The men in Mildred Kelly's family worked with the railroad for generations.
The McDowell community of Graphite, or Graphiteville, is located just down the mountain from Ridgecrest and takes its name from the mining activity that took place there around 1900.
Mildred Kelly has lived in Graphite her entire life, as did her mother and grandmother before her. Her home is located just across the yard from the house where she was born.
A few miles southeast of Graphite, the citizens of Old Fort dig out after the 1916 flood. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Silvers)
Mrs. Kelly welcomed us to her front porch to talk about the 1916 flood, the depression years,home remedies, the railroad, and the observations she has made in her 80+ years. (You’ll also hear the sounds of a late summer morning, the chickens in the yard, and Buddy the dog doing battle with a persistent flea…)
To drive up to Graphite or to see it on a map, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is one of the most isolated places in western North Carolina. But as you can see in the photo to the left, which was taken from Mrs. Kelly’s porch during our interview, she has had good reason never to feel isolated at all.
Listen to Mrs. Kelly using the media player above.
For decades, a major draw for visitors to McDowell County was the Lake Tahoma Steak House and adjacent cabins. Before the interstate was built, this spot at the junction of Highways 70 and 80 was a hot spot for locals and tourists alike. The restaurant offered one of the first buffets around and the cabins were considered to be so unique and charming that some couples traveled to McDowell County to spend their honeymoons in them.
Bill Gibbs (whose photo with the bear “Smokette” is part of the header of this website) built the business and his son Pete ran it for many years. Pete, along with his wife Betty, talk about the steak house, his dad, and those famous bear suppers.
Listen to Pete here:
(Little Siena Restaurant has now operated in the Lake Tahoma Steak House location for decades. You can find out more about them at their website.)
We’ve all heard the old saying “A woman’s work is never done”, and that was especially true on a farm or plantation in the old days. Dr. James Haney of the historic Carson House takes us on a tour of an exhibit in one of the upper rooms of the home devoted to “women’s work”. He talks about the use of the loom, spinning wheel, quilt press, and even a somewhat intimidating-looking tool called a shuck hackle.
(As you will note if you spend much time exploring this website, Dr. Haney was very generous with his time and expertise for this project. We thank him profusely.)
In the schoolyard in the 1920s. Mr. Burgin is third row, second from the left.
Willard Burgin makes his home on land originally cleared by his great-grandfather in the upper reaches of the Crooked Creek community, barely this side of the Buncombe County line. He’s just up the road from the old Mount Hebron Bible Institute where his parents met and where he briefly went to school himself. Nestled peacefully at the foot of the mountain, his home is a refuge from the rush of the modern world. We visited there for almost two hours, and only one car passed the entire time!
Mr. Burgin proudly displays his medals from WWII.
Mr. Burgin is a treasure-trove of memories and stories: from cutting wood for the tannery in Old Fort when he was a child, to seeking emergency assistance from the “snake doctor”, to searching the hillside behind his house so he could milk the family cow, to planting by the signs, to loading ammunition boats in Iceland during World War II.
Listen to our conversation with Willard Burgin here:
Members of the CCC from Camp Jim Staton on Curtis Creek (Photo courtesy Dee Daughtridge/Old Fort Library)
When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, nearly one-fourth of Americans were unemployed. FDR set about immediately establishing the programs of the “New Deal” to address this critical problem. Two of the most successful were the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). The WPA put men to work constructing public buildings, parks, bridges and roads while the CCC concentrated on natural resources conservation. Terrell Finley, Administrator of the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, talks about the profound impact that both organizations had on McDowell County:
Due to the rugged terrain and distance from the closest towns, the North Cove and Ashford communities in the northern tip of McDowell County remained relatively isolated until the mid- twentieth century. Electricity didn’t arrive until 1947, and telephones were rare until about 1960. Nearly everyone farmed and the community was tight-knit.
Cousins and neighbors Clara McCall and Freddie Brown are members of two of the oldest families in the Cove. They came together at the old Brown house to reminisce about the railroad, the yearly arrival of the thrashers, kerosene powered refrigerators, memorable characters, grandma’s cooking and everyday life on the farm.
You can listen to Clara’s and Freddie’s conversation (in three parts) here: Part One:Part TwoPart Three:
Jeanette Harris' "Laughridge Corner" in her home. John Laughridge and his wife are in the large oval picture. Laughridge and some of his deputies are seen in front of the old courthouse in the photo on upper right.
John A. Laughridge was sheriff of McDowell County from 1910 to 1918. He is a legendary figure, both for the way he discharged his duties as well as for his kindness and fairness to everyone he met. In this clip, his granddaughter Jeanette Harris shares some of her favorite stories about her grandfather. Plus, we’ll hear from Sheriff Laughridge’s daughter Mary Alice Laughridge Scroggs.
(Mrs. Scroggs was recorded nearly a decade ago on a mini-cassette recorder, so the sound quality will be noticably different. Our thanks to Jeanette Harris and her family for allowing us to use the recording.)
Listen to Jeanette Harris and her aunt Mary Alice Scroggs here: