Toe River Arts | Past
Toe River Valley—the beginning of your journey
Mount Mitchell, in Yancey County, sits as the highest point east of the Mississippi River and joins the natural beauty of the Appalachian mountains, scenic rivers, multiple hiking and biking opportunities, camping, river rafting along the North and South Toe and Nolichucky Rivers, and other outdoor adventures for those young and young at heart. Roan Mountain State Park, in Mitchell County, includes the world’s largest rhododendron garden.
Originally inhabited by Catawba and Cherokee Indians, European settlers from the British Isles colonized the area in the 1700s. Immigrants adapted to survive the challenging mountain terrain and scarce topsoil by being resourceful. Self-reliance married craftsmanship to become a way of life for families that continues to be part of the mountain culture today.
In 1929 Lucy Morgan founded Penland School of Crafts to teach the local women how to weave, how to make a living from home. More traditional crafts were added and over the decades, contemporary art forms have found a home around the original dye shed on Penland grounds. Aspiring artists and crafts people visited, stayed in the area, and have created a place with a locus of outstanding, world class talent that has grown over the years.
These early immigrants brought their culture with them as they settled in the Appalachian mountains. Their styles of music are considered to be the roots of what is known as Bluegrass today. As settlers moved west into North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia they created music to tell their stories and reflect on living in the mountains and living off the land. Their words of solitude and brevity were a reality and these sounds transformed into the musical heritage of the Toe River Valley.
Musicians playing fiddles, banjos, dulcimers, joining together in string bands, and dancers—clogging or “flat footing”—shared their talents on front porches, at festivals, and with their communities. Mountain music heritage continues to be celebrated today with festivals and honoring the memory of those who helped make the musical style more commonly known such as Leslie Riddle, the backbone of many Carter-Cash songs.
A visit to the Toe River Valley is a journey around the curve of mountain roads, the flow of the Toe River, into the spirit of the artists who live and work here, the heart of a welcoming community. Take home beautiful objects and memories that will enrich your life. Remember your journey. There is so much to experience.