Did you know the world’s largest tannery formerly operated in Old Fort, North Carolina? Were you aware that renowned folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford once lived on Main Street? Or that Bill Haley & His Comets’ original bass player hailed from there?
Perhaps you’ve heard about the town having the state’s first female police chief back in the 1970s or listened to your family’s stories about the old “helper” engines that used to help eastbound trains up the steep slope of Old Fort Mountain?
If, sadly, your answer to all of these questions is “no,” then you need to visit the Mountain Gateway Museum’s new photography exhibit, “A Peek Into the Past: Old Fort at 150.”
Opening Thursday, Feb. 23, on the date of the town’s 150th anniversary, the free exhibit celebrates Old Fort’s sesquicentennial by looking at images of some of its outstanding people, places, institutions, and events during the past century and a half.
The images are digitized photographs pulled from both public and personal collections, including those of Bill Nichols, Kim Clark, Shearon Cline, the Col. Daniel W. Adams family, the Peggy Silvers family, the McDowell County Public Library, the Historic Carson House, the Western Regional Archives at Oteen, and others. The exhibit also includes more than two dozen artifacts on loan from local residents and businesses.
“A Peek Into the Past” will remain open through Dec. 31, 2023. However, because of the number of historically significant photographs available, the 72 images on display at the exhibit’s opening will be replaced by another batch of photographs in July.
“It has been a privilege to work on this exhibit, and I’ve learned a lot in the process, but it also has been a difficult job deciding which images to use, as each one tells an interesting and historically important story,” said RoAnn Bishop, director of the Mountain Gateway Museum and curator of the exhibit. “That’s why I’m so glad we decided to display two separate groups of photographs to help celebrate Old Fort’s sesquicentennial this year.”
The Town of Old Fort, first incorporated as “Catawba Vale” on Jan. 25, 1872, was re-chartered as “Old Fort” by the North Carolina General Assembly on February 23, 1873. The name was inspired by the stockade that Samuel Davidson built alongside Mill Creek in the 1770s for early settlers’ protection from the Cherokee. By the American Revolution, Gen. Griffith Rutherford’s soldiers had converted the simple stockade into a militia fort. From there, Rutherford launched a brutal attack on Cherokee towns in western North Carolina in 1776.
The Mountain Gateway Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Admission is free.