WRA Celebrates Five Years!

When Heather South arrived at the Western Regional Archives (WRA) five years ago, she was quickly immersed in the history and culture of the North Carolina mountains and quick to welcome the many researchers who came seeking information.  DSCN0689


The WRA opened its doors in 2012, and has assisted more than 11,000 researchers from 34 states and 20 countries, added new collections, and had more than 8,200 hours of volunteer time donated. Research traffic and donations were so overwhelming that an additional archivist, Sarah Downing, was brought on board only 30 months later.

South and Downing, along with Special Collections Supervisor Donna Kelly, hosted a small reception on Friday August 11 and welcomed patrons, volunteers, friends, history buffs to mark the five-year milestone. Although the weather was on the damp and dreary side, it was all sunshine and smiles at the WRA. Fifty people attended the memorable occasion.   DSCN0698




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Bill Norwood Papers

New collections have been making their way to the Western Regional Archives. Here is an example of one of our new treasures!


Mr. Bill at WLOS

Many folks in Asheville still remember Bill Norwood as Mr. Bill on WLOS channel 13. Norwood hosted several popular children’s television programs during the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Before getting his start in the fledgling field of radio broadcasting, Norwood learned to play the accordion as a teenager growing up in Maryland. Prior to enlisting in the Naval Air Corps during World War II, young Norwood played USO units in the Washington, D.C. area.


Following the war, Norwood relocated to Morehead City, North Carolina, and worked as a civilian inspector at Cherry Point Air Station. But he always loved his music. Bill formed a country swing band, which, in addition to playing at military bases and schools in the area, performed live on radio station WMBL. Soon Bill was offered a position as a disc jockey and announcer.

In 1954, he made the switch to television, when WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina, hired him as an announcer, musician, and emcee. He hosted Down Home with the Carolina Partners, a musical show that was popular with both the studio and television audiences. The Carnival Cartoon program was another of Bill’s shows which he hosted with puppets Droopy and Willie. This led to public appearances and hosting local events.


Down Home with the Carolina Partners featured live music on WNCT-TV. Norwood is far right on the accordion. 

The multi-talented Norwood was also a musician and band leader. He played the accordion with several orchestras and ensembles. His Bill Norwood Trio played a stint of live broadcasts on WNCT weekday mornings before the Betty White Show. Before leaving Greenville he served as program director and farm manager at WNCT.

In 1959, Norwood moved to Asheville, where he began a rewarding career in children’s programming with WLOS-TV, an ABC affiliate. His first show was The Magic Bus, followed by Mr. Bill’s Space Patrol. He later gave up costumes and themed programs and was just Mr. Bill each weekday morning showing cartoons, the Three Stooges, and announcing local children’s birthdays. On Saturday mornings, Mr. Bill’s Weekend was a more serious, television magazine-type program. Changes to station formatting led to his retirement as on-air talent in 1988, although he occasionally substituted for news anchors and weathermen.

A licensed pilot, Norwood was the captain of the WLOS Thirtoon Balloon, which floated over the Land of the Sky at promotional events across western North Carolina.


The WLOS Thirtoon Ballon

His penchant for the sport of ballooning led him to teach classes at A-B Tech and to start his own ballooning company. He could also be seen at the Grove Park Inn, where his ensemble, The Bill Norwood Trio, was the house band at the Sunset Terrace for a number of years.

At nearly 90 years old, Norwood can still be seen around the Asheville area, and his fans can’t help but greet their childhood friend, Mr. Bill.

The Bill Norwood Collection is comprised of photographs, AV material, clippings, ephemera, and awards the donor received during his many years in the public spotlight.

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Fatherless Children of France

The horrific loss of life that occurred during World War I was unprecedented in Western Civilization up until that time. With “new and improved” artillery, warfare evolved from charges on the battlefield to fighting from trenches. Advances were seldom made and the prolonged combat killed millions of soldiers during the four-year conflict. Over one million French men died in the line of duty. A tragic result of these deaths was the hundreds of thousands of children without fathers living in families with little means of subsistence. DSCN0641

Fatherless Children of France was an American relief organization started in 1916, similar to others created in France to keep French children in their homes instead of separating them from their families. Americans were urged to support these “orphans” through donations of $36.50 a year, or ten cents a day.

The first local chapter of Fatherless Children of France in North Carolina was organized in the Wilkes County town of Elkin in mid-October 1917, when a group of citizens met in the Red Cross Room. Mrs. C. S. Currier, Mrs. E. F. McNeer, and Mr. Alex Chatham Jr. were named chairman, secretary, and treasurer respectively. The Elkin National Bank was designated cashier. Twelve children were already “adopted” and it was hoped that more would receive aid once “the wants are made known to the people here.” By the end of the month, the town was sponsoring 20 children through the donations of 18 individuals, the Methodist Church Sunday School, and the Epworth League.

Mrs. Currier traveled to nearby cities giving presentations about the needs of the French children, garnering support following each lecture. High Point also organized a chapter.

The Western Regional Archives has recently received correspondence and receipts from the Elkin chapter of Fatherless Children of France. They provide a glimpse into the efforts to aid our ally during The Great War.

