On Jerry Burns Day, a few Robbins (Sellers) family stories

On Jerry Burns Day, a few Robbins (Sellers) family stories
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By David Rogers. June 19, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — As Peggy Sellers rattled off anecdotes and mini-stories on Monday as part of the annual “Jerry Burns Day” celebration, each of the jam-packed audience members filling Edgewood Cottage had to think there was a lot more she could have shared — not just about her own life, but about the iconic Robbins family into which she was born.

Sitting beside her, Mayor Charlie Sellers would sometimes prompt his mother about the tales from yesteryear in the High Country, where Grover Robbins, Jr., Harry Robbins, and Spencer Robbins (all Peggy’s brothers) were among the region’s most iconic historical economic drivers.

References to people and places long ago replaced by newcomers and new developments frequently crept into the Sellers’ remarks and recollections, but a family-wide appreciation for the contributions of Jerry Burns, the longtime editor of the Blowing Rocket community newspaper, was a constant in the conversation.

My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Yesterday it was a lot better.

Each year on Jerry Burns Day, the Blowing Rock Historical Society brings one or more representatives of a longtime resident family to speak to its members, a practice first started by the late Ginny Stevens, a founder of the organization.

A sampling of the historical fare served up to audience members:

  • Peggy began working at The Blowing Rock attraction, a development of her brothers, at five years old. She would often walk from her house on Park Ave. (now the Chamber of Commerce building, behind Blowing Rock Market) to her duties at The Blowing Rock. There was a road, but she would sometimes take what they called the Lonesome Pine Trail
  • Peggy’s grandfather started Yonahlossee Theatre on Main Street. She became quite popular with the boys whenever there was a movie they wanted to see. “Otherwise I would never have had a date,” she deadpanned.
  • The Robbins family heads may have been pioneers in the crafting of modern-day child labor laws. “We all worked at the theatre or the Blowing Rock attraction, but Dad didn’t think anybody should go to work until they were at least five years old.”
  • At one point, Harry and Grover Jr. acquired the Green Park Inn and renovated it. “That is a part of history that we don’t talk about.”
  • Of Grover, Jr.: “He had a knack for business. I think it was a God-given talent.
  • At one point in 1969, Grover, Jr. bought Mayview Manor and turn it into the Tweetsie Grand Junction. “But he died.” (at age 50, in 1970, of cancer).
  • Harry and Spencer, Peggy reflected, didn’t see the wisdom of buying Mayview Manor, because it didn’t have a golf course. “But it is a shame that the Mayview Manor was torn down.”

Dad didn’t think anybody should work until they were at least five years old.

  • “They had to sell Mayview Manor. Of course, the banks had foreclosed on it, so they didn’t have much control of it. It’s a long story.”
  • When Peggy told Grover, Jr. one year on his birthday that Mayview Manor was nothing but rabble, he replied, “Let me tell you, you could not burn that place down.” Peggy admitted to the audience, “He was right. They couldn’t burn it. They had to push most of it off the mountain.”
  • On Grover Jr.’s passing: “It was sad. He had lots of dreams for the town. He was only (59) years old.”
  • “Grover got his start working for Bernhardt Furniture. He started driving trucks for them, then just before the war he went into the Marine Corps. He was in a foxhole with two other guys who were killed. We were blessed that he made it through that.”
  • “Grover came back home and went back to work for Bernhardt Furniture. Then he met a man from Florida who was in the lumber business. That is where he started making his money.”
  • “When he was a child, he always used to say that someday I am going to get that little train (Tweetsie)…He ended up buying it when he was in his early thirties. He bought it from Gene Autry (the late singing cowboy movie star). A man from Charlotte brought it up to the mountains in the summer of ’56.”

Land of Oz opened in 1970. Grover didn’t live to see it.

  • “When they brought the train up, my Dad said, ‘Have you lost your mind? You’ll never be able to do anything with it.”
  • At one point, Grover was interested in buying Appalachian Ski Mountain. “Then he bought Hound Ears, which is one of the first (country) clubs in this area.”
  • “From there he went on to Beech Mountain. He ended up building all of the roads on Beech Mountain. That is when he started Land of Oz. It was wonderful. It opened in the summer of 1970, and Grover didn’t live to see it.”
  • “Grover had so many dreams for this area. He never stopped.”
  • “Grover was into a lot of things, but bringing Tweetsie was (significant).”
  • Charlie Sellers recalled, “Grover Jr.’s father said one time, ‘Son, why do you want to bring a train up and have it go around in a circle. Nobody is going to ride a train that goes around in a circle.’ To which Grover Jr. replied, ‘Dad, the same people riding that train are the same people who are going to come and see where some dumb Indian jumped off a rock.'”
  • Said Charlie: “I was only 9 or 10 when Grover passed away…but Uncle Grover, from what I understand, had a very dry wit. I remember hearing as a child that he was the individual who had the foresight, Harry was the workhorse, and Spencer was the PR man.  Harry was postmaster at the Post Office for awhile.”
  • Peggy on ownership of The Blowing Rock property. “We never owned the property, it is owned by the Bernhardt family. Dad went to them in 1933. Before that, the Bernhardts had wanted to give it to the Town of Blowing Rock, but it had become a (garbage) dump and the (didn’t want it). So Dad went to the Bernhardts and said, ‘Let me develop the property.'”
  • On the origins of the legend of Blowing Rock: “My brothers would talk about it all the time. It originated so many years ago.”

Marilyn Monroe was so much prettier in real life than in any photograph.

  • Regarding Peggy’s stint as an airline stewardess: “Dad had gotten sick, with a prostate attack. While he was in the hospital, one day I got real bored so I went over to National Airlines and applied for a job and got it. I barely made their height requirement, which was five foot two and a half.”
  • Recalling that most of the National stewardesses were blondes when she was hired, Peggy said, “A lot of the Cuban gals started flying with National. These brunettes, they were so gorgeous. Within a month’s time they were all blondes.”
  • Peggy flew with National for about five years and had an opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people. “Marilyn Monroe was such a china doll. She was so much prettier in real life than in any photograph.”
  • Didn’t you have slot machines out at the rock? “Oh my gosh, yes we had slot machines. One time they were playing slot machines out there and Dad walked in and said, ‘I told you not to do that.’ About the time he turned to leave, they hit the jackpot. He came back and scooped up all of the nickels and walked out.”
  • “My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Yesterday it was a lot better.”

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