Cranberry Capers

Did you know that wild cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, can be found in boggy areas across western North Carolina? The species has been documented in Alleghany, Watauga, and Haywood counties. The trailing shrub produces four-petaled pale pink flowers during the summer months and red berries in the winter. It is from this species that commercial cranberries were cultivated.


Illustration from Flora Batava of Afbeelding en Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Gewassen, (1872)

Apparently, these crimson jewels were popular with foragers. In fact, in the Journal of the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina for the 1876–1877 session, it was noted that a bill was introduced by Alleghany County representative, E. L. Vaughn (1839–1898) about harvesting them on another’s property.

Described as “one of the brightest and pleasantest gentlemen in the west,” Vaughn sponsored a bill that would “make it a misdemeanor to enter upon land and take therefrom cranberries without the consent of the owners.” One can only imagine what sort of berry thievery was taking place in the High Country to cause such legislation to be introduced. It was referred to the committee on the Judiciary and was known as H.B. 432. There is no record of the bill becoming law.

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Blackbeard: A Brief Biography

Note: This piece is published in conjunction with the exhibit,  Blackbeard 300: Commemorating North Carolina’s Rich Maritime History, on display at the Western Office of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources November 6, 2017 – January 6, 2018, Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m with special programming Saturdays November 18 and January 6. 

In the early 18th century a notorious pirate preyed upon the coast. This dubious fellow was known as Blackbeard. Although he was documented as Edward Teach, or Thack, or Thatch, we’re not quite sure as to who he really was. Scholars think his ability to read and write shows that he came from a well-off English family. He probably changed his name to protect his relatives from the embarrassment of his exploits.  bb

Blackbeard began his career as a privateer during Queen Anne’s War. Non-military seamen were hired by the English crown to raid Spanish ships. After the war (and out of work) he turned to piracy. In 1716, Teach learned the tricks and twists of the pirate trade, when he fell under the tutelage of one Benjamin Hornigold, who, the following year, rewarded him with a ship that Teach renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.

A robust man, his appearance was indeed impressive. It is written that he stood over 6 feet tall with a face full of black hair which he twisted into strands and entwined with small pieces of rope. To these pieces of hemp, he would set a match, which in addition to being useful for igniting cannons, gave him a devilish smoky aura.

After successfully blockading Charleston’s harbor in 1718, Teach ditched Queen Anne’s Revenge (and most of his crew) in Beaufort Inlet and moved all his loot and booty onto the ship Adventure. Teach and his pared down crew set sail for Ocracoke where it was believed he would set up a pirate base of permanent proportion.

Citizens of the Tar Heel State knew all too well of Blackbeard and his threats to shipping. They were frustrated with Governor Eden who had been unable to keep the fiend at bay. After learning of Blackbeard’s plan to set up shop off Ocracoke, a group of landowners petitioned Governor Spotswood of Virginia to put an end to Blackbeard’s terror and to restore peace of mind to the Albemarle region and its surrounding waters.

Governor Spotswood dispatched two ships that had been guarding the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to head to Ocracoke and once and for all take care of Blackbeard. In a fierce hand-to-hand battle, Lt. Robert Maynard finally killed Teach, whose body suffered 5 pistol shots and 20 sword cuts and slashes. His head was then severed from his body and hung on the bowsprit of the sloop as proof that the bold Blackbeard had been defeated. His body was tossed overboard. Storytellers and raconteurs liked to embellish that it swam around the ship 7 times.

In 1996, Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered off Beaufort, N.C. Artifacts have been raised from the sea floor and cautious eyes have been waiting and watching for something to discount this underwater archaeology site as that of the QAR, but nay-sayers need to take a back seat, because after all this time nothing has been discovered to disprove the theory.

It is important to note that there are no plans to ever actually raise the ship, rather researchers headed up by the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and East Carolina University, plan to recover the artifacts and preserve them for future display.

Every relic recovered is assigned two numbers. One designates that it is from the QAR site, and one identifies the object for the North Carolina master list of archaeological finds.

Artifacts surfaced are usually in the form of concretions. Natural elements such as sand and shells have bonded to them, making their identification difficult. Sometimes smaller concretions are found within larger concretions. All artifacts are given the utmost care at the conservation lab at East Carolina University.

Items recovered include a bronze bell with the date 1709, pewter plates, cannons, navigational instruments, nails, gun hardware, bottles, and smaller personal items such as a button and a tobacco pipe. Even a small amount of gold dust has been recovered. Experts estimate that over 500,000 items will be recovered from the site.

These fascinating finds will help future generations understand early ships, armaments, and life on board a pirate ship, and will ever keep us aware of the golden age of piracy. For more information visit

In 2018, the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will host an exciting array of educational experiences for a wide range of audiences.

