By Ruby McKinney Buchanan
I have seen 88 years of the 100 being celebrated in Little Switzerland’s centennial. I grew up during the 1930 Great Depression. I remember the Old Switzerland Hotel that was covered with chestnut bark, run by Judge Clarkson’s sister, Ida Clarkson Jones. Mama and Papa worked some for the hotel and the Judge, and sold fresh vegetables from our garden to the hotel. When I was just a small child – 6 or 7 years old – I would deliver milk to the hotel during the summer months. I found out that if I waited long enough at the kitchen door the chief cook, George, would bring me a cookie. I can see him now in my memory as he would come grinning, bringing me a cookie. Oh, what sweet memories!
I was born at home in June of 1922 with a midwife attending. There were no doctors or hospitals in the mountains back then. My parents were Fate and Effie McKinney. I am a descendant of Charlie McKinney, traceable from both sides of my family. I grew up in the old one-room Chestnut Grove Baptist Church, giving my heart to Jesus Christ at 13 years of age. Papa was a deacon and Mama taught the little. Children’s Card Class. I started teaching a Sunday School Class when I was in high school.
I went to the two-room country school at Little Switzerland (on McKinney Mine Road) until I was in the 6th grade. We took our lunch to school in a little Karo Syrup bucket – a biscuit with ham from breakfast or corn-on-the-cob from supper or a piece of cornbread with milk. We went outside when it was warm, sat on a log, and ate our lunch. We got two play periods a day when the weather allowed,and always had Bible reading and prayer every morning. I thought I was a little rich girl – and I was! I never went hungry during the Depression. We had parents who loved and took good care of us.
One morning my brother, Earl, and I, started to school. I see him now in my memory as if it were yesterday – with his blond, curly hair and little overalls. We had just gotten to the old. Chestnut Grove Road when we saw our friends, Lucy and Emma Hollifield, coming up the road. Emma was crying as if her heart was broken! When I finally got her to talk, she told me that she had lost her pencil. By this time Mama had come over to the road to see what was wrong. My little brother was trying to comfort Emma, and said, “Don’t cry Emma! When I lose my pencil I just steal me one from someone else!” Mama got to hear Earl’s confession that morning on stealing. Oh, what sweet memories!
The winters were really, bad when I was in high school. The new Chestnut Grove Road was built, but wasn’t paved. The state didn’t scrape the roads because of the big snowdrifts, so we walked to Switzerland Store to meet the school bus. I finished high school in 1938, but went back to take a business course and work in the principal’s office (Robert Phillips) for two years – on President Roosevelt’s Youth Program – for $20 a month. My best friend, Flossie Burnette Sparks, worked for Spruce Pine town mayor, Jack Hollifield. My great-granny was Nancy DeWeese Buchanan, who owned all the Buchanan Ridge where the old Switzerland Hotel sat and all the land where the summer homes are built down to about where Carrie Washburn lived. Nancy’s husband (my great-granddaddy) was Bill Buchanan who fought in the Civil War, was wounded, and never was well again. He taught school in Mitchell County, known as McDowell County then.
I can remember when there were no cars; the first Model-T I ever saw was the county doctor and nurse coming to Chestnut Grove School to give children their vaccines. From then on, when we saw a car, we went to hide! We walked everywhere we went – a few people rode horses. I can remember Uncle Harve and Aunt Julie coming to the Old Chestnut Grove Church riding a horse. Aunt Julie road side-saddIe, and the horse was tied to a tree until church was over. I can also remember the dentist (the older Dr. Howell) at Little Switzerland. When Papa and I met him walking and I had a loose tooth, Papa would ask him to look at my tooth; as I opened wide for him to look, he got his tooth pullers out of his pocket and out come the loose tooth – and it didn’t cost a dime!
I remember when the only road to Spruce Pine was down the old wagon road by Grassy Creek Falls; it came out about where the old Grassy Creek Baptist Church sat. Highway 226 had yet to be built. An unpaved wagon road began near the Switzerland Cafe and went on down the hill, below the Switzerland Hotel to Judge Clarkson’s apple orchard. My uncle, Oliver McKinney, lived in one of Judge Clarkson’s houses at the bottom of the apple orchard – to look after the orchard. The Judge had a big storage place for the apples; many a time I enjoyed the apples from the Judge’s orchard in the winter time.
The road down to the orchard came out a little above the stiff curve that goes by where Carrie Washburn lived and continued on down to the tunnel where the Switzerland railroad station was. A horse and buggy met the train to pick up guests coming to the Switzerland Hotel. This was known as the Mt. Mitchell Station. Judge Clarkson asked the CC&O to move the station two tunnels closer to the Switzerland development, near Camp 4, just below Gillespie Gap. A few years later the station was renamed the Switzerland Station.
Some of the people who come to Little Switzerland come only for “the love of money”, the root of all evil (I Timothy ‘6;10) – with no respect for the mountain people! Others who come have become part of the mountain people! One I remember from childhood was Davis Godwin’s grandmother, Ida Hand, from Orlando, Florida. Mrs. Hand and her husband, Harry, had two children, Harriett and Buddy. Harriett and Mamas older sister, Ida, were good friends; Buddy and my older brother, Lewis, were like brothers.
Pictured on the cover of the Little Switzerland Book, 2010, by Chris Hollifield and David Biddix, are, from right to left, Harriett Hand; my Mama’s sister, Missouri (Mickey) McKinney; and my grandmother (Mama Jane), with Ida and others enjoying a picnic together. Mama told me that before some of us were born she had no diapers or clothes for the – baby; this was back during the Great Depression. Mrs. Hand would mail her clothing for the new baby. Every Christmas I always looked I for Mrs. Hand’s package – oranges from Florida, candy, and presents!
Two others who became like family were Ethel Hakes and her daughter, Elise, who was like a sister to me! The most recent one who is a part of our family, and that of Chestnut Grove Baptist Church, is Esther Snyder.
The only three that are still living from the Little Switzerland beauties photo taken with Judge Clarkson (in the 2010 Little Switzerland Book) are Verdia Mae Smith Cox, Bernice McKinney (in a nursing home), and myself! , After .the Pearl Harbor bombing (December 7, 1941) both my brothers fought for America’s freedom, Lewis in the Army and Earl in the Navy. Both returned from the war without a scratch. I remember Mama remarking to Lewis that he had come home without being wounded; he said “Mama, I have scars you can’t see”, and he carried them to his grave! World War II was the last war declared by Congress; the others have been “no win” cold wars, unconstitutional wars declared by our presidents.
My husband, Phillip Buchanan, and I were married after Pearl Harbor, on Valentine’s Day, 1942. We had two children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. We had a good marriage, spending 51 years together. I can never thank God enough for all my blessings, including growing upon top of the Blue Ridge at Little Switzerland.
Ruby Buchanan is a lifelong resident of Little Switzerland
Article from the Mitchell News-Journal, July 14th & 21st, 2010