By David Rogers. March 12, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — More than four dozen lusty voices belted out an enthusiastic “Birthday Song” on Friday at the American Legion Building in Blowing Rock, a fitting end in an appropriate venue for the Town’s 127th anniversary of its official founding.
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Town Manager Scott Fogleman may not have been around 127 years ago and arguably was one of the newest newcomers in the room, but he certainly had a firm grasp of Blowing Rock history and the significance of holding the birthday celebration this year in the recently refurbished American Legion Building.
Fogleman introduced Mayor J.B. Lawrence, who quickly raised a chorus of laughs when he looked around the room and asked, “One hundred and twenty-seven years…was anyone here today around back then?” Then he turned to his mother-in-law, Betty Pitts and deadpanned, “That was the year you got your driver’s licence, wasn’t it?”
It was all in good fun and hizzoner’s fun continued when he recalled the 100 year anniversary in 1989. “It was an unusually warm day for this time of year, just like today. I even got a sunburn. But one of the special things we did that year was stage a Liar’s Contest. Guess who won? (arms spread wide to big laughs) And I have held public office ever since!” (more laughs)
We live in the greatest town in America.
“This is a wonderful thing to celebrate,” Mayor Lawrence said of the Town’s birthday. “We live in the greatest town in America.”
Perhaps hinting that he had discovered the Fountain of Youth, Lawrence added, “We can look forward to the next 127 years.”
The Mayor then introduced his wife, Lynn, who led the group in singing “God Bless America.” She later went front and center to lead a standing audience in “Happy Birthday.”
Blowing Rock Art & History Museum business manager David Harwood, who also doubles as a chairman of the Town’s planning board and a member of the Blowing Rock Historical Society, introduced the five new plaques recognizing historic buildings in town. He was a fount of information about each one, but admitted that his knowledge of each one is not exhaustive and invited anyone in the audience who knew anything to add, to please speak up.
Blowing Rock Has Run Out Of Churches
In introducing the plaque ceremony, Harwood explained to the crowd, “We presented our first plaque in 2009. We did six plaques in 2009. If I’m doing my (math) right, including today’s five we are up to 35 plaques now. A lot of them are downtown but a lot are also all over the place in Blowing Rock.
“The mission of this program is really a couple of things,” he added. “Its historic in nature, but the mission statement reads — and I’m paraphrasing — that we wanted to bring some recognition to downtown. We want to recognize some historical structures and some sights of significance. We just want to make people aware of the historic nature of Blowing Rock, maybe help them understand the fabric of Blowing Rock that contains these structures and sights.”
…by about two million years!
Harwood noted that there is only one structure in Blowing Rock that is older than the town itself, and that is THE Blowing Rock, the central focal point of The Blowing Rock attraction on the southern edge of town. “Yes it is THE Blowing Rock,” Harwood said, “by about two million years!”
Thanking Blowing Rock Historical Society and the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, Harwood disclosed that the two organizations equally share the costs of the plaques and the committee members who make the selections each year. “Without those two organizations’ support,” he noted, “we would not have this program. The program is endorsed by the Town, but it is really these two organizations that are the muscle behind it.”
Harwood recognized the 2016 marker committee, which included Pat Ryker, Betty Green, Susan Anderson, Richard Trexler, Charlie Sellers, Ginny Stevens, Lowell Thomas, Marcia Quinn, and Scott Fogleman.
“We have a list of about 250 properties that are certainly deserving of a marker,” Harwood observed, “It’s not if they will get a marker, it is just when.”
Harwood’s first introduction of new plaques was of the Blowing Rock Negro Community Church, which still stands on Possum Hollow Rd., but in 1982 became the First Independent Baptist Church. “It was originally built in 1949, and the funds to build it actually came from a community fund drive. It was Blowing Rock’s first African American church.”
The BRAHM business manager explained that when the Historical Society, BRAHM and the Town originally started the program, “We categorized prospective buildings and structures into residences, churches and so on. This is Blowing Rock’s last church. We are out of churches to put markers on.”
It’s not a matter of if they’ll get a marker, but when.
To a few chuckles and a lot of smiles, Harwood added, “So someone needs to start a church and let me know about that!”
The House Everyone Admires
The second marker was announced as going to “Creekside,” the stone house at 221 Wallingford that has changed ownership within the last couple of years. “This is just a beautiful home,” said Harwood. “It is significant because it is very rare, in the Tudor style of architecture and it is built with greenstone, which is a type of granite. I’m not sure where greenstone is quarried around here, but it is just an absolutely beautiful house and different and rare as far as residences go in Blowing Rock.
“Our third plaque,” said Harwood, “is the R.S. Reinhardt Building, which was actually built by Lynn Lawrence’s grandfather, Everett Greeley Pitts…It was built for a Lenoir businessman, Mr. Reinhardt. The significance of this building is that it was Blowing Rock’s first post office. If you are looking at Mellow Mushroom today, it is the two-story building on the left, on Main Street. It was originally a one-story building, built in 1924. It remained the post office until 1944. It was about that time they added a second floor, which provided 10 lodging rooms for the Parkway Hotel. The lodging rooms were upstairs, while the hotel dining room and coffee shop were downstairs, on the first floor.
“About three feet up from the sidewalk on the front of the building,” Harwood reported, “there is a USGS marker that identifies the official elevation of Blowing Rock as around 3400 feet.”
What now houses Mellow Mushroom garnered the fourth historical plaque, “The Rainey Service Station.” Harwood noted that visitors to Mellow Mushroom often wonder why there is “this garage thing” and, he smiled, “It is because it was originally a service station.”
It was originally a service station.
Harwood admitted that he has been a resident of Blowing Rock for 17 years and remembers when the gas station canopy was there. “It’s not quite as recognizable as a gas station as it used to be,” he said while acknowledging its earlier transition to offering retail space. “But where you dine in the restaurant now, there were three service bays.
He added, “It was constructed with cut stone from Grandfather Mountain. It was built in 1936, which if you know the history of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Parkway was being built around that time. The architecture of the Rainey Service Station mimics some of the architecture being built along the Parkway.”
The final plaque was conferred on “The Randall Memorial Building,” which today is home to the popular Village Cafe. The plaque says it was built in 1909, but from the audience current owner Annie Whatley shared that information she received upon purchase of the structure is that it was remodeled in 1909, so may be even older. Although it was the Town’s first library, it was originally built for the Episcopal parish as a training center and workshop. “The church sold the building in 1936,” Harwood said. “The same year they built the little one story building off to the side, which I think was a Boy Scouts (facility).”
Ms. Whatley offered that between the time the church sold it and when she and her husband took ownership, there were a number of other uses, owners and tenants.
“I think we have a great mix of plaques this year,” Harwood said in concluding his historical account and the presentation of the markers. “I hope you enjoyed this and if you are interested in being on the selection committee, please give me a call at the Art & History Museum. I’d love to talk with you about it.”