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 June 2022, the WCHS is delighted to announce that the Lyons Brothers—Leslie, Clarence, and Earl—have been named as the next inductees of this inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame.
Best remembered as master stone masons who constructed numerous homes and institutional buildings throughout Watauga County during the 1930s and 1940s, the Lyons Brothers (who frequently spelled their last name interchangeably as “Lyon”) were three of the six children of William Coy Lyons and Martha Victoria Hodges Lyons of Boone. Little is known about the education or early careers of the brothers. Leslie McDonald Lyons (1900-1957) appeared in the 1920 Federal Census as a timber worker, but his whereabouts and those of his brothers—Clarence Manleth Lyons (1903-1981) and Earl Jones Lyons (1912-1984)—for much of the 1920s are unknown. By 1928, however, all three men were in Durham, North Carolina, where they remained during the late 1920s and early 1930s, completing masonry work on Duke Chapel (cornerstone laid 1930, completed 1932) as well as other buildings at Duke University. During this period, the Lyons Brothers appeared in local directories and the 1930 Federal Census under variations of the Lyon/Lyons name and at various times as laborers, stonemasons, stonecutters, and stone setters. Coverage of Earl’s marriage in January 1932 indicated that he returned to Boone that month, shortly after completing an unidentified “stone church in Ashe County during the late fall and early winter” of 1931. Leslie and Clarence also appear to have returned to Boone about 1932.
The Lyons Brothers are perhaps best known, however, for their masonry work throughout Watauga County at the height of the Great Depression and after World War II, often for local contractors Wiley Gordon “W. G.” Hartzog and Perry Greene. While stonemasons of Italian and Spanish descent completed much of the stonework along the Blue Ridge Parkway under the supervision of Joseph Troitino of Troitino & Brown (Asheville, NC), much of the stonework along the Parkway within Watauga County, which was funded by Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, is widely attributed to the Lyons Brothers. Other major works by the Lyons Brothers included the 1939 US Post Office in downtown Boone, as well as Cove Creek High School, completed in 1941. Both were WPA projects that are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The Boone post office was also declared a Local Historic Landmark in 2016.
Another WPA-funded project in Boone attributed to the Lyons Brothers was the garage building and the massive stone fireplaces of the log Watauga Handicrafts Building on Hardin Street (1938). Other WPA projects suspected to be the work of the Lyons Brothers include the Valle Crucis Elementary School (1937), the Courthouse Annex in downtown Boone (1938), and the Faculty Houses (1938-40) on the ASTC campus (no longer present). Stone and brickwork also attributed to the Lyons Brothers includes the Boone Bus Depot (1946), the Blowing Rock Public Library (1948), and the Parkway Elementary School (1952).
The Lyons Brothers also worked on dozens of private homes throughout the county, including the Roby T. Greer House in Deep Gap (1933), their brother Hardy Lee Lyons’s home in Boone (1934), the Dwight Edmisten residence near Sugar Grove (1934), the Owen C. Wilson House in downtown Boone (1934), the Perry Farthing House in Bethel (1935), the Bert Mast House in Mabel (1938), and the Benjamin O. Ward House near the Ward Dam in the Valle Crucis vicinity (1939). Clarence and Earl also built stone residences for themselves in the Oak Grove community. Other residences a bit farther afield included the stunning stone house and outbuildings known as Mary’s Grove (1934) in Lenoir, Caldwell County, which were listed on the NRHP in 2001. Indeed, the Lyons Brothers also worked extensively in Caldwell County throughout their careers, producing residential, commercial, and institutional buildings too numerous to name here.
While Boone was often their base of operations, each of the Lyons brothers ventured afield from time to time, suggesting that their masonry work with one another was more of a loose affiliation than a fixed family trade. In 1942, for example, Clarence Lyons and his family were reported to be in living in Kingsport, Tennessee, although this appears to have been short-lived, perhaps to facilitate a masonry construction contract on the Holston Ordnance Works. In 1949, Earl and Leslie were both reported to be working on an unidentified project in Winston-Salem during the week and staying with their families in Boone over the weekend. As for their private lives, Leslie married Falie Lewis, probably about 1922. Their marriage produced two daughters. Clarence married Lela Mabel Moretz, probably about 1927 or 1928. Their marriage produced seven children. Earl married Doris Wilcox of Ashe County in December 1931. That marriage produced four children, two of whom died in infancy.
The Lyons Brothers appear to have remained in the masonry business into the mid-century period. Leslie, for example, was active on the building committee for the Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church on Howard Street in 1940 and the Presbyterian Manse on Grand Boulevard in 1951. He was still listed as a brick mason in the 1950 Federal Census, although at the time of his death in January 1957, Leslie was described as a “retired brick mason” and the owner and operator of the Lyons Motel on Highway 421 near Boone. Clarence was also still listed as a brick mason in the 1950 Federal Census, with his 19-year-old son Charles listed as a mason helper, suggesting Clarence was still engaged in masonry operations, probably for the Taylor Construction Company out of Lenoir. He retired about 1970. Earl was still working as a mason as late as 1954, likely also for Taylor Construction; he eventually retired and was operating a retail furniture store in Boone when he died in 1984. All three men are buried in Mountlawn Memorial Park.
The WCHS is delighted to honor the Lyons Brothers for their important contributions to the architectural history and heritage of Boone and Watauga County. Their highly refined stonework remains an essential component of some of the most architecturally and historically significant buildings from the early twentieth century that still survive in Watauga County.
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.