By Jan Todd
Virginia “Ginny” Stevens, a passionate preserver of Blowing Rock history, passed away last Wednesday. Ginny had enormous impact in saving treasures and recording moments that help make Blowing Rock the charming town loved by tourists and locals alike.
Ginny and her husband, David, moved to Blowing Rock in 1985. Recognizing the value of the town’s rich history, Ginny wasted no time and co-founded the Blowing Rock Historical Society that very year. Long time friend Kitty Norris, who was another charter member of the BRHS, commented, “Ginny was a teacher, and was very curious about things. She wasn’t satisfied with a question or two; she’d really dig in and research. She was interested in history, and a preservationist. Before she moved to Blowing Rock, she was very involved in Preservation North Carolina, in Raleigh. She helped save a number of buildings there in Raleigh. So she brought that interest with her.”
The Blowing Rock Historical Society has since grown to over 300 members, and plays a vital role in protecting the town’s historical character. Under Ginny’s leadership, the BRHS restored and opened the Edgewood Cottage, home of artist Elliott Daingerfield. Ginny often worked at the Edgewood Cottage, where she enjoyed speaking with guests about her life in Blowing Rock. She also worked at the 1888 Museum, housed in the last remaining cottage of the historic Watauga Hotel.
She was once described in “Our State” magazine as the “sprightly attendant at the tiny white cottage-turned history-museum adjacent to the town’s picturesque Memorial Park.” Ginny would tell visitors about the town’s tourist trade in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when wealthy guests flocked to the grand hotels, The Green Park Inn, the Mayview Manor, and the Watauga Hotel.
One guest who wandered into the 1888 Museum on Ginny’s shift was Rita White, who is now the president of the BRHS. “I had just moved here in 2010,” recalled Rita. “I walked into the Museum, and commented that I was new to the area. Ginny started telling me about Blowing Rock, and I sat and visited with her the entire afternoon! She told me about the history of the town, and asked me all about myself.”
When she learned that Rita had moved from Albuquerque by herself, Ginny invited her to spend Christmas with her family. “That’s how she was,” described Rita. “It snowed that Christmas. That was the year we got 95” of snow! I didn’t think I could make it over to her house, so she sent her husband and son to pick me up. We had a wonderful time.”
Many remember Ginny’s presence at the Blowing Rock Town Council meetings, where she would always sit in the front row and be ready to “speak her mind” about matters pertaining to development or any threats to the historical preservation of the town. “She was an asset, an ambassador, and interested in what went on in the town,” said Kitty. “She worked very hard for Blowing Rock, and her legacy will live on for a long time.
Ginny initiated the historical marker program with BRAHM (the Blowing Rock Arts and History Museum), as was instrumental in the preservation and move of the historic Hayes House. She and her husband were honored by BRAHM with the dedication of the Stevens Gallery, a permanent exhibit on the top floor of the museum, featuring “The Village of Blowing Rock: Exploring Our History.”
Recognizing the value of a good ambassador, Ginny proposed the declaration of “Jerry Burns Day,” an annual event held at the American Legion to honor and celebrate the birthday of the man known as “Mr. Blowing Rock.” Each year, historians and interested citizens gather to eat birthday cake and hear presentations about historical events in the area. Ironically, Ginny herself was awarded the 2014 Jerry Burns Ambassadorial Award by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Ginny loved Blowing Rock, and Blowing Rock loved her. In an issue of “My Hometown,” Ginny herself once wrote, “Living here is the best of all worlds as far as my husband and I are concerned. We have been nurtured and loved and found so many treasured memories that are unique to Blowing Rock, its people, and the beautiful mountains that we feel we could have no better place to live. We count our blessings daily.”
The last eighteen months of her life, Ginny and her husband lived at The Pines retirement community in Davidson, NC. Ginny returned to Blowing Rock to serve as Grand Marshall in the Blowing Rock 4th of July parade in 2016, in recognition of her many contributions she made to the town.
A reception will be held on Thursday, January 4 from 4-6pm at the American Legion Building in Blowing Rock, where the family of Ginny Stevens invites her friends to honor and remember all that she did to celebrate and preserve the history of Blowing Rock.
Photos by Lonnie Webster
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