For 100 years, a Bee Tree family tradition

Descendants of the Shope, Burnette and Gregg families to hold 100th reunion on July 23

Fred McCormick

Not a lot of things last 100 years. Pay phones, VCRs, floppy discs and cassette tapes? Hard to find or nearly obsolete.

Many of the Shope, Burnette and Gregg family members attending this year's 100th family reunion in Bee Tree are related to the people who attended the reunion in this 1940 photo.

Established traditions have incredible staying power, however. One of the best examples happens Sunday, July 23 when descendants of the Shope, Burnette and Gregg families converge on the Bee Tree Christian Church for their 100th family reunion.

"We put a lot of emphasis on family," said David Shope II, who this year is helping his father organize the centennial version this annual event.

Members of the Shope family were among the first white settlers in Buncombe County, carving a home out of what was then known as the “Swannanoa Settlement” around the mouth of Bee Tree Creek. John Shope was the first Shope to show up in the Swannanoa Valley, having left the home his father created on 200 acres in Virginia, land he received for his service with the Light Dragoons, a Revolutionary War regiment under the command of Casimir Pulaski, who reported to George Washington.

The younger Shope settled in Stokes County in 1790 with his wife Sarah (Sally) Gregg Strope before making his way to Burke County and ultimately to Swannanoa, according to “A History of the Shope, Gregg and Burnette Families.” The nearly 400-page book was compiled by the late Ina Shope, who began working on it at one of the Bee Tree reunions in 1967 and finished it in 1980.

The current crop of Shopes, Burnettes and Greggs can attribute their facial features to the group of relatives in this photo, believed to be taken in the 1930s.

William Shope, the oldest of John and Sally Shope’s eight children, fathered Adelaide Francis Shope, who would go on to to marry William Cornelius Burnette. Descendants of the clans can be found throughout Western North Carolina.

The late Rosalie Shope Connor was one week shy of her first birthday during the first Shope-Burnette-Gregg reunion at Bee Tree Christian Church, according to her daughter, Judy Bridges, who has been going to the gatherings, held the fourth Sunday every July, all her life.

“Back in those days family members came from places like Canton, Yancey County, Madison County and places relatively nearby,” Bridges said. “It was the thing to look forward to every summer.”

Kathy (Gillis) Johnston, the daughter of Rosalie’s sister Clara Shope Gillis and Bridges' first cousin, remembers how much time her mother put into preparing for the event each year. “Mama would start cooking on Friday,” Johnston said.

Johnston and Bridges attribute their excitement about the annual gathering to their grandfather, William Kelly Shope, known locally by his middle name.

William Kelly Shope, far right, stands with his siblings at a Shope-Burnette-Gregg family reunion at Bee Tree Christian Church in the 1950s.

"That was when he got to spend time with all of his siblings," Johnston said. "The reunions gave him the chance to see all of his siblings together and their grandchildren."

David Shope started organizing the reunions around a half dozen years ago. "I've been going since I can remember," David, the youngest of 10 children, said. "My dad would load us up in the pickup truck and haul us out to the reunion every year."

Dozens of descendants from the Shope, Burnette and Gregg families attend a family reunion at Bee Tree Christian Church in the early 2000s. The 100th reunion of the families is scheduled for July 23.

There, David would see scores of his cousins and extended family.

"It was really about the fellowship," he said. "Everyone would bring a covered dish and people would come out and sing gospel songs."

As a child it never occurred to David, who now resides at the N.C. State Veterans Home in Black Mountain, that he would one day be organizing the reunions, let alone the 100th gathering.

"So I want to make sure to keep it going as long as I can," he said.

This year, his son, David Shope II, is helping his father spread the word.

"A lot of times this reunion is the only way we all get to see kin," he said. "We're proud that this tradition has been kept alive for 100 years."