VALLE CRUCIS, N.C. - Sometimes in this new millennium it's nice to come across a place where things move a bit slower; a place where folks still conduct business with a handshake and a smile. The quaint mountain community of Valle Crucis is one such place.
Located about five miles west of Boone, Valle Crucis is a rural farming community that received its unusual name in the 1840s when Episcopalian bishop Levi Ives looked down upon the valley and saw gently-flowing streams forming the shape of a cross. He called it Valle Crucis, which is Latin for "Vale of the Cross."
Though those streams no longer intersect because of a 1940 flood, the valley remains virtually the same as it did in its early days. Folks still farm the land and still gather 'round the pot-bellied stove at Mast General Store. And there's still an indelible Episcopalian presence with the Valle Crucis Conference Center, housed in the old Episcopal mission.
"In a history of Watauga County published in 1915, John Preston Arthur wrote: ‘There is a dreamy spell which hangs over this little valley.' That kind of captures the essence of Valle Crucis," says Sheri Moretz, community relations manager for Mast General Store. "When you're here, it's like you're transported to another time and place. You're close to Boone, you're close to Blowing Rock and close to Banner Elk, but it feels like you're far away."
Valle Crucis cemented its legacy by becoming North Carolina's first rural historic district in 1990. It's so unique that the entire community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic buildings abound, with many like The Baird House (1790), Mast Farm Inn (1812), Old Episcopal Mission (1842) and Mast General Store (1883) restored to their initial splendor while still serving the area today.
"It's a magical place," says Tom Eshelman, conference center director and member of the community council. "It allows you to get away and slow down. Find a different pace."
Tourists come to Valle Crucis for just that reason - to get away and find a different pace. Locals welcome new friends with several bed-and-breakfast inns, plenty of outdoor activities, and an ice-cold soda pop or warm cup of coffee at the original Mast General Store.
"Whether you stay in a bed-and-breakfast, a cabin or you're part of a retreat at the
conference center, there's a myriad of recreational activities from tubing on the Watauga River to bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, enjoying our community park or just relaxing," Moretz says. "Valle Crucis maintains its rural character with people farming the land, along with people who have moved in to make this their home. It's a community effort between long-time locals and newcomers who embrace what the valley is all about."
Visitors are encouraged to use and support the community park, which hosts free concerts on Friday evenings during summer. In the fall, the Valle Country Fair attracts thousands. Described as "an overgrown church bazaar," the fair takes place the third Saturday in October. It celebrated its 35th anniversary on Oct. 19, 2013.
Valle Crucis even offers something in winter, thanks to its central location between all three of the High Country's ski resorts - Appalachian Ski Mtn, Beech Mountain Resort and Sugar Mountain Resort.
The original Mast General Store, in operation since 1883, is the valley's jewel. Dubbed a true "destination" by Charles Kuralt, the wood-floored mercantile has hosted an eclectic mix of visitors, including: actors Goldie Hawn, Lloyd Bridges and Kurt Russell; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; legendary football coach Don Shula; Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry; and NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace.
"We're really blessed to have the Mast Store," Eshelman says. "It draws a lot of people to this place and allows them to experience what we have to offer."
Folks in Valle Crucis believe the land is community in nature, a gift meant to be shared. There are very few ‘No Trespassing' signs.
"So much of Valle Crucis is protected with conversation easements. It's a place that is going to be kept open. Views will remain unspoiled for generations to come," adds Eshelman. "We want people to use this land that God gave us, and we encourage people to use the land."
For more information on Valle Crucis, visit www.vallecrucis.com.