Category Archives: Historic Interest

Sites, museums, UNESCO, & more

Madison County NC has Barns, Not Bridges.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying a painting at a fundraiser for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, a group dedicated to documenting historic barns in this part of western North Carolina.

My husband and I decided to take one of their self-driving tours and visit the barns of Walnut Township in Madison County. Once in Madison County, we followed winding country roads for about two hours to nine different barns the preservation group researched, including the one featured in our painting. There were many other old barns and farm buildings along the route, turning our drive into a sort of barn-treasure-hunt.

A few of the barns were not exactly where we thought, but the directions got us close enough to figure it out. Most of the structures were eventually used for tobacco drying of some sort, and many were originally built to house livestock. The history of each barn was as interesting as its deteriorating appearance and we could soon spot the distinctive monitor roof and gambrel roof designs. Along the way, we learned about many used as flue-cured tobacco barns and converted in the 1920s to air-cure burley tobacco (used primarily for cigarette production). Many early barn-owners sold (or bartered) their barn roofs for advertising . . . maybe our first billboards? Does anyone else remember those “See Rock City” barn ads?

The group has several self-guided tours. guided van and private tours, and other special events you can read about on their website.

It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day.


A Little Church in the Woods


St John's Episcopal Church near Valle Crucis, NC.St. John’s Episcopal Church is a little gem tucked away in the woods down a gravel road in Sugar Grove, NC.  Not far from its parent church The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal* in Valle Crucis, St. John’s was built in 1862. It came about through the fortitude and aspirations of William West Skiles who gave his life to the church and was deaconate in Valle Crucis.  He served the people of this mountain region from 1847, often on horseback, until his death in 1862, just after the new church opened. Read the rest of this entry

The Mystery of Barns

Oil painting of Wild barn By Tebbe Davis. Located in Madison County, NC.

You can’t drive through the green, pastoral country roads of Western North Carolina without seeing barns. It’s always fun to see a barn. Barns of all types and styles.  Barns mostly in a state of disrepair. Barns that aren’t going to be in existence for the next generation to enjoy. I can’t imagine these mountain landscapes without barns.

The Appalachian Barn Alliance was created to preserve the memories of these barns and document their significant role in the history and development of this rural region. Through architectural drawings, photographs, and data collection the group has documented about 90 historic barns in Madison County, North Carolina. Read the rest of this entry

Blast to the Past – & Future.


Next time you plan to visit Disney World – throw in some extra time for a visit to the Kennedy Space Center.  Your kids will thank you and you will enjoy this slice of significant American history.  Everyone will be fascinated by learning what is next in space exploration.

Read the rest of this entry

Putting the pieces together: a Spanish Monastery for Miami

Time magazine called it “the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle.” A cloister and refectory built almost 1000 years ago as part of a monastery in Sacramenia, Spain was salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse and the estate of William Randolph Hearst – and reconstructed in Miami. There were 35,000 pieces in 11,000 wooden crates, mixed-up and misnumbered.

In 1925, Hearst purchased the former Cloisters of St. Bernard de Clairvaux with the intention of using it to surround his pool at his California San Simeon estate. Completed in 1141, it was occupied by Cistercian monks for almost 700 years.  Hearst’s plan was derailed by an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Spain, causing concern by U.S. officials who quarantined the shipment, burning the hay protecting the carefully numbered and packed stones.  Workers must not have been too concerned with any sort of system as they repacked the massive shipment.

The now mixed-up stones remained in a warehouse until a year after Hearst’s death in 1952, when bought by two entrepreneurs and transported to Miami for use as a tourist attraction. Located in North Miami Beach on the lush site of a former landscape nursery, it took 19 months and more than $14 million in today’s dollars to get it back together. Remarkably, when the puzzle seemed complete there were stones left over, so the enterprising duo used them randomly in newer construction on the site.

In 1964, ownership changed hands once again and it is now a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida with an active congregation. The site has become a popular go-to venue for weddings, special events, and photo-shoots. When I recently visited with my preservation friends, a lovely 15-year old quinceanera was dressed in her red ball gown enjoying a photo shoot as part of her upcoming birthday celebration.

