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Posted: Friday, May. 11, 2012

How Banner Elk got its name

By Gary McCullough
Published in: Southeast Excursions
  • Details

    The Banner House Museum is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, mid-June through mid-October. Admission: $5; $1 for children. Info: 828-898-3634; www.bannerhousemuseum.org.


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    If ever a historic site deserved a “banner” headline, it would be a museum in picturesque Banner Elk. The Banner House Museum – which opens its 2012 season next month – both recreates a typical rural household from the 1870-’80s and provides an overview of the community’s history.

    Distance

    Banner Elk is about 116 miles from Charlotte, about a 2 1/2-hour drive one way.

    To see and do

    The Avery County town of Banner Elk occupies a pleasant valley in Western North Carolina close by Beech, Sugar and Grandfather mountains. It’s home to about 900 year-round residents, 900 or so students when Lees-McRae College is in session, one 900-pound life-size bronze statue of an elk, and countless fuzzy orange, brown and black caterpillars during the Woolly Worm Festival held each October. Also here is the Banner House Museum, which showcases the home of one of the community’s leading families in the 1800s and depicts simple country life in the late 19th century.

    Martin Luther Banner, his wife, Mary, and their eight children settled near the headwaters of the Elk River in 1848; four of Martin’s brothers soon brought their families to the area as well. With so many Banners congregating along the Elk River, it’s not surprising that this section of the valley, between Sugar and Beech mountains, became known as Banner’s Ford, then Banner’s Elk, then finally Banner Elk. Avery became North Carolina’s 100th county in 1911, and Banner Elk was incorporated that same year.

    The town museum occupies the former home of Samuel H. Banner, Martin Banner’s nephew. The two-story white frame house was constructed using mortise-and-tenon joints; built circa 1865, it is one of the oldest surviving homes in the community and was in the Banner family until 1977. The Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation purchased the home in 2005, and the museum opened two years later to tell the story of the community development and to recreate an average family environment during the late 1800s.

    Several pieces on display, such as a lavender woven coverlet done by Jane Banner in 1870, are actual Banner family possessions. But the majority of items were donated by area residents. Such practical 19th-century kitchen conveniences as toasters, butter churns and cherry pitters seem quaint these days, as do the spinning wheels, looms and rope beds you can see upstairs.

    Memorabilia in the first-floor exhibit room focuses on the origins of Lees-McRae College and the community’s development as a “high country” tourist destination. In 2012, a personal collection of Civil War artifacts will become another featured exhibit – an appropriate addition, as the house is one of the stops on the North Carolina Civil War Trail. During the closing months of the conflict, many area residents provided “safe houses” for escaped Union prisoners of war and refugees from Confederate conscription and helped guide them to safety in Kentucky and Tennessee.

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