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Rumple auxiliary buildings to get facelift, new construction planned
Image submitted 

An artist’s rendering of a planned $5 million-plus renovation project for auxiliary buildings serving Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, as well as new construction adding approximately 4,500 square feet.

BLOWING ROCK —A Main Street house built in 1886 will get a facelift, some 4,500 square feet of new construction will materialize nearby, and other parts of the Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church campus will be better purposed once the plans for a slightly more than $5 million redevelopment project are completed, according to building committee chair John Calvin.

While renovations are already under way at The Manse, the pastor’s residence across Wallingford Street from the church, the next priority is what is now known as The Rumple House, 1200 Main Street in Blowing Rock, located between the Rumple sanctuary and the restaurant, Town Tavern.

“(adw architects) of Charlotte are working on the master plan for the entire project,” said Calvin. “ADW has done a marvelous job in taking our priorities into consideration, which include blending into the surrounding neighborhood.”

Image submitted 

An artist’s rendering of aerial view of the planned renovations and new construction at Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church. Affected will be the Manse, the Rumple House, the Education Building, and a new Fellowship Hall.

In pointing out that the Rumple House was built in 1886, with various additions through the years, Calvin said that it was important for the project committee to preserve the original structure.

“We expect to remove one or more of the additions that came later, at the back of the house, because they are in really bad shape,” said Calvin. “Currently, the Rumple House is used for various meetings and two or three Sunday School classes, but we aim to repurpose it as the church’s administrative offices. That does two things. First, it provides Main Street access for visitors to our church administrative personnel, rather than through the main church.

“Second, there is an energy savings. Right now, to heat the administrative offices on the main floor, in the back, you pretty much have to heat the entire building. That is a lot of waste. This energy management model reduces our carbon footprint,” said Calvin.

The inside of Rumple House will remain unchanged, preserving the unique chestnut paneling and ceilings.

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A rear view (artist’s rendering) of the new addition to Blowing Rock’s Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church.

“The biggest changes will be reverting the building back as much as we can to the original footprint, reconfiguring the kitchen to a downsized version, and redesigning the rear access with a walkway to the main campus. Toward the back of the Rumple House, we will also add a unisex, handicapped accessible bathroom,” said Calvin.

The improvements to The Manse as the pastor’s residence are already under way. Rev. Kathy Beach and her family relocated recently, to allow the work to be completed.

The third priority of the project are enhancements to the existing Education Building and Keys Chapel.

“The ground floor of the Education Building will become facilities for our youth and children’s programs,” said Calvin. “And on the second floor, we are going to make a large gathering area by removing the offices and library.

The church considers Blowing Rock C.A.R.E.S. to be an important mission and service to the community, according to Pastor Kathy Beach.

“Blowing Rock Cares Food Pantry will have a dedicated, expanded area on the ground floor of the Keys Chapel, where the nursery is now,” said Beach. “That gives the clients easier access to the services being provided and will make it easier to manage with all of the food and supplies coming in and going out.”

Calvin said that the third-floor classrooms will be reconfigured so that one classroom is added.

“There is a lot of excitement about our plans to add new construction, about 4,500 square feet, after removing and possibly relocating what is now the youth cottage and some storage areas,” said Calvin. “This will be our new fellowship hall and it will have a full stage, a kitchen, table seating for about 150, with hi-tech audio visual and lighting options. We can even accommodate a half basketball court. This facility will be one level, and even with the roof of the existing Keys Chapel.

Beach said that much of the impetus for the building fund was gained through a $1 million anonymous gift to the church.

“The fundraising has gained a lot of momentum from that gift,” said Beach. “Now, as our members see what is being planned, they want to be a part of it. The early priorities are addressing the things that need fixing, and that includes The Manse and Rumple House. Those are the necessities, but while we are at it there are steps to be taken that enhance our campus and even expand it for the important work of the church.”

Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church is located at 1218 Main Street, in Blowing Rock.

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Overcoming monumental challenges, Blowing Rock group cuts ribbon on new restrooms
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Ethan Morris was one of the first to inspect the new public restrooms constructed next to the Blowing Rock School playground, the vision of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Leadership Challenge class for a community service project.

BLOWING ROCK — It is a story about need. It is a story about resourcefulness. It is a story about perseverance.

When the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Challenge class of 2019 met after their coursework had been completed in early May of that year, their assignment was to complete a group community service project, just as all previous classes had done. The 2007 class started the Candidates Forum. The 2011 class organized “Dancing with the Blowing Rock Stars” to raise money for charity. And so on.