The Spanish Monastery, small museum and expansive gardens, complete with a labyrinth, are open for visitors and tours are available.  305.945.1461




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A Revolutionary History Lesson: The Overmountain Men

Just imagine. The year is 1780. The Revolutionary War is at a stalemate, no end is in sight and the fighting has moved south with the British conquest of Charleston. The King of England decreed no white men were allowed to claim land west of the Appalachian Mountains, but some had settled in the area.

This week marks the 238th anniversary of a sentinel battle of the Revolutionary War – many say the turning point. In school, we never learned about the rag-tag mountain militia who chased the British to Kings Mountain and fought for freedom. Dubbed the Overmountain Men, they also battled nature as they pursued British Major Patrick Ferguson and his well-armed forces. Ferguson had successfully recruited “loyalist” troops from colonists in the Carolinas to fight for the British crown.

Marching from Virginia, through Tennessee and the Carolinas conditions were harsh. The men had to wade through a deep early snowfall, forge rivers, and try not to succumb to hunger and the effects of steady rain. The Colonels all agreed William Campbell would be their leader. The men had a lot to lose. These self-provisioned, self-armed troops relied heavily on their honed hunting skills and burning desire for freedom to “soldier on.”

One thousand men led by Cols. Campbell, Sevier, Shelby, and McDowell met up at Sycamore Shoals (today in Elizabethton, TN) and marched on to meet-up with the Carolina men at Quaker Meadows (now a golf course) in Morganton, NC. A total of almost 2,000 patriots set out on what would become a 330-mile trek.

On October 7, the Patriots finally found Ferguson and his loyalist recruits and winning the Battle of Kings Mountain became a turning point in the war. With Ferguson dead, the British abandoned their goal of taking North Carolina and retreated to South Carolina.

Loyalists were either killed or captured and the Patriots lost 28, with another 62 wounded. One of those wounded was Robert Sevier, brother of Col. John Sevier. Sevier didn’t make it home and dying in NC on the way. He and Revolutionary War veteran Captain Martin Davenport are buried near Spruce Pine, NC.

Every year the Overmountain Victory Trail Association reenacts portions of the 330-mile march in cooperation with the National Park Service. As just one part of the re-creation, they meet-up with about 400 NC school children to visually tell the story of the men and the battle, as well as visit the graves of Sevier and Davenport.

The children are taken up to the remote, tiny Bright’s Cemetery in small groups to pay homage to the memory of those who died for our freedom. The site is on the property of the Sibelco Schoolhouse Quartz Plant and is only open once a year when the company/mine sponsors the event and hosts the kids with lunch and other creature comforts (think tents, porta-potties, and even bug spray). It’s a 2.5-mile trek to the gravesite and back to the parking lot.

As a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), it was a privilege to attend. Local DAR members were instrumental in finding and restoring the gravesites in the early 1950s. The Overmountain Victory Trail Association members did a fabulous job capturing and telling the stories of 1780.


Three Top Leaders:
Lines were blurry between state boundaries at that time; in fact, many states had yet to be officially established. Shelby went on to form the State of Kentucky and become its first governor. In the meantime, Sevier was busy forming the short-lived State of Franklin which he served as governor. After Franklin dissolved, Sevier was instrumental in creating the State of Tennessee, becoming its first governor, the first of four terms. In 1781, just before the battle of Yorktown, while still serving, Campbell died in Virginia after a short illness.

Militias & Officers:
Virginia/ 400 men: Col. William Campbell
Tennessee/ 400 men: Cols John Sevier & Issac Shelby
North Carolina:
   Burke County/ 200 men-Col. Charles McDowell
   Surrey, Wilkes & Caldwell Counties/ 350 men-Col Benjamin Cleveland & Maj Joseph Winston
   Other Troops-William Chronicle
South Carolina: William Hill & Edward Lacey
Georgia: William Chandler

The Host Quartz Plant:
This area of North Carolina is the number one spot in the world for mining high-quality quartz. Quartz from this facility was used to make the lens in the Hubble Telescope.

For More Info:

We enjoyed our conversations with members of the group. One fact: Patriots aimed to wound, taking 2-3 men out of the fight (to care for the injured) vs a kill, removing just one.

