By Emma Parrish, Digital Watauga Intern, Spring 2019
The forthcoming Valle Crucis Conference Center collection contains a wealth of information—documents, photographs, letters—pertaining to the development of the conference center as well as important landmarks in Valle Crucis. Series 2 of the collection includes material from the Valle Crucis Industrial School for the years 1910 to 1919.
Some dark history is hidden in this collection, and this month marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in the early history of Valle Crucis and the Valle Crucis Industrial School. On June 1, 1919, around 2:30am, a fire destroyed Auxiliary Hall, the main building at Valle Crucis Industrial School. Two people died in this fire—the domestic science teacher, Miss Adeline Miller, and a seventh-grade girl, Clyde Philmon. They were the only occupants of the building at the time, as the school had closed for the summer just a few days prior, and the ladies had spent their evening packing up their belongings to head home the following day. This devastating fire is documented in several items from the VCCC Collection. The first is a photocopy of a page from the Watauga Democrat, published June 5, 1919 (Val-Cru-2-010). It includes an article about the fire, calling it "the worst tragedy that ever occurred in Watauga."
The harrowing details of the fire are described in the next images (Val-Cru-2-011a-b), which are photocopies of a letter written by Mary Horner, the principal of the Industrial School. The fourth image (Val-Cru-2-027) is a photo published after the fire that shows the building as it appeared three years earlier, in 1916. This photograph pictures seven girls who “picked the 1916 apple crop.” The girl third from the right is identified as Adeline Miller, the teacher who died in the 1919 fire. This is the only photograph in the collection that pictures a victim of the fire.
That year was challenging for the Valle Crucis School in other ways as well—1919 also marked the midpoint of the worldwide influenza outbreak that claimed the lives of as many as 100 million people (approximately 5% of the world’s population) between 1918 and 1920. There is not much evidence in the collection to document the profound effect that the influenza outbreak had on the Valle Crucis community, but articles from the Watauga Democrat document quarantines that shut down the Appalachian Training School in Boone and the Boone Fork Lumber Company in Shull’s Mill.
One image in the collection, however, suggests that Valle Crucis indeed suffered its own influenza casualties. That image (Val-Cru-2-053a) is the portrait of a young, smiling pastor identified as the Reverend Lee Frontis Anthony, who died the same year that the photograph was taken. The description on the back (Val-Cru-2-053b) tells us that after two years as the priest-in-charge of Holy Cross, Rev. Anthony died of influenza in January 1919. He was only thirty years old.
The Valle Crucis Conference Center Collection is full of nostalgia and happy memories, but these tragic events of the fire and influenza among the smiling faces demonstrate that 1919 was a particularly difficult year in Valle Crucis. Stay tuned for more images from the Valle Crucis Conference Center Collection, which should be on the Digital Watauga website late this summer.