Tuesday, October 11, 2016

History of Ashe County, NC

Ashe County is a place rich in history, heritage, and culture. The lands that now make up Ashe County were first used during the Paleo-Indian period of 12,000 BC to 8,000 BC. It appears likely that there were temporary camps on the uplands used by hunter-gatherers, whose permanent camps were located in eastern Tennessee. Woodland period (500 BC to 1,000 AC) sites are found as well, suggesting the valley was an important food-gathering route through the mountains.

Prior to the 18th century, the Cherokee, Creek and Shawnee Indians hunted, fished and battled within the region. There was little colonization until 1725 and because of Ashe County’s remoteness, it is often referred to as the “Lost Province”. It was the westward movement in the colonies that brought settlers. The Celtic people who traveled here were drawn by the promise of land and opportunity. Though not of the landed class, they were educated and were accustomed to a lifestyle uniquely suited to the mountains. These very independent immigrants were beyond the regulation of colonial governments and could build herds with a minimum of land. An abundance of wild game and fish, along with crop cultivation, helped them to survive the harsh winters and thrive.

Encompassing approximately 427 square miles, Ashe’s boundaries have been a topic of continuing dispute throughout the years. The area was part of Anson County during the early English colonization period; became part of Rowan County in 1753, Surry County in 1771, Wilkes County in 1777 and was briefly part of the State of Franklin from 1784-89. Incorporated as a separate entity by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1799, Ashe County came into its own. The name was given to honor Samuel Ashe, who had been Governor, Superior Court Judge, and a Revolutionary War patriot. The new county contained approximately 977 square miles. In 1849 approximately 320 square miles was ceded to the formation of Watauga County, and in 1859 approximately 230 square miles to the formation of Alleghany County.

Seeking a “proper and convenient” place to be the County’s seat, the North Carolina General Assembly appointed a special commission in 1799. In the first of many displays of exorbitant spending, the commissioners purchased 50 acres of land for $100. With this expenditure, the Town of Jefferson (for a short time called Jeffersonton) was born, being the first town in the nation to bear the name of Thomas Jefferson, who happened to be the Vice President of the United States at the time. Other incorporated towns within Ashe County include Lansing and West Jefferson, undoubtedly the County’s retail and service hub, offering a wonderful traditional-style walkable downtown.

In 1828, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, for whom Mount Mitchell was named, visited Ashe County. From his vantage point atop Mt. Jefferson he exclaimed: “Nearly the whole county of Ashe lay at our feet, the merrymanders of the river can be traced as on a map. Some of the plantation in view also presented a noble appearance, but oh, what an ocean of mountains!”  Dr. Mitchell’s description still has meaning for modern day Ashe County. The county is organized by its geography of mountains and winding routes of the New River and the New River’s many tributaries. The county is still rural and the modest farm complex from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century is still the most numerous property type. Decentralized communities served these farms with general stores, post offices, schools, and churches. Many examples of each of these buildings can still be found in the county. 

Hunting, trapping and farming were of early significance to Ashe County citizens. Traditional crops included wheat, rye, oats, barley, buckwheat, fruits and vegetables. Cattle operations have also been historically important to the local economy. The early 1900s saw much activity in the dairy industry, with cheese making factories in Grassy Creek and Beaver Creek, Sturgills, Crumpler and Ashland. Eventually, the Kraft-Phoenix Creamery established a plant in West Jefferson in the 1930s. Having had several owners, the plant is now the Ashe County Cheese Plant, for many years, the only such facility in North Carolina. In addition to the harvesting of crops, mining operations have flourished locally, including those seeking iron and copper ores. Copper mining started in the late 1800s, with Ore Knob being possibly the best known mine (at one time, being the leading copper producing mine in the United States). During these times, most farm implements used locally were forged in Ashe County. Helton was the iron-making center of the County, producing plows, hoes, wagon wheels, axes, mattocks and shovels.

Early industries in Ashe County included the Phoenix Chair Manufacturing Company, started around 1935 as a byproduct of chairs being produced in a small saw milling operation. Some of the Phoenix Company’s contemporaries include the Knox Knitting Company of Creston, an Oak Flooring Company established by W. E. Vannoy in 1935 and the Peerless Hosiery Company, beginning in 1953. Other, larger industrial operations to locate in Ashe County have been the Sprague Electric Company, the P.H. Hanes Knitting Company, the Gates Rubber Company, producing belts and hoses, as well as Southern Devices, and Leviton Manufacturing.

