Valle Crucis, NC
Legend says that a large tract of land in the Watauga River bottom was traded for a dog, a rifle, and a sheepskin in the late 1700s. Land was plentiful, but a working rifle, a well-trained dog, and a hide to keep you warm were much desired. Speculation on land in the 1700s and early 1800s brought many to the mountains and one of those was Henry Taylor, who arrived in Valle Crucis around 1851.
It is said that Henry Taylor would sweeten the deal for land by including a Seth Thomas clock as an incentive. Taylor established a small store before the Civil War that was known as the Taylor and Moore Company. It was located across the road from the present day Mast General Store.
Taylor’s home, which is across the road from the Mast Store, would also serve as a boarding house for “drummers,” or salesmen, that would visit the area selling their goods, as well as other boarders, who came to the mountains to enjoy their favorable temperatures. As the number of residents increased, he needed to have a larger store. In 1882/83, he built the first room of the Taylor General Store. Henry Taylor passed away in 1899, but his son C.D. Taylor continued to operate the store.
William Wellington Mast, another of the valley’s prominent figures, purchased half interest in the store from the Taylor family in 1897. He and C.D. (Charles D., “Squire”) Taylor continued to operate the Taylor and Mast General Store until 1913, when Mast became the sole owner. The store had everything from “Cradles to Caskets.”
General stores provided a vital link between farmers and wildcrafters and those companies needing their eggs, chickens, potatoes, roots, herbs, and berries.
General stores provided a vital link between farmers and wildcrafters and those companies needing their eggs, chickens, potatoes, roots, herbs, and berries. When the proprietor took these items in trade, he would note in a ledger the value in goods that the barterer could “purchase” or how much would be paid against their debt. In turn, the proprietor would take these goods he received to market and use the monies from their sale to put items on his shelves.
Other needed services were often offered to the community by its general store. In 1905, Dr. Henry Perry had his office and his sleeping quarters in the room that is now called the “front room.” He took his meals across the road with W. W. Mast. He later established a “hospital,” the first in Watauga County, in the block house near the intersection of Highway 194 and Broadstone Road.
In 1909, the Watauga Supply Co. (later renamed the Valle Crucis Company) was opened just 2/10s of a mile down the road. How could a small community like Valle Crucis support two, rather large, general stores? Business was good and the community was swarming with activity. Travelers would come and spend weeks at a time at the Taylor House, the Baird House, the Mast Farm, and other homes that took in boarders. The Valle Crucis Mission School was taking students and boarders. The store was located along the Caldwell & Watauga Turnpike linking the Piedmont of North Carolina to East Tennessee. Valle Crucis was also near the terminus of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad (known affectionately as Tweetsie).
Each store’s inventory was just a bit different and competition was generally friendly.
The Mast General Store was operated by members of the Mast Family into the early 1970s. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April of 1973 where it is noted as one of the best remaining examples of an old country general store. In the 1970s, it was sold to a professor at Appalachian State University and a surgeon from Atlanta, Georgia. They modified the store’s inventory hoping to cater to a different demographic. The store passed through several owners and closed its doors, only for the winter season, in November 1977. Unfortunately, the store remained closed the following spring.
A couple from Florida with North Carolina and Virginia roots learned that the old store was for sale, so they purchased it in 1979. They packed their young family in the car along with everything else they owned and moved to the mountains in early 1980.
John and Faye Cooper worked with long-time vendors to add items to the store’s inventory that would be important to the community and would have been found on the store’s shelves in the past. The store re-opened on June 6, 1980. With an eye toward historic preservation and a knack for commerce, the Mast Store once again became the center of the Valle Crucis community.
During the time that the store was closed, the community’s post office was lost. To a rural community, the post office is integral to its very existence. Members of the community approached the Coopers and asked them to try to get postal service returned to Valle Crucis. On October 4, 1980, Valle Crucis was given back its identity as a community with a contracted station of the Banner Elk Post Office.
Today, you can still mail a letter at the corner post office, warm up by the pot-bellied stove, and enjoy a 5¢ cup of coffee (paid for on the honor system).
One thousand acres of Valle Crucis was purchased in 1780 for the sum of a rifle, a dog, and a sheepskin. The Mast Store Annex stands on a parcel of that land.
General stores once dotted the rural landscape. Their locations were determined by those they served with distance between them being an easy walk of perhaps a few hours. Why, then, would two rather large establishments like the Watauga Supply Company and the Mast General Store be so close together? The community of Valle Crucis was teeming with activity. Travelers would come and stay for weeks at a time. It was located along the Caldwell & Watauga Turnpike linking the piedmont to Tennessee. It was near a terminus for the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad. The Valle Crucis Mission School was taking students and borders. In other words, there was a lot of business.
Built in 1909 of locally harvested American Chestnut, pine, and maple, the store was originally called the Watauga Supply Co. and was owned by R. L. Lowe. The very next year C.D. Taylor and Dr. Henry Perry purchased the business and re-named it Valle Crucis Company.
The shelves were lined with groceries, toothpicks, flypaper, castor oil, brogans, piece goods, overalls, suspenders, hats, and liniments. Under the counters, barrels filled with dried beans, rice, salt, sugar, and lard were stored waiting for shopping lists to materialize to be filled. There was also hardware, nails, saddles, harnesses, and horseshoes stored in the side rooms, along with some of what would be taken in trade—eggs, chickens, wildcrafted roots and herbs, butter, nuts, and hides. It was friendly competition and each store, the Mast Store and the Valle Crucis Company, varied the stock so as not to directly compete head to head.
In 1914, R. A. Farthing, fresh off a course of study at the Draughn’s Business School of Knoxville, was hired to manage the store and later bought part interest in the business. He was also named postmaster in 1928 and continued in that capacity until 1963. The store was a family affair with his brother, Ben, his wife, Hazel, and children Ray, Glenn, Mary, and Katy all lending a hand.
The Farthing Store, as it came to be known, remained in the family as an evolving general store until 1952, when R.A. retired from the business. It went through a series of owners until one of his sons purchased the building in 1957, and all of the inventory was converted to furniture. After R.A.’s retirement as postmaster, the store became M & R Antiques. During its time as an antique store, it provided some props for the movie “Where the Lilies Bloom,” which was filmed on location in Watauga County including one scene at the Mast Store.
The store was closed completely for a period of time in the 1970s and early ‘80s, and since 1982 has housed the Mast Store Annex and The Candy Barrel.