Celebrating's North Carolina's Birthday
by Randall Jones
Happy Birthday, North Carolina. Yes, North Carolina has a birthday; and, during March 2013, we turn 350 years old. If you had not known about the occasion, you are in good company. As every senior knows, these superannuated anniversaries have a way of sneaking up on us. Plus, given our state's current fiscal woes, I am not expecting much of an official celebration; the Raleigh bunch is not a partying crowd right now.
Still, such a special birthday anniversary is something of which to take note; and, 50 years ago, in 1963, our state did, celebrating in pretty grand style its 300th birthday. For an entire year, all across North Carolina, we celebrated the Carolina Charter Tercentenary. It was, of course, in March 1663 that King Charles II issued a charter to eight Lords Proprietors for land in the New World that included what came to be known as North Carolina. (Carolus is the latin name for Charles.) All that history since, across three-and-half centuries, is the legacy and heritage of the Old North State, our North Carolina.
I cannot remember back 350 years, but some of us can certainly remember back 50; and, on that occasion, the state really did throw a party, especially in Northwest North Carolina. The rest of the state celebrated with parades, plays, poems, pageants and the like, and with the perennial essay competition in elementary and secondary schools; but, in our neck of the woods, we had different plans. They called it "Daniel Boone Crosses the Blue Ridge," and for three days in June 1963 a gathering of hundreds of folks from several counties around re-enacted just that event in wooden-wheeled wagons pulled by horses, mules, and oxen. They processed along back country roads, rolling their way up from the banks of the Upper Yadkin River near Ferguson to the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and then down into Boone for a grand parade and an evening at Horn in the West. Thousands of visitors swarmed into town. The adventure was so successful that it was repeated annually for 10 more excursions and was known as the Daniel Boone Wagon Train, running from 1963 to 1973. Newspaper reporters tagged along and filled their pages with full accounts each year. The Watauga Democrat shared the experience with its readers. (More of that story appears in Part 2 of this series.)
So, what about the birthday?
The Carolina Charter Tercentenary was the product of a General Assembly in 1959 attending to the suggestions of Gov. Luther H. Hodges. Together they formed the Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission, charged with organizing the celebration of the state's 300th birthday. They were hoping to get at least some of the economic punch the Commonwealth of Virginia got from its 1957 celebration of the 350th anniversary of Jamestown, settled in 1607. Queen Elizabeth II, then only five years into her reign, and Vice President Richard Nixon had attended. The Honorable Francis E. Winslow of Rocky Mount chaired North Carolina's commission. Retired Brig. Gen. John D.F. Phillips, U.S. Army, served as executive secretary. Part of their mission was to gain funding from the legislature to build a new repository of the state's archives and collections. They succeeded, and in 1968 the new building in Raleigh was opened.
Still, the commission lacked that one special celebration that would capture the public's attention. That's when the movers and shakers in Watauga County showed their hands as party planners extraordinaire. They decided to celebrate favorite son Daniel Boone's crossing of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1773 on his way to Kentucky. They would gather at the new football stadium at Appalachian State Teachers College. Former Gov. Luther Hodges, then serving as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Kennedy administration, would speak. Gov. Terry Sanford invited the chief of the Cherokee Nation and the governors of all the states that had at one time been part of the Carolina Charter; and, he extended a special invitation to Great Britain, which sent a British minister. They dedicated the Daniel Boone Native Botanical Gardens that day and everyone gathered that night for the season-opening performance of "Horn in the West," preceded by a special prologue about the Carolina Charter. This new scene was crafted by Kermit Hunter, the 1952 play's author.
All those special events on June 29 followed the arrival of the Daniel Boone Wagon Train, which had completed its maiden expedition, creaking and rumbling along Elk Creek Road and up Jake's Mountain with the cry, "Wagons, ho!"
That story continues Sunday in Part 2 of this series.
Randell Jones is the author of "The Daniel Boone Wagon Train -- a journey through the Sixties," to be released spring 2013, and other award-winning books about Daniel Boone. Jones will exhibit at the High Country Festival of the Book in Boone on June 22. Visit http://www.danielboonefootsteps.com.