Since the early 1960s, the production of Christmas trees and holiday greenery has become the largest single agricultural enterprise in the county. With over 700 local growers, Ashe County is recognized as the largest producer of Christmas trees in the United States.

Ashe County’s early education system consisted of private schools, being held either in the summer or winter. A County Examiner was responsible for certifying teachers, who were primarily women or young girls during summer, and men or young boys during winter. Classes were often held in churches, homes or vacant stores, and teachers would stay alternately with different families within the community. Public schools began in the county in 1870, with school consolidation beginning in 1930. Separate schools for black and white children operated until 1965, when the system was integrated by the County. 

One of the county’s most distinctive features is the New River. It is said to be over three hundred million years old, and is unique in that flows North. The river has been a major reason for settlement here, as well as a popular source of recreational activities. On July 30, 1998, it became protected from major development when it was proclaimed an American Heritage River by President Bill Clinton.

The Museum of Ashe County History, located in the historic and newly renovated 1904 courthouse, displays many artifacts and treasures, providing insight into the county and the people who settled the area. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Barn Quilts in Ashe County

Have you wondered what the painted square on the sides of barns, sheds, garages, houses and other buildings are as you drive through our gorgeous Ashe County? Well, they are called Barn Quilts!

Ashe County has a special place in history for the Barn Quilt movement. It dates back to pre-civil war times. It is said that Mount Jefferson was very much a part of the Underground Railroad. Dotted around the mountain are caves that the slaves would hide in on their way to Virginia and points further north.

 As slaves traveled the Underground Railroad, families would take a scrap of quilt, most often a single block and tack it to the barn, their fence post or porch. This was an indication to the slaves that it was a safe haven for food, shelter and comfort during their travel North.

Displaying Barn Quilts in Ashe County was started as a project funded by the Blue Ridge National Heritage Grant through Handmade in America. The mission of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is to protect, preserve, interpret and develop the unique natural, historical a cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations.

Supported by the Ashe County Arts Council this project has blossomed from about 150 different quilts in the beginning to a much larger number today. You can pick up a brochure at the Arts Council or download one from their site and follow along six different driving loops through the county where you can enjoy a drive through our gorgeous county and marvel at the different quilts displayed.

Folks today put up barn quilts for many reasons, and this movement of Barn Quilts has become a treasured public art form. Barn Quilts come in all shapes and sizes and we have several wonderful local shops where you can go in and browse the different already made barn quilts, or even commission one that has special meaning to you or your family.  Quilt Square Girls or Barn Quilt Headquarters in West Jefferson have a wide selection of quilts to pick from.

You can even come for a few days and make your own quilt. Florence Thomas Art School in West Jefferson will hold several "Make a Barn Quilt" classes throughout the year. These are a lot of fun and you get to take home a quilt that you created.

Nearby Watauga County also hosts a Barn Quilt trail as does Avery, Wilkes and Yancy counties.

The first official quilt trail was begun in 2001 in Adams County, Ohio. Donna Sue Groves wanted to honor her mother, Maxine, a noted quilter, with a painted quilt square on the family's barn. Though many believe that the Groves farm is home to the first barn quilt, that is not the case. The first barn quilt was an Ohio Star which was unveiled as part of a community celebration at a nearby herb farm. The Groves farm later became part of a trail of 20 barn quilts that formed a driving trail throughout Adams County. From this, a U.S. national quilt trail has rapidly spread across the country and even into Canada and New Brunswick.

As you drive across the United States, you can click on this interactive map Barn Quilt Trails which gives you driving routes to see quilts across our country.

Take a drive and have a look!

Friday, June 24, 2016

How It All Started

I thought that folks might be interested in hearing how we ended up with the Cabins at Healing Springs, so here is a somewhat brief history of how we came to own this little piece of heaven in Ashe County.

