A vist to the Cone Mansion

Today, July 8th, 2008  was yet another grand adventure in Boone, North Carolina. Day three of our Blue Ridge Parkway NEH LAndmarks in American History workshop and the theme could be construed as a study in the naturalist environment. Dr. Tim Silver, author of Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An environmental history of the highest peaks in the Eastern America, gave a morning slide presentation and discussion relating to his book. We discussed the notions of ‘what is nature’. our conection to a constructed landscape, how we hard the ecological balance when we try to tame nature for our pleasurable views. Nature is in people’s thinking as well as their actions. Again, as was the case in yesterday’s discussions, the theme of imminent domain has come up….how do we attract tourism with an antiseptic and stylised landscape and at what cost of those who live on the land?

A short time was spent in a break out group examining primary sources from Bertha Cone’s letters to Hoover expressing her displeasure at the construction of the Parkway through her parcel of land. As was the case yesterday, I am still in awe of the amount of research and preparation which has gone into planning this workshop. Many of these primary sources are from the National Archives in Washington as well as from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

After lunch, our group boarded a bus to Blowing Rock, home of the Moses and Bertha Cone Mansion. Phil Norblitt, author of Mansions in the Mountains:the Story of Moses and Bertha Cone and their Blowing Rock Manor, accompanied us. As a former National Park Service Interpreter at this location, Mr. Norblitt is very knowledgeable of the family’s history, of the Cone Family’s cotton textile business and art collection. This sad tale, of Mr. Cone’s death at the young age of 51, only 8 years after completion of this family summer retreat, forced his wife Bertha, a lady of Victorian values at the turn of the century to begin managing their functioning farm on the property. Her strong convictions to its management led to an opposition to the building of the parkway through her

Cone Mansion, Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Cone Mansion, Blowing Rock, North Carolina

parcel of land. Again, the theme of imminent domain surfaced in our discussions. Those with power could influence the path of the parkway. Ultimately, at her bequest, Mrs. Cone’s house was willed to the Greensboro Hospital, then was turned over to the NPS to be enjoyed as a pleasurable park for others. The house was intended to remain closed to the public, though today a local crafts group display and sell their wares in a portion of this building.

Much of the Cone mansion history reminds me of our John Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. Similar to Cone, Ringling was a wealthy man, who had built a luxury retreat in an exotic local. Both entertained wealth acquaintances at these retreats, both were married without children and direct heirs to manage their assets. Both realised a death within the couple and thus hard times fell upon them. In the case of the Cone’s , Bertha became responsible for managing both the house as well as the self sustaining farm. In the case of Ringling, Mable died leaving John Ringling with little joy. Much of his fortune was lost during the Depression, resulting in his penniless status at the time of death. Ringling’s house and art collection was left to the State of Florida willingly. Mrs. Cone, begrudgingly signed and agreement to hand over the farm land to the government at the time of her death. As I walked through the Cone mansion, my mind was drawing parallels to these two houses , whose tales were unfolding at roughly the same time.

Sarah Potwin, Cone Mansion, Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Sarah Potwin, Cone Mansion, Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Workshop participants hiked a portion of the Cone’s trails to their apple barn, enjoyed the pleasures of rocking on the houses front balcony while enjoying the stunning vista of the town of Blowing Rock below. A heavy summer time rain pounded down for nearly 20 minutes. Interestingly, it was possible to see the weather front approaching us, sweeping across the the mountain tops.

We then boarded the bus, to return to Appalachian State University Campus to eat supper, then read and write about our experiences.

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Blue Ridge Parkway and its origins….

The morning of July 7th, 2008  began with a breath taking vista as I left my dorm to go to breakfast on the campus of Appalachian University, here in Boone, North Carolina. I am amazed at the state of ‘pretty’ which exists on the campus. Perhaps that is a generic term, though the university has been well thought out and is moving towards a definitive direction to stimulate learning in this area.

I cannot go any further before proclaiming my delight ….a brand new library facility has improved the campus and student’s access to information.

Belk Library, Appalachian University

Belk Library, Appalachian University

Opened in 2004, Belk Library consists of five floors, a central rotunda which funnels light to the main floor, fireplaces, coffee shoppe and technology to optimise learning ( abundant computer terminals, on line databases, projection devices, wired auditoriums etc.) Of course, I gravitated to the basement level, which was anything but damp and dingy, lower level windows brightened a children’s collection space.

Main Lobby Rotunda, Belk Library

Main Lobby Rotunda, Belk Library

This facility not only services university students in the school library and elementary education programs, but also the Town of Boone’s children. Traditional story times and other such programming bring the local children into this building and exceed their information needs.

The morning began with a lecture by Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant, author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History . Dr. Whisnant produced an over view of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the reason for it’s being, history of its creation and touched on the notion of framing views of nature by taming the natural world. What is the public good? How do you identify it and achieve it fairly? Is imminent domain fair for who exactly? All environments and landscapes have an arena of politics behind it. Existing interpretations and stories should be looked at with a critical eye. This discussion touched on the creation of the parkway for the good of certain parties, though with power, such as Hugh Morton, owner of Grandfather Mountain a privately owned piece of land with a right of way to the BRP.

