought we were doing fine. When I was twelve years old, I worked on the dam at Broyhill Park and I drove a team of mules. I made ten cents an hour."

For people interested in a closer look at the area and Brown's history, he's published a book called Wade E. Brown: Recollections and Reflections, which is available at local bookstores.

ASU, Mast Store, And More

Appalachian State University, which was formed in 1899, really began to grow in the early 1900's. The school started as Watauga Academy with 53 students, with the first "official" building constructed in 1903. The school became Appalachian Training School that year, and grew on the strength of private and public donations. The first brick campus building was constructed in 1906. The school became a junior college in 1921.

Walnut Grove school, the forerunner to Cove Creek High School, was built in 1903. The Mast family donated land and money to the cause. Board was $6 per month and tuition was $1 per month.

The historic Mast Store in Valle Crucis was typical of general stores of the first decade. Merchants got many of their wares by trading with both local farmers and with drummers, who traveled the region doing business. Sugar, salt, and coffee were usually bought in hundred-pound bags, because transportation was so unreliable that people wanted to stock up. Much produce was stored in barrels and also sold in bulk. Instead of money, many times "due bills" were exchanged to even up balances on trades. The bills could be cashed in on the next deal.

Timbered Ridge Baptist Church was built in 1906 as part of the Three Forks Baptist Association. Grist mills were also popular at the time, with farmers bringing their corn to be ground into meal. Usually the grist operator took a portion of grain for his services. Small cooperative cheese-making and selling ventures were also popular at the time.

Jones House Built In 1908

The heart of downtown Boone was built just after the turn of the century, though no one knew it at the time.

The Jones House, which is now the town's Community Center and home of the Watauga Arts Council, was constructed by Dr. John Walter Jones in 1908. Jones was originally from Alleghany County, and was one of the early doctors of the area. His wife Mattie Blackburn Jones was the daughter of Boone merchant and prominent community member Manley Blackburn.

Dr. Jones kept his office and pharmacy above what is currently the upper floor of the Mast Store next to the Jones House property. He bought the land from the Councill family, which included the property that is now the home of The Mountain Times. Jones practiced medicine in the town until his death in 1925.

The land behind the house was used for a vegetable garden with pear, cherry, plum, and apple trees on the north side. There was also a barn, ice house, and a pasture for larger animals. The property shrank over the years as streets were built and widened.

Mattie Jones lived in the house until 1975 and died three years after that. The Joneses had two children, John Walter Jr., who died while in service of the Marine Corps in 1938, and Mazie Jean Jones Levenson, who has a first-floor gallery named after her in the historic house.

Much of the furnishings in the parlor were period pieces from when the Jones family lived there. The sofa, chair, tables, and floor lamp were original items that the town of Boone paid to have restored, and the sewing machine was manufactured in 1907.

The home was typical of houses of the era, with large windows and rooms, high ceilings, and a front and back porch. The entrance hall and parlor are walled with pine tongue-in-groove, or "boxcar", siding. Some of the chestnut wainscoting is still in the house as well, which underwent some slight renovations after being donated to the community. The house has a large, unfinished attic space with high ceilings, which the Jones' used for storage. Mazie Jones donated the house in the mid-1980's, with the Community Center opening to the public in 1988.

Lees-McRae College: Founded At Century's Turn

A small Presbyterian college in Banner Elk combined religious and educational goals to start off the century with a mission and a prayer.

A Presbyterian preacher, Reverend Edgar Tufts, was assigned to the Banner Elk region in 1897. In the winter of 1899, Tufts took some of the young people of the neighborhood into his study for further instruction to augment his work through the church. This small group, now known as the Class of 1900, marked the beginning of Lees-McRae College, which served as a boarding school for young teenagers.

A dormitory for girls was built that year on donations of money and lumber from the surrounding community. The school was named after teachers Elizabeth A. McRae and S.P. Lees. A boys' dormitory was constructed in nearby Plumtree. In 1907, the school was chartered by the state as Lees-McRae Institute.

Lees-McRae became a coeducational facility after the boys' dorms burned in 1927 and male students were moved to the Banner Elk campus.

Lees-McRae Institute became Lees-McRae College in 1931, becoming a two-year junior college and eliminating the boarding of high school students. In June of 1990 the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted Lees-McRae status as a senior, four-year college with a focus on liberal arts. It's famous for its Performing Arts department and currently enrolls 624 students.


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