5 Black Mountain organizations celebrate 100-plus years of service

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News

Five Black Mountain organizations celebrate 100 or more years of service this year, with Black Mountain Savings Bank leading as the oldest organization in town. 

The other century-old businesses include Monte Vista Hotel and Black Mountain Fire Department, both at 103 years old, and Black Mountain Tyson Public Library and Chamber of Commerce, which prepare to celebrate 100 years of service in 2022. 

Black Mountain Savings Bank, one of the oldest banks in U.S.

Entering its 114th year of operation, Black Mountain Savings Bank opened its doors Dec. 5, 1908. As of this year, CEO and president Wendell Begley celebrates his 50th year with the bank. 

The Black Mountain Savings Bank enters its 114th year of operation with its CEO and president celebrating 50 years with the bank.

The bank proudly holds the titles of the oldest business in Black Mountain, the oldest bank in Western North Carolina, the eighth oldest bank in the state and one of the oldest banks in the country. Begley said Black Mountain is the most competitive banking market in North Carolina. 

From the beginning, the mutual savings bank made a distinct effort to serve the Swannanoa Valley community only. According to Begley, more than a century later, that focus remains stronger than ever. 

"There's only about 700 mutual savings banks out of the 4,975 FDIC insured banks," Begley said. "Historically, it's how banking began in America in 1816."

Begley's father began working at the bank in 1962, hoping his son would take his place upon his retirement. Begley, not long after graduating from college, enjoyed hunting and fishing and had no intention of sitting behind a desk. 

He did a number of jobs, working for the sheriff's department as a narcotics agent and eventually building houses, having a background in construction. His father approached him at the end of a long day of construction and asked for three weeks at the bank. If Begley didn't like it, his father said, he could go back to doing whatever he wanted. 

"Long story short, that was 50 years ago," Begley said. 

Like his father, Begley plans for his eldest daughter, Meredith, to take over his position upon his own retirement. Meredith as well as Begley's other daughter, Kannah, have both been long term employees of the bank, having served for 26 and 13 years, respectively. 

Black Mountain Savings Bank's uniqueness comes from its community ownership, according to Begley. The bank does not have stockholders. When someone opens an account with the bank, they become a part owner as a local depositor. 

"When we say we serve the community, we strictly, strictly, unequivocally, categorically, do not go outside of the Swannanoa Valley," Begley said. "We are exclusively here for the folks in Black Mountain, Swannanoa, Ridgecrest and Montreat."

Black Mountain Fire Department, Monte Vista pass 103 years

The Black Mountain Fire Department was established in 1919, a combination of paid and volunteer service. The department offers fire services, medical first response and a rescue team to the Black Mountain, Montreat and Ridgecrest communities.

Black Mountain has three stations consisting of 31 paid firefighters and 25 volunteers, serving to protect 27 square miles and roughly 8,000 residents, according to Chamber of Commerce records. 

Monte Vista Hotel originally opened the same year, in 1919, from a repurposed school building. In 1937, 18 years later, the current brick building was built. A separate structure, the Annex, was added in 1975. 

According to Chamber of Commerce records, many of the original elements of the hotel have been preserved, despite new ownership and renovations. A statement from the chamber says the new decorative additions complement the original architecture of the old building. 

Chamber of Commerce, Black Mountain Library near 100-year mark

The Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1923 to serve tourist information and economic development. 

After moving locations five separate times, the chamber currently works out of a building from 1916, originally a working tea room. 

The current Visitor Center served more than 40,000 walk-in visitors in 2021, according to chamber records. 

Melisa Pressley, the branch manager of the Black Mountain Public Library, discussed in December her staff's plan for the celebration of the library's 100th anniversary this summer.

Black Mountain Tyson Public Library was founded in 1922, moving to multiple locations throughout the years. The library offers in-person and online book access, classes, computer access, business resources and a meeting space in the education room. 

With the approaching 100-year anniversary this summer, the town and the library staff would like to see improvements, including better lighting, more space and minor remodeling. 

"We want to be able to continue to let groups use the (education) room for free for their meetings and events," said Melisa Pressley, the branch manager, in December. "We don't have a lot of spaces in Black Mountain for people to meet." 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at emaille@blackmountainnews.com.