By Harley Nefe
Around 30 members of the Blowing Rock Historical Society met via Zoom for the 30th Annual Meeting on Aug. 9 at 4 p.m. The BRHS Annual Meeting is an occasion for members to gather, socialize, hear about status updates and tend to business.
One of the main updates was the announcement of the BRHS Officers for the 2020-2021 year. These individuals include Tom O’Brien as president, Jean Wilkinson as vice president, Ann Rhyne as secretary and Jim Clabough as treasurer.
O’Brien said during the meeting, “I am really, really appreciative of the board appointing me president, and I’m really passionate about the Blowing Rock Historical Society.”
In addition to the officers, members of the BRHS Board of Directors were announced, including Carol Knapp, Ann Rhyne, Charlie Sellers, Jim Clabough, Jim Crowell, Bob Stout, Tom O’Brien, Lonnie Webster and Jean Wilkinson.
O’Brien then went on to talk about his experience with BRHS and how three years ago, he and his wife were co-chairs of the program Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage, which is sponsored by BRHS.
“Blowing Rock Historical Society is a social organization where we can get together with fellowship, but it also does a whole lot for our community. And frankly, I’m very excited about what our society does for our community,” O’Brien said. “Along the way, I’ve learned that the historical society really does make a significant contribution, and another thing I’ve learned along the way is that Blowing Rock has a colorful history. There is a lot that has happened in our history that is really interesting, and our job as an historical society is to bring that to life and to present that to the public.”
BRHS operates out of two locations, which are at the Edgewood Cottage and the Blowing Rock 1888 Museum, both located on Main Street in downtown Blowing Rock.
BRHS also puts on a total of six events throughout the year in addition to fellowship get-togethers, where members can see friends, make new ones and have a good time.
The BRHS events include the Holiday Party, Town Birthday Party, Jerry Burns Day, Tea & Tour, Hometown Harvest and the Annual Meeting.
BRHS also has three programs that all started in 2009, including Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage, Blowing Rock in Transition and the Historical Marker Program.
The Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage Program allows the historical home of renowned artist Elliott Daingerfield to be used in the summer as a gallery. Over the years, there have been over 100 High Country artists that have had the opportunity to spend a week in Edgewood Cottage showing their work and selling their art. The cottage averages around 300-500 visitors a week.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the 2020 Artists in Residence at Edgewood Cottage schedule has been canceled despite 26 artists being already selected.
“It broke our hearts that we had to discontinue the program this year,” O’Brien said.
However, all 26 of the artists were invited back next year, and O’Brien said they “are committed to making the 2021 Artists in Residence Program be the best ever.”
The BRHS’s Blowing Rock in Transition Program started with Jerry Burns, who was the longtime editor of The Blowing Rocket and known locally as “Mr. Blowing Rock,” before he passed away in 2010. Burns would go to Main Street every two years and take photographs of everything in sight, including events and buildings, collecting a photograph history of Blowing Rock and what the town looked like back then and what it looks like as it changes over time.
Lonnie Webster, who is a member of the BRHS’s board, has been continuing the program.
“That’s BRHS doing something that we can really be proud of,” O’Brien said. “We are maintaining Blowing Rock’s history; we are maintaining Blowing Rock’s history for ourselves, for our kids, grandkids and their kids.”
The Historical Marker Program is a partnership between BRHS and the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum that awards historical markers to properties of historical significance to the town. Over 40 properties have received this prestigious award, which is presented during the annual Town Birthday Party.
Since the last Annual Meeting, some of the things that BRHS has been working on includes preserving and publishing historic photo collections on the internet, as overtime they deteriorate. BRHS also donated half of this year’s dues to the Rock United Relief Fund to help the town of Blowing Rock as well as gave money to Moses Cone restoration projects.
In addition, BRHS reprinted “A Village Tapestry: The History of Blowing Rock,” written by Barry Buxton. The book can be purchased at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce. It is also hardback, which has not been printed since 1989.
BRHS also established a walking tour of the historical markers, which leads individuals to various sites and dives into the deep history, along with improving and re-curating the Blowing Rock 1888 Museum.
The theme of the museum is the role of tourism in the history of Blowing Rock. Once it’s made legal, the museum will be open seven days a week, opening in the morning and closing in the evening, and act as a self guided tour. In addition, the back door of the museum has been readded along with a back porch to better support traffic flow.
During the Annual Meeting, attendants watched a video showing the grand reveal of the Blowing Rock 1888 Museum. Inside, there are text panels that talk about tourism, early development, how people traveled and what activities they would participate in.
The back room of the museum has been dedicated to the Watauga Hotel itself and what it would be like to stay there in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the room, there is furniture that is believed to have been in that time period; however, it is impossible to know exactly what would have been in there, and the room is based on other hotels and information.
The historical walking tour the BRHS established was with the help of Appalachian State University public history graduate student Margaret Handley, who had an internship opportunity with the historical society with the goal of producing a walking tour through the Clio app for the town of Blowing Rock that focused on downtown.
When you pull up the tour on either a computer or mobile phone, there are 11 sites on the tour, and each site has a short introduction and a longer backstory that goes deep into the history of the site.
“The hope is that this tour will encourage heritage tourism, promote downtown business and create connections with visitors that will keep them coming back to Blowing Rock,” Handley said. “Ultimately, we want the tour to be viewed by the town as an asset to the community and also something that will create exposure for the historical society.”
The 11 sites on the tour, which are in order, are as follows:
- Miller Robbins House (1903) and the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce
- The Watauga Hotel (1884-1926)
- 1888 Museum
- Inn at Ragged Gardens
- The Village Café
- The Martin House
- Hanna’s Oriental Rugs & Gifts
- St Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church
- Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church
- Edgewood Cottage
- Blowing Rock Art and History Museum
“We looked for sites that have engaging human interest stories and stories that would fit together with one another to create a cohesive story of the history of the town and show connections between the original families and businesses owners and what the community looks like today based on those histories,” Handley said. “I encourage everyone to at least look up The Clio and download the app and go take a walk around downtown and see how it works and if you learn anything.”
Toward the end of the Annual Meeting, O’Brien shared an eight-minute video of photos from the Blowing Rock in Transition Program. A two-minute preview, created by Lonnie Webster, can be seen here:
“I have previewed this video with a few people already, and almost everybody that sees it, comes away with nearly tears in their eyes, so this will really be a nice walk down memory lane,” O’Brien said.
Over the next months and years, BRHS will be finding other ways to share lots of the photos that were taken.
Lastly, BRHS shared that it updated its website so that it is easy to navigate with improved and compelling content. The website is https://www.blowingrockhistoricalsociety.com/. For anyone who is interested in joining the BRHS, they are encouraged to visit the website for more information.
“Our Blowing Rock Historical Society is really making a difference in Blowing Rock,” O’Brien said. “I think it makes Blowing Rock a better place to live and a better place to visit for our tourists.”