Pioneer Traditions

At the start of this century, many families in the High Country lived much as their pioneer ancestors once did. That is not to say that Boone, Banner Elk and Jefferson were not home to distinguished lawyers, doctors and educators. The same region that produced Appalachian State University's founders, B.B. and D.D. and Lillie Shull Dougherty, famed Congressman Robert "Fighting Bob" Doughton, and many others was also home to farmers whose lifestyle was little removed from the time of Daniel Boone.


The arrival of electricity began to change things, as did better roads. People who had never had modern conveniences were eager to get them. As one old man put it at an electric cooperative meeting, "Friends, the best thing you can have is the love of God in your heart. The second best thing is to have electricity in your home."

Even before that, much of the handwork and crafts that people associate with the region had declined or died out. That was because general stores offered factory-made products at reasonable prices, ones that did not take hours to create. The old handwork continued in some areas, but often among families who either treasured the traditions or lacked the money to buy from the store.

Even as the old ways began to fade, people began to become very interested in mountain traditions. The "Foxfire" books and magazine of the 1970s attracted national attention, and encouraged many older residents to resume the crafts they had learned or seen as children. Suddenly, there was an audience for old-time music and stories.

That interest has faded a bit from the years when the nation joined John Denver in singing, "Country Roads." But there are still many people who are interested in the skills and traditions handed down from the colonial past. Follow 321 south from there and you will come, just a few miles below Blowing Rock, Blackberry Road. This leads into Bailey's Camp community, home to Glenn and Lula Bolick.

The Bolicks bring together a unique combination of mountain and coastal traditions. Lula Owens Bolick is a member of the famed Owens family, who have been potters in the Seagrove area for generations. Glenn Bolick is a native of Blackberry, known for his tremendous knowledge of local history, traditions, and the lore of the woods. He is a man who not only knows the names of plants and herbs, but exactly what they are used for. Standing in front of his shop, Glenn can point out the old trails where the first settlers traveled into the mountains. He is also an excellent singer and traditional musician.

A must-stop place for anyone interested in local traditions is the Appalachian Cultural Museum in Boone. Here the region's history and culture are documented in a series of exhibits created by the designers of billionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes' museums. The goal of the museum is to show the diversity of mountain life and people, and dispel the "hillbilly" stereotype. There is everything from ancient looms to race cars driven by "The Last American Hero," Junior Johnson. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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