When people think of the High Country, they think of beautiful mountain views, incredible food and amazing people that make up our communities.
However, there is more to it than that. There is a whole layer of historical places, people and events that have occurred over the decades and centuries to make our community, our home, just what it is.
The Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation is hosting its second annual Downtown Banner Elk Walking Tour to help educate residents and visitors alike on just how historical and meaningful this area is.
“It really combines the outdoor activities of Banner Elk with the history of Banner Elk, and they’re both such drives,” Meredith Olan, Executive Director of the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, said, “and we wanted to combine that.”
The tour, organized by Chair of the event Jean Webb, is about a mile long and will begin at the Banner House Museum at 10 a.m. with tours leaving every half hour until 1 p.m. Throughout the walk, sixteen prominent buildings will be pointed out, such as The Cheese House to the Old Town Hall and Jail, for participants to learn about and understand the history behind each and every one of them.
“These are buildings that people drive by all the time and don’t realize how historical they are. They all have histories behind them, people who have lived in these buildings,” Olan said. “When you walk through, you really see how small it was, and what a lovely community it was and still is.”
According to Olan, the mission of the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation is to preserve the small village character and sense of community in the Greater Banner Elk area for future generation and tourists.
“It’s important for people tor realize the heritage of the area that they are living in or passing through. Banner Elk has been a place for people to come for generations,” Olan said. “It’s not just an area that is pretty and nice. People lived here, and it was hard. We try to tell as much of the story of the development of the town in order to enrich the tourism and understanding of the community.”
The Banner House Museum, the public face of the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, itself functions out of a historically preserved building. It once belonged to Samuel Henry Banner, his wife Jane and their children. It was built around 1870, and the Heritage Foundation purchased it in 2005 and then opened the museum in 2007.
The House is set up the same way a house normally would be – there is a living room, a kitchen and bedrooms the way the children might have had them.
“We let the house tell the story of the family that tells the story of the town,” Olan said.
There are guided tours of the home Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., as well as exhibition rooms that have further information and more in-depth experiences for visitors. Along with this, the Banner House Museum has one of only three of the Civil War trail markers in the county, as well as Native American heritage exhibits. Not only that, but the Banner House Museum also partners with the Book Exchange to bring a lecture series to the community.
“We try to get as much out in front of people as possible, so that their experience becomes more well-rounded and more than just a pretty scenic view,” Olan said. “The nature is a wonderful part of the area, but the people who have lived and been here are part of the nature as well, and they still are.”
Descendants from the original families of the town are still prominent throughout the community, as well as people who were alive and well during the times when the Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce building was actually the Village Grocery.
“All these people are around town and still in the area, and they remember these things,” Olan said. “It’s wonderful to be able to share that and emphasize the experiences of the people who’ve lived, and still do live, here.”
Participants of the walk can reserve their spots on the walk by calling the Banner House Museum at 828-898-3634.
The walk is free of charge, but donations are always welcome to support the heritage and historical preservation of the Greater Banner Elk area.