We had been coming to spend weekends in Ashe County and one rainy weekend in the fall of 2013, we were just driving about exploring the back roads and happened to turn at the Riverside Store and come up Healing Springs Road. As we drove up this road, you could see glimpses of little rustic cabins through the overgrown foliage and I remember saying how this place could be "really cute, with a little love".  As many of you know, my intrepid partner said "oh, hell NO" and drove up the road like his tail was on fire :)

A few weeks pass and we again come up to Ashe County for a weekend getaway and I had not stopped thinking about the sad little cabins on Healing Springs Road.....so here we go, I had to coax him into driving back down Healing Springs Road. It is now later in the year and all the leaves are off the trees, so you can really get a much better view of the cabins. This was not an encouraging sight....the roofs have holes, the doors have fallen off, the cabins are all sagging, they were all very pitiful.

Of course, I want to get out and walk around using the reasoning that clearly no one lived here, so we could just peek in the open doors. We spent an hour or so walking about the property and peeking into the cabins and really taking a good look around them. All I can say in hindsight it that they did not look nearly as bad as they were! My partner in his usual fashion just shook his head and repeated his "oh, hell no!" statement a few times as I tried to get him to envision how cute they could be if we just put a little bit of elbow grease and time into them. I do recall that he suggested more than a few times that lighting a match would be the only thing that could help these cabins. 

We went back to Wilson, NC where we were living at the time, and I couldn't stop thinking about these sad little cabins. I did a whole bunch of internet sleuthing and discovered that the property was on the National Historic Register of Places as Thompson's Bromine and Arsenic Springs and that the spring had been discovered in 1883.  

More research led me to all sorts of stories about the miraculous "healing" powers of the spring water and how it had once been touted as the 8th wonder of the world and exported all across the United States between 1889 and 1898 by Captain V. Thompson as a medicinal beverage. 
When we first started looking at the property, the spring house pictured above was still standing. Unfortunately later that fall a tree came down on top of it and damaged it beyond repair. We hope to rebuild the spring house just as it once was next year (2017) using historical lumber donated to use by some wonderful neighbors. 

I also learned of the hotel that Captain Thompson had built and how it was a long narrow building with rooms above and a great dining hall on the lower level. The hotel burned down in 1962, but many of the local folk remember it and have stories to share regarding the hotel. The hotel stairs are still here, but have fallen into the creek. 
In my continued research about the Healing Springs, I managed to find an address for the current owner, who was located in London, UK and wrote a letter asking if she would consider selling me the property as I was very supportive of historic preservation and felt passionately that this property could be saved and perhaps restored to it's former glory. 

Imagine our surprise when her agent here in NC contacted us and we started a dialogue about purchasing the property. Many more telephone calls, emails and several more visits to Ashe County  later, we officially purchased Healing Springs in late January of 2014, and moved in in February of that year. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with February weather in Ashe County...it can be COLD! Single digit COLD as we learned. We moved into the building that is now the Lodge, but at that time was just a barn, but it had a roof that only leaked a little making it the most obvious choice as to where to live. Our first month or so was very rustic, no running water and the bathroom was 4 cabins away from where we "lived". Thank goodness for the water from the Healing Spring!

We started work in earnest on the cabins with many visits by loads of local folk who were just positive that we are out of our minds and that there was no way the property could be saved. The number of people who insisted this property was "too far gone" was enormous. It was a steady stream of visitors for the first few weeks. Many of them mentioned that they had considered purchasing the property when it had been for sale in the late 1980's, but were daunted by the amount of work that it required then. At that point, we were still all excited about our purchase and very starry-eyed by the possibility of what we could do to restore the cabins. 

Months of work went by, long days, huge amount of effort and every single dime we could scrounge up went into the property and by July, we had a couple of cabins finished and were up and running with cabins for rent! Whoot! Whoot!! We continued working on the cabins, one cabin at a time and by August had most of them competed. We had started working on the ones in the worst condition first and that was a very smart move, because towards the end of that 8 months of hard work, we were tired and loosing steam. In hindsight, had we not started with the most challenging cabins first, we probably not be where we are today. We would have given up. This was a daunting challenge!

  Owl Cabin then         and Owl Cabin today!

We continue to make improvements and do anything we can to restore the cabins while keeping their original "feel" and "look", but with modern options such as on-demand hot water, gas logs in the fireplaces along with plush beds and cozy furniture. Our goal is to make Healing Springs a place that you come to rest, relax and rejuvenate!

Come for a visit, the mountains are calling :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Meet our team!