Proceeding this , a small break out discussion group met to look over further primary sources, including a handwritten letter from Mr. S.A. Miller, an Appalachian farmer pleading to President Roosevelt to save his farm land. Again, the theme of imminent domain and fairness came into play.

After lunch, we departed for a tour of Grandfather Mountain to admire the

Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor's Center, North Carolina

Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor's Center, North Carolina

views and better understand the shape of the landscape. A stop at the Linn Cove Viaduct Center documented the final section of the BRP, completed in 1987. This viaduct, near mile post 290 ( or known as Section 2H) was estimated to cost $4 million to construct, though came in at $10 million. Part of the delay in completion of this final section of the parkway was the debate over the routing of the Parkway to Grandfather Mountain.

Sarah Potwin, Grandfather Mountain, 5200 feet above sea level

Sarah Potwin, Grandfather Mountain, 5200 feet above sea level

We then returned to campus for supper and time to read. As part of my course requirements, I am to write a lesson plan which will include material from this week’s workshop. Currently, I am playing around with a theme of fairness (imminent domain might be a big word for my elementary students) and how fairness cannot be achieved for all. I am also looking at incorporating a geographical element into my lesson, though at this point these are simply vague notions.

Arrival in Boone, North Carolina

After leaving the Sarasota airport at 7.11am on Sunday July 6th, I was ready for my big adventure. Flying to Boone, North Carolina was a new experience for me, as that I have never flown out of our neighbouring ( and manageabley a smaller airport) and secondly, I have never been to Boone, North Carolina. Many of my Saint Stephen’s students have spoken about it, as that it is an area many know from their summer vacations. I have been admitted to a National Endowment for the Humanities program, titled Landmarks in American History. Its aim is to better equip elementary and secondary teachers with a first hand knowledge of American history. Each workshop is one week in length and offers a different theme from America’s history. While in Boone, I shall be studying the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway, its benefits and its effects on those who own land in the area.

41 participants from all over the country will be lodging at Appalachian University, the school hosting this workshop. I anticipate that I shall leave with a better appreciation for the natural world around me, a better understanding of history in the Appalachian Mountains as well as between communicating with my students about an area they know well.

My arrival in Greensboro, North Carolina , speedy check into the assigned dorm and then we were off to enjoy a ‘pre-drive’ of the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway. Armed with a notebooks and pen, participants were asked to journal their initial impressions of the parkway. This journal will be contrasted to a second journal entry at the end of this week long workshop.

Initially, I was impressed by the intensive lushness of the plants. Of the carefully planned groupings of trees, selective trimming of branches to maximize views, of how views are structured to get people out of their cars to interact with nature( hiking on trails, picnics, snap photos of the mountains), of how ‘Hillbilly Culture’ is stages for entertainment purposes ( i.e. abandoned cabins constructed by the road side. The every winding curve of the road becomes the driver on, yet slow speed of 35-45 miles an hour must be maintained for safety as well as maximum enjoyment of the natural world.

The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway hosted a welcome picnic at the Cascade Overlook for workshop participants. Despite the rain, the view was enjoyed by all as we interacted and introduced ourselves.

A Falcon’s summertime time plans….

What are you doing this summer? Many of our Falcons are traveling this summer. Many have sent postcards back,listing their tales of adventure. Please  feel free to send a post card to :315-41st Street West, Bradenton, FLA 34209.I shall add it to our library display in September.

Summer time is here and a number of us are on campus, working hard to make the 2008/2009 school year a wonderful  year for our students.  Personally,  I am  on campus  for the first three weeks in June, cleaning and compiling an inventory of our 15 078  library items ( books, videos, DVDs etc).   In  the middle of July,  I will have a week to place orders for new books, AR tests, renewing our online databases and such.  I shall also be ordering our birthday books for our 2008/2009 school year.  This is a fun program in which we celebrate a student’s birthday by purchasing a new library book for all chidlren  to enjoy.  These special books are given out in chapel and have a bookplate announcing the child’s name and birth date.  Every attempt is made to meet the child’s interests and reading level. (If you would like to enrol your child in this program, please  contact me for more information, or click on our birthday book web link.)

Luckily,  I will be able to spend four weeks with Eoin.  I anticipate that we will hang out, go to the beach, swim in our community pool and other summertime fun.  The Potwin clan is eager for  a few days in Orlando: to hang out by the pool and perhaps visit the Magic Kingdom.  Mickey Mouse here we come!

In a future blog, I shall be documenting my adventures in Boone, North Carolina.  A wonderful National Endowment for the Humanities grant has been bestowed upon me. During the week of July 7th, I shall be in the Applachians  studying the history, the culture and the economic impact of the Blue Ridge parkway.  While this might appear to be a leap from children’s literature,  I am interested in the natural world.  While living in Vermont and New York State,  it was common for me to spend my weekends in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York.  I am eager to experience the Appalachians and draw upon its similarities to the ADK(See link to Paul Smith College, Saranac Lake, New York) .

Friends, please keep reading this summer!  See you on campus on August 20th.