By Tim Gardner
Among the primary reasons residents and visitors like the North Carolina High Country Town of Banner Elk so much is because of its scenic beauty. Its elected officials and others who live there have maintained a constant dedication to keeping Banner Elk among the most beautiful places on Earth. Their latest such efforts include a new sidewalk addition that is drawing rave reviews.
The sidewalk is part of the town’s Land Use Plan, adopted in 2010, and a result of the generosity of two, fifth-generation Banner Elk residents and brothers– Charles VonCanon, Jr. and William VonCanon. They gave the town right-of-ways to use portions of their land for the sidewalk construction extension.
The new sidewalk runs approximately 1,000 feet from The Caboose to the culvert just before the Cheese House on the Mill Pond.
Charles Von Canon, Jr., a former Avery County High School teacher, who currently serves as a Banner Elk Town Council member, said he and his brother consider their granting the property for sidewalk extensions as a continuance of the dedication their father, the late Charles Banner Von Canon, Sr., a former Banner Elk Mayor, had for the town.
“Since I’ve been part of the Banner Elk Town Council, part of our mission has been to continue with a pedestrian friendly town,” Charles VonCanon, Jr. declared. “My father’s contributions began much earlier in life, and were a little more labor intensive. He was born in 1914 and as a little boy he hauled sand from the family’s pond on the Shawneehaw Creek with the wagon he probably got from his mother’s general store. It would be interesting to know if it was a Liberty Coaster Wagon or a Radio Flyer, as the name changed in about 1929. Either way, the sand was used to mix the cement for the first concrete sidewalk in Banner Elk. And decades later we’re still adding to that legacy by adding more sidewalks.”
Charles Von Canon, Jr. noted that the only paved road in Banner Elk at that time was what is now called North Carolina Highway 194, which runs from Valle Crucis to Elk Park. The only sidewalks alongside roads then were wooden planks. As Banner Elk was a tourist destination, even at that time, more modern and enhanced sidewalks there were needed.
The town’s first concrete sidewalk was built off of Highway 194 between the Banner Elk Bank and Banner’s Tea Room (now the Lees-McRae Bookstore and BJ’s). It continued up Banner Road to the Banner Elk Hotel and turned right to the Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The remnants of this sidewalk were covered with the town brick sidewalk a year before the extension on the VonCanon property.
Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly applauded the efforts of those instrumental in the sidewalk addition. “The new sidewalk has really added an extra intangible touch to the over-all beautification of our town and is a most welcome addition to our walking trials,” she said. “I‘m grateful to everyone who had a part in it becoming another landmark in our town.”
The town’s residents, its visitors and Lees-McRae College students and staff can use the sidewalk to access the town’s buildings, shops, restaurants and other facilities as well as the millpond where they can sit near the pond and relax, study or feed the various ducks that inhabit it.
Another benefit of the new sidewalk is that it will be completely lighted and can be use in daylight or after dark. Light poles are currently being installed along the sidewalk. And rustic wooden fencing also runs along the sidewalk.
Charles VonCanon, Jr. added that there may be additional work done along the sidewalk such as the planting of flowers and other landscaping.
The town will officially open the sidewalk in February on a day yet to be determined.
Town Manger Rick Owen echoed Lyerly’s sentiments with the following statement: “The new sidewalk is a pinnacle achievement for Banner Elk. It was very crucial for our Land Use plan to get it. We greatly appreciate the land right-of-way donation by the VonCannon Family and all others who helped made the sidewalk a reality.”
The town’s future plan calls for a pedestrian crossing to the Cheese House on the Mill Pond and a continuation on the boardwalk along Highway 184 to Hickory Nut Gap Road. From there, town officials will decide whether to continue on Hickory Nut Gap with a Greenway Trail to Wildcat Lake first, or to continue on up Highway 184 toward Sugar Mountain with a sidewalk.
An interesting side note to the new sidewalk is that Bill Banner’s mill pond and dam is located only a short distance from the new sidewalk extension and also is on the VonCanon property. Charles Von Canon, Jr. recalled that it was built with hemlocks cut on site and pudding stones hauled by oxen from land upstream from the pond many years ago.
The pudding stones still make up the dam’s main foundation. In fact, Charles VonCanon, Jr. noted that pudding stones can be seen below the dam. However, he added that finding many in the stream or fields above the dam would be quite a difficult chore.
Charles VonCanon, Jr. told that there was a water wheel on the back of the mill on Shawneehaw Creek. A sluice line ran from Banner’s dam, located where the current dam is, to the water wheel, powering his grist mill, saw mill and chair factory.
The dam currently is empty and Charles VonCanon, Jr. said he is uncertain when it would be refilled with water. He estimated that it would take approximately 299,200 gallons of water to replenish it.