National Park Service

Overmountain Victory Trail Association

TN – Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area

SC – Kings Mountain National Military Park

NC – Historic Burke Foundation (Quaker Meadows)

VA – Abingdon Muster Grounds


Paleo-Mania in Tennessee

Kids dig it!

Just imagine a bear that stands 12-feet tall with claws big enough to toss a human like a basketball. Millions of years ago giant short-faced bears did roam eastern Tennessee.  Evidence has been uncovered about this massive animal, a newly identified smaller species of bear, and many other Ice Age giants at the Gray Fossil Site in Johnson City Tennessee.

Discovered during road construction in the spring of 2000, the area was a former limestone cave that collapsed making a sinkhole and creating perfect conditions for fossilizing animals of the era. The state of Tennessee abandoned the road location, evaluated the site, and is now funding continuing research in the area estimated to be between 4.5-7 million years old.

The Giant Short-Face Bear.

The active dig site has proved to be the largest in the U.S. for fossilized tapir remains. Other animal remains found include saber tooth cats, alligators, rhinos, red pandas, and giant sloths. Current work is extensive and ranges from identifying a new species of turtle to processing a 16-ton mastodon.

Mastodon fossils.

Large windows allow visitors to easily view the scientific collection room and research/prep lab and with just a few steps outdoors visitors find the active dig site.  We had a chance to speak with the interesting, knowledgeable Lab & Field Manager Shawn Haugrud. If we had known about the tours of the dig site we would’ve definitely participated. Next time.

The interactive Hands On Discovery Center for children now shares facilities with the scientists and offers enhanced programs for kids of all ages including Paleo birthday parties and a chance to “dig” in.

For museum hours and fees, visit:

For behind the scenes pictures and stories check out their podcast:

The Research Lab.

A History Lesson: New Bern, NC

New Bern Waterfront
by Nancy L Rogers

Thanks to Hurricane Florence, New Bern has been in the news lately and not because it was the Colonial Capital of North Carolina. This charming historic town is not only the birthplace of yours truly, but also of Pepsi Cola.

It’s a lovely place, founded in 1710, by Baron von Graffenried from Bern, Switzerland and jam-packed with history. Four historic districts include more than 160 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are parks, gardens and about 2,000 crepe myrtles (the city’s official flower), a thriving sailing community, and the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers.  The setting for homes along the wide riverfront is absolutely beautiful.  It is that unique and wonderful location that has caused them so many problems with this recent storm.

Keep everyone from New Bern in your thoughts as they clean-up and recover from Flo.  Then, be sure to visit sometime in the near future.

Miami-area Heritage Parks

You may never have heard of Heritage Parks, but just like brick and mortar buildings, they play an important part in a community’s history. To find out about the seven stunning Heritage Parks in Miami-Dade County, check out my article in Preservation Today, the magazine of Dade Heritage Trust:

Preservation Today Magazine. 2018.Heritage Parks

If you want to know more about the area’s history (and I hope you will) visit the Trust’s website and sign-up for some of their excellent programs.

Pictured: Homestead Bayfront Park

Mountain Wanderings

We returned to Lake Toxaway this year, at the invitation of good friends (thanks!) and once again had some wonderful new adventures. Who doesn’t love a mountain lake? And we enjoyed the hospitality of another Florida friend when he gave us a first-rate boat tour. It was interesting to learn about the history of some of the beautiful lake-front estates and even more interesting to hear current neighborhood tidbits. We even saw a bear scouting for food just below the deck of the house.

As a preservation advocate, I’m always up for anything historic and we visited the Cashiers Designer Showhouse, Fox Tail, presented by the Cashiers Historical Society. I wasn’t that thrilled with the showhouse, but enjoyed the 1920 cottage on the 42-acre property that was also open to tour. The Historic Lawrence Monteith Cabin was open as a joint venture with the Glenville Area Historical Society.

The three-bedroom house still has the original doors and windows with rope pulleys. The sawmill that provided the boards to build the house and the original farm fields were covered by Lake Glenville in 1941. Although electricity and plumbing were added in the 1940s, the three-bedroom home never had an indoor bathroom.

It was a nice glimpse into past mountain living.