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The Brinegar Cabin: Celebrating Log Cabin Day

The Brinegar Cabin, home place of Martin and Caroline Joines Brinegar, is representative of the isolated self-sufficient existence of mountain families during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The couple married in 1878; he was 21 and she was 16. Two years later they began setting up their homestead on land purchased from Caroline’s uncle. The cabin and additional outbuildings took five years to complete, and it is believed that other than lifting the logs into place, Martin did the rest of the work on the cabin himself. There they raised their three children.


The Brinegar Cabin in Alleghany County is representative of the simple dwellings that were home to mountain families during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photo by Nick Lanier, WRA.

The one-story two-room dwelling is characteristic of farm buildings constructed in the region. According to William S. Powell in his definitive work, North Carolina through Four Centuries:

“members of the small farmer class generally occupied a one-or-two-room log or frame house, perhaps with a lean-to on the back. A single large fireplace was used for cooking and for heat. The furniture consisted of simple beds with corn shuck, straw or feather mattresses, stools, benches and a table. Dresser and chests were rare and seldom needed since there were few extra clothes or linen to store. Whatever was not worn was hung on pegs driven into the walls around the room.”

Following Martin’s death in 1925, Caroline continued to live in the cabin for another 10 years when the state of North Carolina purchased the homestead. The building underwent a complete restoration and, depending on staffing, is open to visitors at milepost 238.5 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It now houses exhibits on mountain life and crafts.

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A Few Words on Flag Day

June 14 is set aside to honor and fly the American flag, a symbol of our nation. The date was chosen because 240 years ago in 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the stars and stripes—designed by Betsy Ross of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—as our national banner.

Flag Day

Old Glory at Chimney Rock, circa 1940, BRNHA Scrapbook, WRA.

One hundred years ago, Flag Day took on a particularly poignant tone as Americans were overseas, the country having entered World War I. President Wilson delivered a speech at the Washington Monument emphasizing the reasons America was assisting allies who were in the clutch of a “sinister power.” His address was published in newspapers across the nation. Americans also used the day to conclude a 30-day Liberty Loan campaign to aid in fighting the war. With just days to go, $700 million was still needed to reach the $2 billion goal, but Americans came through and exceeded the amount of subscriptions issued.

Western North Carolina had its share of Flag Day observances in 1917. The Pisgah and Asheville lodges of the Knights of Pythias celebrated with a festive program including vocal and instrumental musical performances, humorous readings, and patriotic addresses. In Blowing Rock, a large flag was raised in Ransom Park while the Blowing Rock band played military music and led a procession of Boy Scouts.

Elks across the state had commemorations and parades in Wilmington, Durham, and Winston-Salem, while several DAR chapters in the Charlotte area also put on programs.

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Folkmoot U.S.A. Records Finding Aid Now Available Online

Since its inception in August 2012, the Western Regional Archives has received records from several organizations. One collection with an interesting international flare is the Folkmoot U.S.A. Records. Folkmoot is an international dance festival that is held each summer in the Haywood County town of Waynesville.

Folkmoot dancer

Colorful Folkmoot dancer, circa 2007.

The event was the brainchild of Dr. Clinton Border, following a trip he took to Europe with a group of local square dancers. Border reasoned that since western North Carolina has such a rich cultural history, that hosting a dance festival—featuring a myriad of cultures from around the world—would be an endeavor for which the region was well suited. His hunch was right and since its inception in 1984, Folkmoot has hosted hundreds of dancers from scores of nations. One hundred thousand people are drawn to Waynesville each summer to see one or more of the performances.

The collection, which contains correspondence, photographs, and videos, was processed by interns Kendall Rankin and Whitley Albury. Albury also created the finding aid which is now available online. If you are interested in attending, this year’ Folkmoot festival, it will take place July 20–30, 2017.

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National Wildflower Week


Wildflowers near Mt. Pisgah.


The first week in May is set aside as National Wildflower Week, a time to draw attention to these floral treasures and to help preserve and propagate them. Many species are threatened by loss of habitat, development, and invasive species.

An early champion for wildflowers was former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who undertook many projects for the beautification (a broad term that included clean air and water and pollution abatement) of America. Upon her arrival in Washington, D.C., she set up a committee of wealthy donors and influential politicos who were tasked with improving the natural aesthetics around the city. Their efforts “bloomed” in the form of millions of newly planted bulbs, flowering shrubs, and trees around public buildings and open spaces.

Legislation and programs enacted under her husband’s administration include the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Beautification Act of 1965, the National Trails System Act, the Wild and Scenic River Program, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In 1982, Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes founded a wildflower research center. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center in Austin, Texas, is a 284-acre botanical garden devoted to conservation and restoration of natural landscapes. Its website hosts the Native Plant Information Network, a searchable database of thousands of America’s native plants.

Western North Carolina affords many opportunities for viewing wildflowers. Nature lovers and flower seekers can find them along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests, DuPont State Forest, and our numerous state parks. Look for special wildflower walks or hikes nearby!

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