Currently Reading – Miracle in the Hills

I’ve written here before about the Crafts Revival Movement of the early 20th century.  For the most part, this revival was instituted by women, much in the spirit as the more famous Jane Addams and her work in urban Chicago.   Simply put, the movement was started by do-gooding Yankee ladies with a lot of time and money on their hands.

During the late Victorian era, Western North Carolina became a vacationing spot for the country’s rich.  Most of these visitors stayed in Asheville, which was fast becoming a resort town.  During the day, the visitors would take outings into the mountains, looking for a little local color.  The prevailing idea about people in the Southern Appalachians at the time was that they still continued to live as the pioneers did.  And while necessity sometimes made that true, the people were like people in any other region of the country – they embraced the conveniences of modern life as they became available.

Nevertheless, the prevailing thought at the time was that people in the Southern Appalachians were living in a sort of pioneer timewarp.  That, of course, was not the case, but popular literature had painted a picture of “mountain folk” that included Elizabethan speech, Old World ballads, moonshine stills and spinning wheels.  Some of the vacationers were so upset by what they did not find, that they set about to make it happen.

The few women who were still weaving became a valuable commodity, as the philanthropic rich set up settlement schools throughout the region.  In these schools, the dying arts of spinning and weaving, plus those of wood carving, basket making and pottery making were taught, often using the remaining crafters as teachers.  The idea was somewhat successful, mainly because it was a way for the students in the classes to supplement their income.  In a place where there was very little industry, many people were glad to have a way to bring in some much needed cash.

While the Crafts Revival really was successful in helping traditional crafts survive, it also helped perpetuate the stereotype of the Southern Appalachian inhabitants as backward and primitive.

The story is quite different in the book I’m currently reading, Miracle in the Hills, by Dr. Mary Sloop:

I love this photo of Dr. Sloop because it is so completely misleading.  The book, published in 1953, is a delightful  memoir sprinkled throughout with the most amazing stories of how she and her doctor husband moved to the North Carolina mountains from Davidson, NC in 1908 in order to set up a medical practice where none existed.

Her interest in education came about when she and the doctor realized that the children were not being educated because the one room school was inadequate .   When she could not convince the local authorities to build a better school in her community of Crossnore, she set about, rallying the community around the idea.  In 1913, the first building was completed, and by the mid 1920s there were several buildings, including dorms for children who lived too far away to travel to school from their homes each day.

Interestingly, one of the main sources of income was a thrift store that came about accidentally.  Dr. Sloop needed clothes for a young girl to attend high school in another community, but the girl had no proper clothing.  Sloop wrote to some cousins of hers, asking if they could spare some of their clothes.  They sent a large box full, but they were clothes that had been left over from a period of mourning and were totally unsuited to a young teen. Sloop’s disappointment in the gift faded when a local woman passing by said she’d like to buy some of the clothes.  A thrift store was born, and it is still open today.

In 1920 a weaving program was started at Crossnore, with the skill being taught to both the school children and to women in the community.  A sales room was set up, and the weavers also took in commissions from around the country.  Today, the weaving continues, and is still housed in the 1936 building that the school children helped build by collecting rocks from the nearby river.  Crossnore School is also still in operation, as both a children’s home  for children in need, and as Crossnore Academy, a North Carolina charter school.

I’m always looking for books on local history, especially those that involve textiles, and this one was an unexpected treat.   I spotted the book on etsy and took a chance.  Guess that old saying is true – you can’t judge a book by its cover.

I’ve got a trip planned to go see the weaving room (and the thrift store, of course) and I’ll post on my findings later on this spring.


Filed under Currently Reading, North Carolina, Textiles

8 responses to “Currently Reading – Miracle in the Hills

  1. KeLLy aNN

    You should totally become a Vintage Tour Director. You always find the most interesting and amazing stuff. Strong women like Dr. Sloop remind me of my grandmother. I once told her she was a Domestic Engineer, after all these years she had a career and didn’t know it. She really got a good laugh at that one. You are a true Historian.


  2. You observations about the influence of the wealthy traveler and their stereotypes during the first half of the 20th century could cover many ventures across the US. Here in LA, a wealthy socialite re-built the historical core of the city as an “Old Mexico” tourist trap and later developed a neighboring section as “China town” where one had not existed before (the main train station was built on the leveled original Chinese neighborhood).
    I hope we are a little more sensitive now to the plight of local populations, but I’m guessing not!


  3. I am a native of Asheville, NC, and when I was a young girl, there was a local “mountain crafts” store called The Three Mountaineers, which was chock-a-block full of pottery, weavings, woodcrafts, baskets, etc. Someday I’ll do a post on my blog about the cloth doll, with complete wardrobe, which was purchased at The Three Mountaineers by my parents and given to me on my 7th birthday. I have fond memories of that store – and the doll!


  4. Karen, that is really interesting. The Three Mountaineers store burned before I was born in 1955, and after the fire the nature of the business changed. They began manufacturing small wooden items such as spice racks and napkin holder in a small factory on the Swannanoa River. I have a cocktail recipe book with wooden covers made by them. When I was a teen I loved to go to the factory when they would open it up and let people buy unfinished item. We would decoupage stuff and think it was really cool!


  5. I understand that The Three Mountaineers Store that I remember was really a merger of two stores which relocated to east of Asheville in 1953 (I was born in 1950). It closed in the early 1990s, I think, but my family had moved from the western part of the state long before that, so I don’t know if it relocated again or not before it finally closed. I also remember going to the Highland Crafts Fair (or some name like that) in downtown Asheville, which I am sure was an outgrowth of the “tourist” dynamics you discuss in this post.


  6. Pingback: Crossnore Weavers | The Vintage Traveler

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