It takes a lot of hands to keep everything up and running here at Healing Springs and I would like to take a moment to introduce you to the "team" that keeps Healing Springs looking its' best.

We are lucky to have such great people working with us to bring you the best guest experience possible. Let's start with meeting our housekeeping team:

This is Selena - she has lived in Ashe County for 25 years and is married with 2 children. 

Kasey is originally from Nashville, TN. Her and her family moved to Jefferson, NC eight years ago. She graduated from Ashe County High School in 2013 and Artistic Academy Beauty School in 2015. She now works as a Cosmetologist in Jefferson and a joins our housekeeping team several days a week. 

Jenny was born in Boone, then moved to Sparta until she was 18, she then 

 Born in Boone lived in Sparta for years until moving to Ashe County 8 years ago.Jenny has 2 kids, and loves living in the mountains. 
In addition to our great housekeeping team, we are lucky enough to have Roe helping us with all sorts of things. Roe has been with us since we purchased Healing Springs, so he was very involved in the renovation work that we did for the first couple of years. He now does a little bit of everything for us, pitching in wherever he is needed. He even helps with our cows! Roe was born and raised in Ashe County and even went to school at the Healing Springs School. 

If you see any of them during your stay, please say "hi", they enjoy meeting our guests and work very hard to make your stay with us a great experience!


Monday, May 23, 2016

A day trip to Grandfather Mountain

Looking for a "day trip" a bit further afield? Grandfather Mountain might be just the ticket! It is about an hours drive from the cabins. While the Grandfather Mountain and Mile High Swinging Bridge is very much a tourist destination, it is a beautiful area and has some great trails. While this isn't my typical recommendation for an out-of-the-way destination, it has a lot going for it and can be a very fun day trip!

Grandfather Mountain is home to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, built in 1952, it is America's highest suspension footbridge and was built to give visitors a view to Grandfather Mountain's Linville Peak. The 228-foot suspension bridge spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation. Re-built in 1999 using modern building materials, the walk across this bridge is sure to be the highlight of your trip.  Please note that you are required to purchase tickets for admission and the funds from your admission tickets benefit the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the park for future generations. 

Grandfather Mountain has a number of trails across the park from easy to strenuous. If you want to skip the admission to the Swinging Bridge, and hike for free, you can access the trail heads from outside the attraction. There are off mountain trailheads located either on the Blue Ridge Parkway (or U.S. 221 in winter) or N.C. 105. We have maps of the trails and access points in our Lodge building, just ask us!

The mountain also has an excellent Nature Museum, a number of naturalist programs, a globally recognized nature preserve, and is recognized as an "important bird area" by the Audubon Society of NC.  

Spend the day hiking, stroll across the Mile High Bridge, enjoy the gorgeous views and appreciate what the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is working to preserve. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A great reason for a trip to Lansing!

As you all know, I firmly believe that we live in a wonderful part of the state and I love sharing my suggestions on where to go, what to do and where to eat with our guests. 

The pretty Spring weather we are finally enjoying is just perfect for enjoying a glass of wine or beer while sitting around a campfire in the evening. We keep these stocked with firewood for your use. 

But before you relax at the end of the day, I would like to suggest grabbing a meal at Pie on the Mountain in Lansing. It is well worth the pretty 15 minute drive to Lansing to go to this quaint pizzeria. The food is fabulous!! Most of the time, the nice guy making the pizza is the owner. It's a small place with friendly staff and great food featuring many locally sourced ingredients.  If you aren't a big fan of pizzas with one of the best crusts I have ever tasted, then try their crisp salads or tasty sandwiches and calzones. You can't go wrong with anything on their menu! Pie on the Mountain in Lansing, NC.  Open 6 days a week, closed on Tuesdays. 
If the great food and good service weren't enough to tempt you to go for a short drive, they also feature work by several local artists on their walls. Our very own favorite artist - Kelly Cameron of Kelly's Color Studio has some great examples of her work displayed in the restaurant for sale.  

Should you want to work up an appetite to justify eating loads of great pizza, we suggest a stroll along the Lansing Park and Walking trail, or for the more adventuresome - hike nearby Pond Mountain, a project by the Blue Ridge Conservancy which protects the 1,800 acres overlooking the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. More information on Pond Mountain can be found here