As the 2019 group brainstormed about where the needs were in the Blowing Rock community and what they might do, someone offhandedly said, “The Blowing Rock School playground could sure use some restrooms.”

With two children in school, Sarah Goff, a member of the Challenge group, knew firsthand of the need. During school, kids that “needed to go” had to run back inside the school. After school hours during the week and on weekends, anyone taking advantage of the fancy and fun school playground had to “hold it” until they could go back up Morris Street and turn right on Main Street, hoping to get to the public restrooms in Memorial Park in time.

Goff saw the need and latched onto the idea.

“For me, that was going to be the project,” said Goff after the Sept. 20 ribbon cutting for the new restroom facilities.

At the ribbon cutting, which was held on site only about eight months from when the group broke ground late last January, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce CEO admitted that there were doubts about the idea for building public restrooms on school grounds with privately raised money.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Joyce Zellner wielded the big scissors on behalf of the 2019 Leadership Challenge class, cutting the ribbon on their community service project: new public restrooms on the Blowing Rock School playground. The group included Ali Borchardt, Erica Brinker, Katy Kinsman, Ronnie Mark, Rachel Stewart, Paulette Mitchell, Keith Shockley, Jim & Joyce Zellner, Bri Bowling, Tammy Bentley, Chastity Stevens and Sarah Goff.

“When you think about the obstacles this group faced with their project idea,” said Hardin, “this was a monumental undertaking. And it wasn’t just about raising the money, which of course was a challenge in itself as the prices for construction materials kept rising. Those costs went up at least 20 percent as they were getting the money raised, so they had to keep raising more.”

But there were other questions, too.

“The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has a whole staff, including architects, who need to weigh in on anything built on school grounds. When it comes to kids, there are always safety concerns. We are very grateful for the department’s expedience in getting our project reviewed and back to us,” said Goff.

Ever the pragmatist, Hardin asked the group another tough question.

“OK, so you get this facility built and it looks nice but do you really want your name on it after a year or two of being used?” Hardin asked.

Of course, what he was getting at was the ongoing maintenance that would be required, from janitorial services to keeping the inside and outside walls painted, as needed.

The dominoes continued to fall. The group drafted a memorandum of understanding and successfully negotiated with Watauga County Schools and the Town of Blowing Rock for the upkeep.

“As you might guess, there were a lot of civic lessons along the way,” said Goff. “To receive money from the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, we had to convince that agency’s board that the restrooms served tourism. By tracking who was using the playground, we were able to do that.”

Goff said that the original funding goal when they broke ground in late January 2021, was $63,000. As prices rose during construction, they ended up needing $80,000.

Speaking on behalf of the entire group, Goff told the estimated 50 civic and community members — and a lot of happy kids: “This group has given so much sweat equity to this project in volunteer hours to raise money. They parked cars for donations in the school parking lot. The ran a bean bag toss game into a toilet at the school’s fall festival. They hosted a bowl-a-thon. They volunteered with Cycle NC, sang at The Speckled Trout for tips, and more recently planted and mulched around this new building.”

For the building itself, the $80,000 may be only half of what the development would have cost had it been put out to bid for a state-funded project. Through his construction company, Cash Custom Homes, Josh Cash donated a substantial amount of his time and resources. Blowing Rock-based landscape architect Ron Cutlip contributed the planning and execution of the landscaping. Mustard Seed Market donated plants. Architect Larry Greene designed the building.

“Blowing Rock School principal Patrick Sukow coordinated a lot of the different needs throughout this project,” Goff said to the gathered crowd.

“Building this facility wouldn’t have been possible without donations of all sizes from many members of the community,” said Goff. “So many people associated with the school and the town contributed their time and money.”

In his remarks to the group, Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott emphasized the word, “community,” as one of the things that struck him most about Blowing Rock.

“Ironically, when I first came to Watauga County eight years ago, my first public appearance was right here in the ribbon cutting for this new playground. I noted then, as now, that the Blowing Rock community rallies around its school. Schools are a central feature of many communities, but there are few where the school is such an important feature of downtown,” said Elliott.

Mayor Charlie Sellers, who grew up in Blowing Rock, recalled the days when he and Commissioner Doug Matheson, standing among the crowd, attended Blowing Rock School.

