NEWLAND — For those who enjoy discussing and looking back on the history of Avery County, the most anticipated day of the calendar year arrives this weekend: this Saturday, June 26, to be exact.
Following a one-year hiatus due to the global pandemic, the Avery County Heritage Festival returns to the Town Square in Newland, adjacent to the Avery County Courthouse. The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free of charge to the public.
The festival features activities for the entire family, for those young and old, as well as those with a passion for preserving the area’s local historical ties.
According to Avery County Museum director and Chair of the Avery County Historical Society Aneda Johnson, approximately 30 families will be represented onsite with genealogy information to share to help local residents answer the most important of questions, such as “Who ya ‘kin to?” Approximately a dozen local area authors will be available to discuss their works with visitors, in addition to food and craft vendors, which will include demonstrations on site of genuine historical period activities that include quilting, wood turning and blacksmithing.
“We’re planning to have some games like sack races and other traditional game for kids,” Johnson added. “Avery County Cloggers will be dancing in front of the courthouse. The music lineup will include the Land Harbor Band, Doug Buchanan’s granddaughter and husband, the Church Family along with the Boone Brothers, and there will be a music jam with Jesse Smith.”
In addition to the myriad activities on the Square grounds, the Avery County Historical Museum will be open throughout the day, offering guided tours of the facility and the adjacent renovated Linville Train Depot and caboose facility.
“Jerry Turbyfill, who has vast knowledge on the depot and artifacts within the museum will be helping with the tours,” Johnson noted.
The museum houses many of the most treasured relics and memories of the more-than-a-century-old history of North Carolina’s youngest county. Located in the former Avery County Jail, the museum grounds features exhibits ranging from local sports icons to notable medical physicians and tools of the trade, key moments in the history of the county, features on the county’s rich mountain dancing and musical history and Avery’s military heritage. A number of writings from area authors are also featured inside the museum’s walls, with many available to take home for purchase as a keepsake from visiting the walk back through Avery County time.
Johnson also said that the festival hopes that the Morrison Library will also be on hand to assist with the scanning of historic images at the festival, an activity that proved to be a popular hit among festival visitors two years ago.
The heritage festival is a crucial event to restart locally following the pandemic, according to Johnson, because of its significance to such a wide range of area locals who are passionate when it comes to the recollection and preservation of Avery’s historical roots.
“For one thing, I think you learn from the past, and if you know some of your past and where you come from, you begin to better understand our culture,” Johnson explained. “Our Appalachian and Southern culture is different, and we’re constantly undergoing change. I don’t think people realize what used to be at areas within our county, like the significance of the Cranberry Mines, and of how Elk Park was such a central hub for business and travel, and people came there to get to Banner Elk. The ETWNC Railroad was such an important thing in our area. Unless you dig into our local history, you don’t realize how this area came to be, because it wasn’t an easy place to get to at that time and, from what I’ve learned, hardly anybody was in this area until the 1800s.”
Johnson’s own passion for history was ignited by others who taught about the history of the local area, and she hopes that events like the heritage festival sparks that same interest in new generations to keep the memories of the county’s historic traits alive.
“It was something that I became interested in when I was in my twenties. When I was younger and in school, I had an interest in history thanks to my teacher, Jackie Coffey. Knowing where we came from and what it took to start this place is so important,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how many of our young people know our history, but the more we try to integrate the history into other parts of what’s going on in the local area, the more of an impact it has. Chrissy Kasper and the Avery County Cloggers is an example. I love working with her because of her love to preserve and continue the tradition of historic local dancing. If there’s a way to bring more of the younger generations into this love for history, it benefits everyone.”
For more information about the Avery County Heritage Festival, visit the Avery Historical Museum, located at 1829 Schultz Circle in Newland, call (828) 733-3111, or visit the Avery County Genealogy Society on social media.