Banner House takes you back to 1865



Article Published: Sep. 2, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Banner House takes you back to 1865

Old-timey crafts take young and old back to the Banner House's heyday.

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The Banner House isn't your typical homestead - at least in 2010.

"It's the only house museum in Avery County," manager Caitlin Morehouse said.

Come Saturday, the museum invites the High Country to celebrate its Heritage Day. It's a day of tours, presentations and, of course, imagination.

Built in 1865, the home was occupied by Sam and Jane Banner and their seven children. You heard correctly - seven children.

"People are always amazed by that," Morehouse said. "The house is not that large."

But, by 1865 standards, the property was downright roomy, complete with an orchard, grist mill and spring house. Still, even these luxuries came with chores.

"These Banners were better off ... than a lot of people here," she said. "A lot of their day in this time of the year would have been spent on food production. That was a lot of your day just to get by."

And it was an every day struggle. After all, with the isolation of the Banner House, any help came from far away, and not from a grocery store.

"They would have spent most of their time tending their fields," Morehouse said. "It was all about making food when you could and preserving it, so you would be able to sustain yourself during the winter."

Instead of flocking to the aisles for milk and bread, snow anticipation meant taking stock of food supplies you'd prepped all year.

"They made everything," she said, from the apple butter to the bread, and it was all about survival.

As kids who've toured the Banner House will tell you, however, even the Banners had time for recreation. Instead of Guitar Hero and Gameboys, toys like a stereoscope entertained the Banner children.

"It's like little photographs," she said. "It's like glasses that you put on, and then you can put the slides in and make things look closer or far away from you."

Part of the children's room (set up with antique toys, a popular destination for visiting children at the museum), the stereoscope is just one of the ways the Banner children entertained themselves. But would it hold kids' attention today?

"They do get a kick out of it," Morehouse said. "But I don't know how long it would hold their attention."

For Morehouse, the history isn't just about a great story. It's about putting things into perspective, a timely lesson for 2010's youth.

"I think it deepens your appreciation for things, so you're not living in a vacuum," she said. "It's really good to put things into perspective. I think it's actually a stress reliever to be able to stop and think ... 'I can get through my day and my life, because look at all the challenges these people have, and they found a way to get through it. They persevered.'"

From the antiques (donated by community members at the museum's inception) to the construction itself ("It's mortis and tenon construction. It's a locking system with wooden pegs, so there are no nails," she said), the Banner House Museum is ready to take you back in time, and Saturday offers another reason to check out 1865.

"This year for Heritage Day, we're celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway," Morehouse said.

Writer and scholar Anne Mitchel Whisenant will speak at 1 p.m. on parkway history.

"There are all these things that happened in the past to make the parkway possible," Whisenant said earlier this year. "I think the 75th anniversary is a great time for us to reflect on the fact that it was very, very complicated to put the parkway in place."

Appalachian State University parkway liaison Neva Specht will speak at 2:30 on women and the parkway. The parkway connection has even taught Morehouse more reasons to appreciate the attraction."

"It's not just a road," she said. "As a layman you think, 'OK, it's a scenic drive,' but it's much more than that."

The event happens Saturday from 11 to 4 p.m. Expect crafts and mountain dulcimer music along with the tours and lectures. Regular museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 to 4 p.m. The museum closes for winter Oct. 23. Banner House Museum is located at 7990 Hickory Nut Gap Road in Banner Elk. For more information, call (828) 898-3634 or visit http://www.bannerhousemuseum.org.

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