“When Doug and I were going to school here, this was just a big open field where we played. That gym wasn’t there,” said Sellers. “And when we had to ‘go,’ well, Doug, do you think that tree over yonder is still there?”

Turning serious, Sellers thanked the group for their perseverance and resourcefulness in forging this true, public-private partnership to meet a public need.

Goff was quick to list all of the donors for the project. She said that giving at least $1,000 and listed on the permanent donor signage on the new public restrooms were Barbara and Doug Crisp, Ben and Virginia Powell, Bill and Cynthia Tessien, the Blowing Rock TDA, Diamond Properties, Karen and Tony Rand, Pine Ridge Partners, the Rotary Club of Blowing Rock, Softact Solutions, The Blowing Rock, The Northgate Group, The Speckled Trout, The Village Foundation of Blowing Rock, and Walter and Jean Wilkinson.

Giving at least $500 were Andy and Gayle Barth and the Spice & Tea Exchange, Tim Gupton and Brent Moore, Bob Lovern, and Jim and Deborah McDowell.

“When all is said and done, this is a great story of vision, of perseverance, of resourcefulness and, above all, of community support,” said Hardin. “When you consider what this Leadership Challenge has accomplished, even through the pandemic, these are great things that have been achieved over the last two and half years.”

The members of the 2019 Leadership Challenge class are Ali Borchardt, Erica Brinker, Katy Kinsman, Ronnie Mark, Rachel Stewart, Paulette Mitchell, Keith Shockley, Jim & Joyce Zellner, Bri Bowling, Tammy Bentley, Chastity Stevens, and Sarah Goff.

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Blowing Rock Historical Society scores big from Rowan County gift
David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

The Blowing Rock Journal was published from 1959 through 1964. A complete bound set was recently given to the Blowing Rock Historical Society.

BLOWING ROCK — No matter how much things change, they stay the same.

While that statement may seem a contradiction in terms, it seems appropriate after browsing through the pages of The Blowing Rock Journal published almost 60 years ago. From the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce exploring ways to increase tourism in the “shoulder” months like September, to a review of the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show, to an announcement that Tweetsie will open on the weekend, there are a lot of similarities to current events.

A complete bound set of the Journal, published from its beginning in 1959 until its end in 1964-65, was “scored” on Sept. 10 by David Rogers, editor of The Blowing Rocket, thanks to the largesse of a China Grove-based affiliate of the Rowan County Museum. Based in the historic and recently restored China Grove Roller Mill, principals of the museum extension were going through bound volumes of old Salisbury and Rowan County newspapers when they came across seven bound volumes of what was originally the Blowing Rock Journal, and then in October 1963 morphed into the Blowing Rock-Boone Journal before meeting its end as 1964 was turning into 1965.

“I suspect that Jerry Burns’ revival of The Blowing Rocket and the Watauga Democrat’s greater market acceptance in Boone led to the demise of The Blowing Rock-Boone Journal,” said Steve Sudderth, a local historian and author of Trails Through Time, which looks at Blowing Rock history before 1900. “This is a tremendous find from a Blowing Rock history perspective.”

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Looking back in history, even 60 years ago, there are a lot of similarities between then and 2021.

“All I did, really, was answer a phone call — which given all of the scam calls these days is an accomplishment. Seeing that the caller ID was ‘China Grove’ my first thought was that someone wanted to sell me an extended warranty on a car I don’t own anymore or some scoundrel wanted to alert me to the fact that there had been an unauthorized purchase in my Amazon account,” said Rogers. “But for some reason I picked up the phone and learned about the existence of this newspaper. They called me because of my former publication, Blowing Rock News.”

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Politics and laws were front and center in Watauga County 60 years ago, as this advertisement urging voters to cast their ballots approving liquor sales in Blowing Rock with an ABC store. These bound issues, a complete set from 1959 to 1965, were found in Rowan County, secured by Blowing Rocket editor David Rogers, who donated them to the Blowing Rock Historical Society to be digitized and kept in safekeeping.

It turns out, that Rowan County’s newspaper and The Blowing Rock Journal may have shared the same publisher, a man whose last name was Burdick.

“This is going to require a little more research,” said Rogers, “to understand the relationship between China Grove and Salisbury to Blowing Rock. Was Burdick a seasonal resident of the High Country? At this time, we simply don’t know. It will take some digging. More than half a century has gone by and many of the people from that era, in both places, have passed.”

