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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Have You Ever Wondered What It’s Like to be a Volunteer at the Western Regional Archives? By Dawn Robuck

A lot of fun! Laid-back! Interesting! Those are the first three thoughts that popped into my mind as I looked back over the past months working as a new volunteer. I don’t know what I expected when I went to interview in January with Heather South, the lead archivist. Never having been to the Archives before, I suppose I had alternating visions of a dusty ill-lit basement and a leather-fortified tomb manned by shushing librarians.
I am happy to report the Western Regional Archives is neither of those. Housed on the third floor of a historic, and architecturally preserved nurses’ dormitory, the resear20150928_155805ch room and collections are bright, comfortable, and airy. A large full-length balcony, that is often used in the summer for breaks, even sports a hammock. Outside, the trees that line the parkway invite you to get your head out of the files and explore the nearby trails during lunch.

The place is filled with people though, and while sometimes there can be some shushing going on (like when a researcher is deep into the files), most often there is light banter between volunteers, researchers, and archivists as discoveries are made, interesting finds are shared, and everyone is invited to offer his or her thoughts on the importance of a piece of ephemera found in a collection undergoing processing.

Volunteers are often used to help process collections. Processing is the task of sorting through what can be a hodge-podge of recently acquired boxes of memorabilia or records; often not organized in any particular fashion. The processor starts to make sense of the scope of the project, note what is included so information can be indexed electronically, and re-box the collection in archival-friendly boxes. Things like newsprint contain high amounts of acid which, over time, will eat through a collection. Processors will remove newspaper and make copies of the information to protect the rest of the collection in storage.

Of course, that’s not the only job that needs doing. For example, some volunteers manage the Western Regional Archives’ social media presence on Facebook. Heather made it very clear to me in the interview that it is of primary importance to her to match up the interests of her volunteers with collections. For example, knowing I was taking a photography class, she started me on processing a collection from a regional and well-known photographer. WWNC_Archives (8 of 9)hen the sheer size of the collection became too daunting, however, no one minded me changing course and working instead with another volunteer on an even more formidable collection of notebooks that contain years of WNC Mathematics Contest records. It’s large, but otherwise a straightforward project of
removing articles and pictures from the notebooks, making copies, and rehousing them in acid-free folders. I’ve actually had a lot of fun seeing how school fashion has changed from the early seventies!

Heather also ensures that nothing ever gets monotonous for her team of volunteers20170110_124103—she arranges educational field trips to nearby historical sites and invites us to hear special speakers and see performances, ensures birthdays never slip by unnoticed, and not a
holiday gets by without creative thank-you-goodies for all. If you’ve ever thought about volunteering at the Archives and you love the treasure hunt and enjoy rooting through the past, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Heather. Even if you can only volunteer a couple of hours a week, the Western Regional Archives needs you, you are guaranteed an enriching experience, and you’ll meet some awesome new friends.

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Some Notes about Printing at Black Mountain College

With all its novelties and innovations, it is no wonder that Black Mountain College is still studied today as a model of experimental and democratic education. One of the opportunities afforded students was instruction and practical experience using a printing press. Through the collections at the Western Regional Archives we are able to piece together snippets about presses and typefaces used at the college.


Betty Brett printing on a Challenge Gordon printing press, 1941. BMC Collections, WRA.

In 1936, Xanti Schawinsky, a short-term instructor in The Arts, enlisted the help of Robert L. Leslie, a New York editor. Leslie sent Black Mountain College a cabinet full of old typefaces, including Bodoni and Roman, remnants acquired from the Brooklyn Ethical Culture School. They were unpacked and sorted “with much excitement.” Leslie also bought a secondhand printer for $100 and shipped it to Black Mountain requesting that the college pay $40 towards the purchase. Schawinsky offered a course in typography that academic year.

According to a 1971 interview with former students Emil Willimetz and Susan Noble Gordon, a second printing press at Black Mountain College, a foot-powered Chandler Price machine, was acquired with the help of student David Way who had an interest in producing a magazine with Willimetz. It was said that Stephen Forbes footed much of the bill. The 1937–1938 Black Mountain College Catalog boasts “the print shop contains two hand presses, with several type fonts and complete accessories.”

Robert Haas, a visiting instructor in printing and photography in 1940, made his own typefaces. It was Haas who printed the striking programs for the campus production of Macbeth. However, the print shop fell dormant for a number of years until it was unearthed by student Jim Tite in 1946.


Program for Macbeth printed by Robert Haas, 1940. BMC Collections, WRA.

Tite wrote of finding the old printing press in an unused portion of the woodworking shop in Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds: An Anthology of Personal Accounts. He shared his discovery with Theodore Rondthaler and asked that he be allowed to clean up and restore the printing press. Working with fellow student Ann Mayar, they sorted the type, oiled and repaired the press, and cleaned up the shed to make a printing shop. To get a better understanding of the work, they sojourned to Asheville to learn from printers.

Tite then suggested to Rondthaler and Bill Levi (both men were instructors as well as members of the college’s Board of Fellows), that he might teach a course in practical printing. The class materialized and was split into two sections, one taught by Frank Rice. The press was used to create printed material for the college to save money. After acquiring a surplus (albeit brand new) Kluge press from the VA Hospital in Oteen, the campus was well-equipped to tackle the printing of programs, catalogs, newsletters, and chapbooks of student’s poetry.

In 1949, John McCandless was offered a position teaching printing for a year. He prepared a detailed report on the state of the shop, presses, and the type. By 1952 Carroll Williams was listed in the college catalog as the printing instructor. By the mid-1950s, printing was done in linotype.

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