By David Rogers. June 19, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — “Mr. Blowing Rock” was looking down on the American Legion Building from his celestial perch on Monday, beaming a big smile at the small group from the Blowing Rock Historical Society gathered to recognize “Jerry Burns Day.”
Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Sunday was the late Mr. Burns’ birthday, but Historical Society organizers decided that to compete with Father’s Day festivities would be folly. So Monday it was and neither two of Jerry’s favorite cakes baked by his missus, Janice Burns, nor a heartfelt retrospective view of Blowing Rock by Richard and Linda Chastain disappointed the two dozen or so folks in the building overlooking Broyhill Lake.
In the 70 years that one or both of the Chastains have been coming to Blowing Rock as seasonal residents, first with their parents and then when they started to date, got married, and started to have kids and grandkids — and soon great-grandkids — all following longtime family traditions, as well as fashioning a few of their own.
Coleman’s. Back then, that was where you got ice cream and then went to the park.
“You don’t realize at the time,” Linda Chastain explained to her audience, “the impact of what you are doing and the traditions you are creating. Simple things like going to Tweetsie every year for many years and having a daughter grow up and tell her children, ‘Oh, we have to go to Tweetsie.'”
Much of the Chastains’ talk was a walk down memory lane for many in the audience, nodding their hands or breaking into big smiles when a favorite past haunt was mentioned. Mrs. Chastain noted that when she was younger there were at least three gas stations and three restaurants in town.
“The Wagon Wheel Restaurant on Main Street was the place everyone wanted to go,” she said. “And long before Kilwin’s, there was Coleman’s. That was where you got an ice cream cone and then you went across the street to the park.”
While their other residence is in Alabama, the Chastains consider Blowing Rock more of their “homeplace.”
“Richard and I didn’t meet each other until junior high school,” Mrs. Chastain recalled. “But I used to come up here with my aunt. She played at Mayview Manor, as part of a trio. She was a violinist. There was a special place where the maids and servants of Mayview Manor guests actually lived, and that was where the people like my aunt lived during the summer, too. When I came, I was put under penalty of death if I misbehaved!
“As a child, Mayview Manor was the most elegant place,” she described, “everyone finely dressed, women with furs, white tablecloths, the waiters had white gloves and white jackets. It was the kind of place you see in the movies.”
That was the summer polio was so rampant. I was not allowed to play with anybody the whole we were up here.
Sadly, it wasn’t all a bed of roses in those years.
“That was the summer that polio was so rampant (in the U.S.),” Chastain shared. “Polio was up here. We didn’t any more than get up here and the polio scare started. And that was before the vaccine. I was not allowed to play with anybody the whole time we were up here. My mother boiled all of the water. I was not allowed to get anywhere near another child. So it wasn’t such as happy time for me.”
Mrs. Chastain smiled in saying that she didn’t come back until after she and Richard had met and were dating.
“When Richard and I first started dating, we came to Blowing Rock for a visit one summer,” she recalled. Her audience chuckled when she added, “Of course our fathers came with us.”
When Richard and I first started dating we came to Blowing Rock. Of course, our fathers came, too.
Noting how the world has changed a lot over the years, Mrs. Chastain reported that as she often interacts with tourists and other visitors to down, especially during the 4th of July parade when Main Street is bulging at the seams with people. “I ask them why they chose to come to Blowing Rock and they almost always answer, we wanted our kids to see a little bit of what life used to be like.”
In that context, she observed, “You know, when we go to a restaurant and look across the room, it pains me to see a young couple sitting at what could be a romantic table and they both have their eyes glued to a device’s screen and their fingers are flying across a keyboard or screen. We have a rule at our house, no devices at the dinner table!”
Mr. Chastain stirred up fond memories among the old-timers in the crowd of Mayview Manor when he spoke about the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show’s longtime importance to Blowing Rock’s array of summer activities.
I tell those people to just go home.
“They always had the Horse Show Ball at Mayview,” he said in describing his sister’s affection for all things horses, and recalling different ways to get to the stables where there were horses for rent to ride. “What is now Old Stable Lane off of Clark St. was how you use to go to the stables,” he recalled. “Renting horses to ride was something a lot of people were interested in and my sister enjoyed it so much. Today at the stables people are boarding horses, but there are none for rent. Usually there are a whole bunch of people coming in on the weekend with their horses to ride on the Cone Manor Estate. The people at the office there at the stables explained they had stopped renting horses because the insurance premiums had gotten so expensive. They couldn’t justify it anymore. Now it is BYOH — Bring Your Own Horse — if you want to ride.!”
Late in the presentation, Mrs. Chastain waxed philosophical as she seemed to protest the forces of change. “You know, a lot of people move up here because the love Blowing Rock and its rustic charm. Then once they move here they want to change things. They want to modernize things.”
She admitted that she did not really know Jerry Burns, but did get an opportunity to sit in his office for a spell and chat. When talking about the number of people who want to come up here and then change things or wish this or that was different, she recalled, “Jerry told me, ‘I tell those people to just go home.'”