Rogers said that paging randomly through the pages, looking at different editions of the Journal is entertaining.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

When was the last time you had a full course dinner for $5 at a swanky place like you could get a Mayview Manor 60 years ago? This ad appeared in The Blowing Rock Journal in 1963, the bound original editions secured by Blowing Rocket editor David Rogers on Sept. 10 from the China Grove Roller Mill unit of the Rowan County Museum. Rogers subsequently turned them over to the Blowing Rock Historical Society to be digitized and made available to a broader audience.

“There is one front page story on Blowing Rock’s town council contemplating the implementation of zoning. There is a political advertisement urging the people of Blowing Rock to vote for local control of liquor sales. Still another ad promotes a $5, ‘full course dinner’ at Mayview Manor or a $3.95 breakfast. Today, if Mayview Manor still was operating, that breakfast would probably be close to $20 and that dinner closer to $40 or more,” said Rogers.

The seven bound volumes include a four-set original and three volumes of duplicates.

“The best recipients of these bound volumes is the Blowing Rock Historical Society,” said Rogers, “which is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of this area’s history. I want to work with the Historical Society’s board and see if we can’t get these volumes digitized. That does a couple of things. It preserves the pages, which become more delicate and even precious with each passing year and digitization will make the contents more accessible to a much broader audience. Ideally, historical society members will be able to access them through Internet links from the organization’s website. We’ll see. It is a lot of pages and painstaking work to get them digitized.”

For now, the volumes are being stored at the Edgewood Cottage under lock and key.

David Rogers / Photo by David Rogers 

Even while the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show was going on, the Blowing Rock Town Council was dealing with some weighty issues some 60 years ago, as evidenced by these headlines in a 1963 issue of The Blowing Rock Journal, recently found among stacks of volumes in the China Grove Roller Mill, a unit of the Rowan County Museum. The ‘find’ was secured by Blowing Rocket editor David Rogers and then donated to the Blowing Rock Historical Society to be digitized and for safekeeping.

“We are very appreciative of David’s gift to us and really the gift of the people at China Grove Roller Mill for having a sense of how history has meaning. Based on some of the things that David has shared with us about the roller bill, they are doing great work in restoring and preserving historical artifacts relevant to an important industry in many towns and cities before supermarkets and giant food processing companies, the not-so-simple act of making flour and corn meal. Things evolve, and I think it is important to understand how they evolve, including the social, political and economic development of towns like Blowing Rock and China Grove,” said Tom O’Brien, president of the Blowing Rock Historical Society.

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St. Mary of the Hills awards $64,000 in grants to area nonprofits

BLOWING ROCK — More than $64,000 in grants were collectively awarded to some two dozen nonprofit agencies, thanks to the success of the Tour of Homes Blowing Rock virtual tour and related online auction, reported Loy McGill, chair of the event produced by St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church in Blowing Rock.

“All agencies participating in the tour grant process received support. Available funds were applied equitably over these groups based on demonstrated need with an emphasis placed on initiatives committed to supporting individuals and families in the health and human services sectors,” said McGill.

Through the grant process, the following agencies received 2021 St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church Tour funding: Blue Ridge Conservancy – Middle Fork Greenway, Blowing Rock Cares Food Pantry, Blowing Rock Library, Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Blowing Rock School, Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, Casting Bread Ministry, Club 12, Community Care Clinic, Crossnore School, Inc., Habitat for Humanity, High Country Caregivers, Hospitality House Rise, Hospitality House We Can, Hospitality House Shelter, Hunger and Health Coalition, LIFE Village, Mountain Alliance, Oasis, WAMY Community Action, Watauga Children’s Council, Western Youth Network and Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge.

“Because of the community’s generosity,” said McGill, “these agencies are better prepared to accomplish their missions: feed the hungry, clothe those in need, provide shelter and sanctuary, offer educational resources, and care for children. These Tour-supported organizations continue to respond to community needs while meeting the challenges placed on them by COVID-19.”

McGill explained that four unique properties are showcased on the virtual tour, including the homes of Polly and Richard Gambill, Jeff Roberts, Jean and Otis Sawyer, and Lee Rocamora and John Thompson.

“These beautiful homes are still available for viewing on the Tour website at www.stmaryofthehills.org/tour. The generosity of the homeowners and other donors’ generous gifts helped area non-profits continue providing essential support in the High Country. Thanks to all who embraced the spirit of community to make a difference in the lives around us,” said McGill.