Linville and the MacRaes meet Introduction to Public History

Sam Leonard, a 2009–2010 graduate student research assistant who worked on the Hugh Morton collection and has previously contributed to A View to Hugh, is the author of today’s post. Her post highlights some of the historical MacRae family photographs of early Linville, North Carolina from copy negatives made by Morton.  Thanks, Sam, for sharing your academic experience utilizing the Morton collection!

Linville pamphlet

Last year I had the pleasure of working on the Hugh Morton Collection of Photographs and Films as Elizabeth Hull’s research assistant, scanning negatives and adding descriptions to the images for the online collection of Morton “highlights.” It has been months since I worked on the collection, but I still see evidence of Hugh Morton’s work in my daily life. I saw Hugh Morton images working for the local television station UNC-TV, where I created a photographic archive. I see Hugh Morton’s photography in hallways and on the news. I have also had the pleasure of learning about Hugh Morton’s legacy in my classes.

This past Fall semester, I completed the class “Introduction to Public History” at UNC-Chapel Hill taught by adjunct associate professor Anne Mitchell Whisnant—author of the book Super Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, and contributor of the essay “Roads Taken and Not Taken: Images and the Story of the Blue Ridge Parkway ‘Missing Link’” to the View to Hugh “Worth 1000 Words” project. Students in Whisnant’s class had the opportunity to write essays for the website Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, a new Website under development in the University Libraries’ Web publishing endeavor Documenting the American South. Whisnant serves as the scholarly advisor for “Driving through Time,” which presents and interprets archival material—including photographs—related to the history of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"Grandfather Mountain, 1890s, Copy of photos by Donald MacRae"

Growing up in Greensboro, N. C., I always enjoyed our family trips to the area surrounding Boone, N. C. On our way to visit Grandfather Mountain, we would stop by the quaint town of Linville for lunch. I was excited by the prospect of learning more about Linville, so for the public history class my group wrote an essay entitled, “Logging, Tourism, and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Linville, North Carolina.” By exploring this topic, my group (consisting of Ben Beidler, Morgan Jones, and myself) learned a lot about the MacRae family’s influence on Linville.

Copy of historic photograph of men and women sitting on fallen tree in or near Linville, NC, from 1890-1920 era.

While writing this essay, I learned how the MacRae family participated in the town’s development through the Linville Improvement Company.  The history of Linville starts in 1887, when Donald MacRae purchased a large amount of land in western North Carolina. MacRae started the Linville Land, Manufacturing and Mining Company, which eventually became the Linville Improvement Company.  Donald MacRae’s son Hugh MacRae took over the Linville Improvement Company soon after its founding, and Linville was created alongside the Linville Improvement Company in the late 1800s (Covington, p. 9). The MacRaes also developed resorts to bring upper class tourists to Linville to become known as “a playground for wealthy Northeasterners” (Swanson, p. 3).

Copy of photograph by Donald MacRae of people, carriage, and horses going over stone bridge in Linville, NC.

In the 1800s, the Linville Improvement Company had a goal to make Linville appealing for tourists, landowners, and investors.  Sometime between 1888 and 1910, the Linville Improvement Company published an advertising pamphlet entitled Linville (cover shown above) to attract people to the area. By describing what amenities the Linville Improvement Company wanted to provide in the town, this pamphlet provides a perfect example of how intertwined the Company and community were.  For example, the pamphlet states “the Improvement Company will aid liberally in the establishment of first-class institutions of learning, libraries, museums, and whatever else is practicable and desirable for the welfare of the community.” This quotation shows how the Linville Improvement Company not only how it hoped to bring Linville profit, but it created resources for the local people. Therefore, the community became dependent on the Linville Improvement Company to take care of their town.

Copy photo of farm, house, and dirt road from the 1890s-1900s, Linville, NC.

Hugh Morton influenced many people throughout North Carolina and America, and by writing this essay for my class, I realized that Hugh Morton’s family history is a great source of learning for students and anyone who is passionate about North Carolina’s history. For anyone that is interested in the history of North Carolina, it is important to remember the history of the MacRae family, whose influence with the Linville Improvement Company was and is evident in Linville, NC. So next time you are driving through scenic western North Carolina, remember to stop by and walk around the attractive town of Linville and appreciate the area that Hugh Morton’s family helped establish.

Works Cited:

Covington, Howard E. Linville: a mountain home for 100 years. Linville, NC: Linville Resorts, Inc., 1992.

Linville Improvement Company.  Linville.  [pamphlet] 1888-1910. North Carolina Collection, Louis Wilson Round Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Swanson, Drew A. “Marketing a Mountain: Changing Views of Environment and Landscape on Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina.” Appalachian Journal 36, 1/2 (2008-2009): 30-53.

2 thoughts on “Linville and the MacRaes meet Introduction to Public History

  1. An excellent history lesson Sam. Thanks for sharing your classroom experience. Would also like to hear more about the photographic archive you created for UNC-TV.

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