New exhibits show Highlands in a new light

Though somewhat confusing, since the Highlands Historic Village campus on N. 4th Street has been open for numerous years, the recent Grand Opening referred to the opening of the revitalized exhibits inside – exhibits that are now professional enough to rival any museum around.

At the Grand Opening on July 2, Highlands Historic Society president Obie Oakley explained that the Society wanted to up its game, so it partnered with Western Carolina University and the Mountain Heritage Center to develop and revamp exhibits at the Village.

“WCU sent us 18 students to help update and develop the new exhibits. We gave them the information and the students did the rest,” he said. “This is our gift to the town of Highlands. The exhibits explain the history of the town from the Cherokees onward –  from the schools, to the churches and the founding families.”

Highlands Historic Society president Obie Oakley at the “Grand Opening” of the Highlands Historical Society on July 2.

Mayor Pat Taylor, who was also at the opening congratulated the Society on its endeavor.

“It’s important to document what has happened in the past so we never forget where we came from,” he said.

The first exhibit honors the Cherokee – the first people in the area – who used Highlands as a hunting ground since it wasn’t conducive to farming.

Further on, the Ravenel Family is commemorated as one of the wealthy aristocratic planters and professionals from the south – in their case Charleston, SC – who has been part of Highlands for about 170 years.

The Ravenel family left its mark on Highlands. It left Sunset Rock as a gift to the town, they donated money and land for the construction of First Presbyterian Church; they built homes to summer in – notably Wolf Ridge on top of Sunset and others; owned 30,000 acres  from Satulah to Sagee  and from Cashiers Valley to Whiteside Mountain, including the Devil’s Courthouse. They also owned Wildcat Ridge and most of the primeval forest between Bear Pen and Whiteside. In 1883, Mrs. Ravenel created the Islington Inn, located on S. 4th Street, and ran it for years. It was a popular inn for summer visitors, becoming King’s Inn in 1925. 

One exhibit tells the story of Charlie Wright who saved Gus Baty from falling to his death 1,000 feet to the bottom of the Whiteside Mountain. 

Thirteen picnickers with baskets of food and a supply of alcoholic beverages, had gathered at the top of Whiteside Mountain on a bright spring day in May.  Gus Baty had a little too much to drink and decided to scare the girls by pretending to almost fall off the edge of the mountain. The “pretend” turned true as Gus slipped and plunged 60 feet down the almost vertical rock face of the mountain, stopping only when he managed to grab hold of a small bush with one arm and one leg, dangling over the brink. 

Following was a two-and-half-hour perilous rescue by Charlie Wright – a rescue so daring that a few years later, Charles N. Wright was awarded the Carnegie Gold Medal for Bravery. Besides the solid gold medal which is still in the Wright family, Charlie got $2,000 in cash which he used to buy land and build a home. 

Other exhibits include one about golfer Bobby Jones of Highlands Country Club fame, one displaying a still and explaining the moonshine business in the area, a dress worn by Dr. Mary Lapham who began the TB sanatorium located where the Recreation Park is today and had 60 open-air tent-houses surrounding a three-story infirmary.

Her method of curing advanced cases of tuberculosis became known as lung collapse therapy. She would inject the diseased lung with nitrogen, which caused it to collapse, allowing it to rest and heal. To keep the other lung from degenerating, her patients slept in tent-houses outdoors, breathing only the frigid air.

There is an impressive display of uniforms worn by Highlands’ military servicemen throughout the ages as well as photographs of Highlands scenes, people, and homes by photographers John Bundy, R. Henry Scadin, and George Masa.

An exhibit of military uniforms from Highlanders who served throughout history.

There’s also a display commemorating Women’s Suffrage in Western North Carolina which includes vintage dresses.

The HHS Archives contain over 3,000 original documents, maps, photographs, newspapers, and artifacts, catalogued and digitized in museum collection management software. These are accessible to the public via computer and microfilm reader.

Stop in. You will see Highlands depicted in a new light. The museum is free and open 10a to 4p Thursday, Friday and Saturday through October.

Pictured at the top of the article are members of the Highlands Historical Society and Mayor Pat Taylor gathered at the Highlands Historic Village on N. 4th Street to officially unveil the new exhibits inside.     

Article by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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