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Between the Queen City & the Land of the Sky: Bus Service from Charlotte to Asheville

In November 1922, several North Carolina newspapers ran headlines announcing a new bus service linking two major commercial centers. Asheville’s Kenilworth Transportation Company (later known as the Asheville Transportation Company) had plans for a route between that city and Charlotte the following spring. Property near the intersection of South Market and Beaumont streets in Asheville was acquired for the construction of a three-story brick passenger station and terminal.

Big Brother C.B. Brown

C.B. Brown poses with the Miss Asheville. Ruiz Family Collection, WRA, circa 1923. 

Two vehicles, the Miss Asheville and the Miss Charlotte, could carry up to 21 passengers each on the 127-mile trip. At a cost of $11,000 each, the new vehicles were on the cutting edge of luxury and comfort. “Both busses are appointed with brown grain leather upholstering and the inside appearance is that of a Pullman car.” While similar busses were in use from routes between New York and Boston and New York and Montreal, it was believed that Miss Asheville and Miss Charlotte were “the only machines of their kind in the south,” and as such, “attracted a good deal of attention.”

Service got under way in May 1923, with a special promotional excursion provided for newspapermen and members of the press. Upon their arrival, Asheville’s Col. E. G. Hester and son Harvey Hester, who owned the busses, treated the press party to a surprise reception at the Kenilworth Inn.

The route’s itinerary included Hendersonville, Chimney Rock, Rutherfordton, Forest City, Shelby, Kings Mountain, and Gastonia. The sojourn took seven hours and cost $7.00 one way.

Charlie's Bus

The Miss Asheville, one of the busses that made the trip between Asheville and Charlotte. Ruiz Family Collection, WRA, circa 1923.

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Rampant Jollity: Singing Conventions in Western North Carolina

One hundred years ago, on September 30, 1917, thousands gathered in Hendersonville for the annual all-day Singing Convention held at the Henderson County Courthouse. All sections of the county were represented and a choir from almost every church performed.

ConDev8426G singing

Singing on the Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, 1951. NC Department of Conservation & Development photo, State Archives of NC

“The singing conventions have always been the source of a great deal of pleasure for the people in the county,” reported the French Broad Hustler newspaper. Folks from far-flung and remote regions of the county gathered and socialized at these community get-togethers, which were also an opportunity for the young people of the county to congregate.

Although threatening weather the day before caused officials to fear poor turnout, the convention was the best-attended on record. Many made a day of the occasion and brought picnic dinners to enjoy. Local furniture salesman, J. Fanning Stepp, served as president of the Singing Convention.

In the months between the annual convention, local singing conventions were held at locations around Henderson County, usually on the 5th Sunday of the month with dinner on the grounds. Bear Wallow, Edneyville, and Mt. Home all hosted singing conventions. Haywood, Jackson, and Cherokee counties also held singing conventions, while Burke and McDowell held a joint convention in 1907.

In 1922, Artus Moser penned an article in The Charlotte Observer that highlighted these special mountain events, asserting that they were the perfect breeding grounds for friendly rivalries among choirs. Moser claimed that while similar gatherings were held in the east, in the mountain counties there was a “higher degree of perfection, importance and influence.”

At Grandfather Mountain near Linville, the annual Singing on the Mountain event evolved from a Sunday School picnic in 1924. The 94th Singing on the Mountain event will be held June 24, 2018. In the central portion of the state, the town of Benson hosts the State Annual Singing Convention. The gathering of singers took root in 1921 and is billed as “the oldest continuous Gospel sing in the United States.” Also held in June, the 98th State Annual Singing Convention is slated for June 22–24.

That’s a whole lot of singin’ goin’ on!

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The Stars and Stripes finds home at Western Regional Archives

The Western Regional Archives has received a donation of two bound complete runs of The Stars and Stripes newspaper published between February 1918 and June 1919. They are not originals, but rather facsimile copies created by the American Expeditionary Forces Publishing Association in 1920.   DSCN0744

The Stars and Stripes was an eight-page weekly paper created by an all-military staff to serve soldiers stationed with the American Expeditionary Forces serving in Europe during World War I. It not only kept soldiers abreast of happenings, but also served as a tool to build morale and strengthen unity among the troops. During its short run (just 17 months), The Stars and Stripes reached a readership of over half a million. The paper’s popularity was due in part to its contributors, mostly enlisted men, many of whom were professional journalists prior to their military service. The Stars and Stripes also included a number of cartoons and illustrations. The newspaper was revived during World War II, and is still published today. DSCN0740

With the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, many archives are highlighting collection materials pertaining to “The Great War.” In addition to The Stars and Stripes, the Western Regional Archives has personal correspondence between soldiers and sweethearts and photographs of Red Cross parades in downtown Asheville.

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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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