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Watauga County Historical Society Spotlights Early Life of Doc Watson at Annual Meeting, Sept. 4; More Special Events on the Horizon

By Sherrie Norris

If you love these mountains — and the people who helped shape us into what we are today — you are going to love the upcoming schedule of events sponsored the Watauga County Historical Society.

The coming weeks are chock full of interesting and history-filled happenings that have helped to define this area as one loved and respected by the natives, as well as those who have discovered us along life’s way.

As part of the WCHS’s annual meeting on Wednesday, September 4, at 5:30 p.m. in the Watauga County Public Library Community Room in Boone, Appalachian State Professor, Dr. Gary Boye will make a presentation on the early years of Doc Watson — Before the Folk Revival.

Doc Watson is pictured with the rest of the Charles Osborne Band in October 1954. Image from the Palmer Blair Collection, Digital Watauga Project.

According to information provided by the Historical Society and found on its website, when Doc Watson was “discovered” by folk revivalist Ralph Rinzler in September 1960, he was already 37 years old and had been playing guitar and singing in public for at least 20 years.

“Much has been written about Doc after 1960, but comparatively little is known about his earlier years. Using recently discovered newspaper articles and ads, as well as photographs and oral history, we can trace an active, semi-professional career at fiddlers’ conventions, talent shows, dances, land sales — even busking on the street in Watauga, Caldwell, and surrounding counties. Doc performed in Blowing Rock at the school auditorium and the American Legion long before his appearances at local nightspots in the 1970s and afterward. Considered as a whole, he was well-prepared to begin a professional career when the opportunity arose.”

Boye is well-known professor and music librarian at Appalachian State University. He received the PhD in historical musicology from Duke University in 1995 and the Master of Science in Library Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 2000. He is currently researching the history of popular culture and music in northwest North Carolina from 1900-1960.

Free and open to the public, this presentation is sure to be a well-attended event, as Watson will always be remembered as a music icon who got his start just a few steps away from the present day library — and practically within site of the statue that bears his likeness on King Street in Boone.

Light refreshments will be served.


Other events of interest sponsored by the WCHS include the following:

  • “That’s Rufus Book Signing Event,” Friday, October 4, at 5:30 p.m. at the Jones House Cultural and Community Center in Boone.

    “That’s Rufus Book Signing Event,” Friday, October 4, at 5:30 p.m. at the Jones House Cultural and Community Center in Boone, accompanies the release of Edmisten’s autobiography, That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tarheel Politics.

The book signing accompanies the release of Rufus Edmisten’s autobiography, “That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tarheel Politics” (McFarland Publishing).

A former North Carolina Attorney General and Secretary of State — and Boone native — Edmisten drew international attention when he served as deputy chief counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee. His work, together with that of others, uncovered the truth about the Watergate scandal in 1973. He has the distinction of being the first person on a congressional committee to serve a subpoena to a sitting president of the United States. A practicing lawyer and lobbyist, he lives in Raleigh, but has many relatives and friends in the Boone area who will want to attend this event.


  • October 4-October 30, the “Western Carolina’s Finest”:

An Exhibition of Appalachian Theatre History is certain to attract a large number of visitors to the main gallery of the Jones House Cultural and Community Center in downtown Boone.

The exhibit is a prelude celebration of the re-opening of the Appalachian Theatre this fall and is cosponsored by the Digital Watauga Project, the Watauga County Historical Society, the Watauga County Public Library, and the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country.

The month-long exhibit of historical images, advertisements and other materials related to the history of Boone’s Appalachian Theatre will bring back to life memories for those who remember the venue — long advertised in its heyday as “Western Carolina’s Finest Theatre.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, and as part of the WCHS Speaker Series, on October 16 at 5:30 p.m. the same hosts will welcome Dr. Eric Plaag, chairperson of the ATHC Archives and History Committee, speaking on the history of the Appalachian Theatre.

Plaag will present the inside scoop on how the Appalachian got started, how it survived a disastrous fire in 1950 and the advent of television, and how the new theater will once again be the home for both stage and screen performances.

You don’t want to miss these combined opportunities to learn all about the theatre — and as described by the historians — “how the Appalachian transformed downtown Boone, the devastating 1950 fire, why the 1950s theater was considered “Boone’s best babysitter,” why the theater ultimately closed in 2007, and how the new theater will help make Boone an arts and entertainment hub for Western Carolina once again.

Patrons stream down King Street for the latest show at the Appalachian Theatre on February 19, 1948. Image courtesy of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, the Sams Family, and the Digital Watauga Project.
The entrance to the Appalachian Theatre as it appeared on February 12, 1947. Image courtesy of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, the Sams Family, and the Digital Watauga Project.

Admission is free to these events.

A note to local history advocates, from the Executive Council of Watauga County Historical Society, helps us all better understand the mission of the organization and how it has come to be — and the importance of the more recent launch and partnership of the Digital Watauga Project, which is proving to be an incredible link to preserving local history:

“Since 1977, the Watauga County Historical Society has been committed to bringing history alive in Watauga County. Whether through our various lecture series, our serial publications (Writings on Watauga and Watauga County Times…Past), and our books (Memories of Cove Creek High School: 1922 to 1965 and The Architectural History of Watauga County, North Carolina), the Watauga County Historical Society has worked hard to connect Watauga County residents, students, and visitors with our community’s rich and often surprising past.

Our most recent initiative is the 2014 launch of the Digital Watauga Project, which aims to make the complex history of Watauga County more widely known and easily accessible to the public by digitally preserving the images, documents, and artifacts of Watauga County. Through this partnership with the Watauga County Public Library, the Digital Watauga Project brings together materials from historical institutions, area businesses, and the individual residents of Watauga County, allowing donors to share digitized versions of their historical materials with the public while retaining their original materials and the associated rights to those materials.

If you are interested in the Digital Watauga Project, or if you are just interested in being part of our other efforts to keep Watauga’s history alive, we urge you to join us as a member or simply take part in our events. The WCHS recognizes that preservation of a community’s history is a job for the entire community; we can’t do it without your help, your input, and your enthusiasm.”

The Watauga County Historical Society is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation operating in the State of North Carolina. Donations to the WCHS are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.”


Hats off to this worthwhile organization and to its current officers, listed below:

President Bettie Bond

Vice President Ralph Lentz, II

Secretary Shannon Russing

Treasurer Eric Plaag

Chairperson, Digital Watauga Project–Eric Plaag


As a community that cares, let’s rally around this organization and all its endeavors to preserve local history. Mark your calendars now and plan to attend these aforementioned events, and others still to come.

If you cannot attend, please visit the website listed below for more information on ways you can become involved, contribute monetarily and/or with valuable historic documents and photographs.

Donations may also be mailed to Watauga County Historical Society

PO Box 3453

Boone, NC 28607


For more information, visit www.wataugacountyhistoricalsociety.org.