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Watauga County Historical Society Announces Constance Stallings As Next Inductee to the WCHS Hall of Fame

Constance Stallings reviews paperwork in the Stallings Jewelry Store circa 1952. Image courtesy of the Palmer Blair Collection, Digital Watauga Project.

As part of ongoing activities associated with the Boone 150 celebrations in 2022, marking the 150th anniversary of Boone’s official incorporation as a town on January 23, 1872, the Watauga County Historical Society (WCHS) has established the Watauga County Historical Society Hall of Fame. Throughout 2022, WCHS will name twelve individuals or groups—one each month—as members of the inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame.

For the month of May 2022, the WCHS is delighted to announce that Constance McBride Shoun Stallings (1904-1982) has been named as the next inductee of this inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame. Born in Neva, Johnson County, Tennessee, to Minnie B. McBride Shoun and Andrew Henderson Shoun, Constance Stallings was the fourth of six children. Raised in Neva, she secured her higher education through degrees earned at Carson-Newman College and Vanderbilt University. By the late 1920s, she was teaching science, history, social science, and English at Cove Creek High School, where she also coached students on their dramatic productions and sponsored the Nature Study club. As evidence of her insatiable interest in history and culture, she ventured to Europe for ten weeks on an eleven-country tour in 1938, a rare feat among her contemporaries, particularly as a world war began to break out on the continent. In 1940, she married Bernard William “B. W.” Stallings, owner of the Stallings Jewelry Store that was located for many decades on King Street next to the Appalachian Theatre. Their first home together was the apartment above the jewelry store, now home to the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country offices. They operated the landmark jewelry store together for more than three decades until Constance Stallings became the sole owner in 1971. She sold the business in 1973. The Stallingses had two children: Bernard William Stallings, Jr. (who was killed in a tragic automobile accident at age five) and Andrew Haywood “Andy” Stallings, who still lives in Boone.

Once she became a resident of Boone in 1940, Constance Stallings expanded her social and community roles. During and after World War II, she was active with the Order of the Eastern Star (a Masonic organization), served as chairwoman of the Watauga County division of the North Carolina Good Health Association in 1946, and served as president of the Worthwhile Woman’s Club (WWC) beginning in 1945. She was also active in the WWC’s club on gardens by 1946, beginning a long and highly regarded avocation that would shape the landscape and history of Boone in the decades to come. As a promoter of local flower shows through her charter membership in the Blue Ridge Garden Club, Stallings was unrivaled. The 1952 Boone Flower Show, for example, which Stallings co-chaired, was awarded the purple ribbon for best in the nation at the national convention of the National Garden Club. Over the course of her life, she won countless awards for her lilies and daffodils, served frequently as a flower show judge throughout the country, and helped establish the Model Mile highway beautification program in North Carolina. Garden afficionados throughout the state held Stallings in such high regard that they honored her with a life membership in the North Carolina Garden Club in 1959 and with the Palmgren Silver Pitcher as Director of the Year in 1960. She was later awarded a life membership in the National Council of State Garden Clubs.

Stallings was also active in the Boone Chamber of Commerce, and in 1951, she persuaded her peers in the Chamber to recruit Kermit Hunter—a highly regarded playwright of outdoor dramas such as Unto These Hills, The Trail of Tears, and Honey in the Rock—to author a new outdoor drama on the history of the High Country. Inspired by the success of Unto These Hills in drawing tourists to Cherokee, North Carolina, Stallings argued that a similar production in Boone would anchor the burgeoning, postwar tourist trade to the mountains, thus expanding Boone’s postwar economy. Her predictions proved to be visionary and transformative for her community. Writing at the conclusion of the 1952 season, Watauga Democrat editor Rob Rivers credited Stallings for the concept and proclaimed that Horn’s debut “will be a kind of reckoning point, a place to ‘date back to’ for years to come.” Stallings continued to remain active with the Southern Appalachian Historical Association (SAHA) in the decades to follow, holding several officer positions, but her influence exceeded mere titles. In 1959, for example, when the Tatum Cabin was added to Daniel Boone Park, SAHA turned to Stallings to deliver a talk on the history of the cabin at the dedication ceremonies.

To prepare the town for the influx of tourists with the opening of Horn in the West in 1952, Stallings also organized and promoted a “Paint-Up, Clean-Up, and Fix-Up Campaign” that culminated in a popular parade themed around the idea of a “Cleaned Up” Boone. Stallings continued to revisit the Boone Clean-Up theme in the decades to follow, insisting that a cleaner, more appealing appearance to Boone would benefit everyone, businessowners and residents alike. These initiatives sometimes created conflicts for Stallings, who was also a fierce advocate for protecting and preserving Boone’s older trees; when some local residents called for these trees to be cut down or cut back to “clean up” Boone’s appearance, Stallings pushed back, insisting that even diseased or dead trees should be replaced with mature saplings that could grow up in place of any removed trees for generations to follow.

Stallings was a major force in the 1958 push for a community recreation center at Daniel Boone Park, including a clubhouse, canteen, concession stand, swimming pool, playground, and memorial garden. When Stallings’s tireless campaign as chairperson of the Park Committee failed to bring the full recreation center plan to fruition, Stallings pivoted the following year to her successful advocacy for the creation of the Daniel Boone Botanical Garden on the same parcel where the recreation center had been planned. Designed for the explicit purpose of conserving native plants and shrubs, the Daniel Boone Botanical Garden was funded by the Garden Club of North Carolina with cooperation from SAHA, Appalachian State Teachers College, and the Wildflower Preservation Society. She was awarded the Garden Club of North Carolina’s Maslin Award in 1968 for her conception and promotion of the Daniel Boone Botanical Garden.

Among the many other organizations Stallings was involved in were the Boone Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Rhododendron Book Club, the Boone Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the Appalachian High School Boosters Club, the Boone Planning Board, and the Boone Beautification Committee. She also served for two years as president of the Band Parents Association. A devout Baptist, she was active in church leadership, too, teaching Sunday School at Boone’s First Baptist Church for more than ten years, serving as president of the Women’s Missionary Union, and participating as a member of the Church Council, the Training Union, and the planning board for her church.

Stallings is perhaps best remembered, though, for her persistence. As another Boone luminary privately observed of her a few years ago, Constance Stallings didn’t accept failure. “She was someone you just didn’t say ‘no’ to,” this individual recalled. “She was always going to get what she wanted, one way or another. Her persistence and her tireless energy were intimidating and impressive.” Stallings was certainly appreciated for that during her lifetime, too. In a countywide vote held in 1961, Watauga County residents selected her for the county’s first “Woman of the Year” award, sponsored by the Boone Business and Professional Women’s Club.

The WCHS is delighted to honor Constance Stallings for her prodigious contributions to the preservation of Watauga County’s and Boone’s history and heritage, as well as her inspiring and selfless commitment throughout her life to bettering her community for all.

The WCHS Hall of Fame honors individuals, either living or dead, who have made significant and lasting contributions to Watauga County’s history and/or literature, including those whose efforts have been essential to the preservation of Watauga County’s history and/or literature. Honorees need not have been residents of Watauga County. The WCHS is particularly interested in honoring individuals who meet the above criteria but who may have been overlooked in traditional accounts of Watauga County’s history and literature, including women and people of color. Selections for this inaugural class were made from nominations submitted by members of the Digital Watauga Project Committee (DWPC) of the WCHS. Beginning in 2023, the WCHS will also consider nominations from members of the public, which in turn will be evaluated by the DWPC.