The Valley's top stories of the decade

Black Mountain News

As the calendar flips to a new decade, it’s often eye-opening to reflect on what made news over the last 10 years.

Here’s a look through the Black Mountain News archives to do just that.


At the start of the year, the Monte Vista hotel was vacant and about to be foreclosed upon. Barney Fitzpatrick and Sue Conlon bought the property in September, and announced plans to renovate and reopen the hotel and restaurant. The couple brought the hotel back to its former glory before selling the hotel and moving away in 2018.

2010: Barney Fitzpatrick and Sue Conlon bought the property in September, and announced plans to renovate and reopen the hotel and restaurant. The couple brought the hotel back to its former glory before selling the hotel and moving away in 2018.

Snow hit WNC hard in the winter of 2010, at one point closing the Black Mountain Golf Course for 60 days, hurting business and the greens. The golf course was in the news later that year as it tried to shore up its bottom line, offering memberships at a deep discount. That got the attention of town staff and more. In the fall, serious maintenance work started at the course.

The Great Recession officially had ended in 2009, but many continued to feel its effects for months and years.

Black Mountain’s budget certainly was not immune. In 2010, the Board of Aldermen approved a then-record $9.4 million budget, which included a 4.5-cent property tax increase.

That helped cover the $2.1 million purchase of the Town Square property, a wage increase for town staff, new vehicles, a sewer extension project, and state-mandated increases in retirement and health contributions.

A year after a failed incorporation effort, Swannanoa launched its Swannanoa Shindig on Fridays in Beacon Village for music, dancing, food, arts and crafts, and mountain culture.

The highest-profile event, however, was the visit to the Montreat home of the Rev. Billy Graham by President Barack Obama.

2010: President Barack Obama meets with Billy Graham, 91, at his mountainside home in Montreat on April 25.

"I am pleased to have had President Obama in my home," Graham said after the visit. "He requested a meeting since he was spending the weekend nearby in Asheville. My son, Franklin, and I enjoyed a brief visit with the president, followed by a time of prayer together."

Valley residents lined N.C. 9, Broadway and Montreat Road as the president's motorcade traveled to Graham's home.


A year after purchasing Town Square, the Black Mountain Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 to place the Town Square up for sale, just to see what it would fetch. A proposed drugstore for the site brought out 200 protesters, and the board voted not to sell the land after all.

Among the biggest business news in the Valley came in summer 2011, when Ingles began construction on an 830,000-square-foot cold storage distribution center at its corporate office off U.S. 70 in Black Mountain.

2011: Ingles Markets built its warehouse facility at its headquarters in the early part of the decade.

In other business news, in Swannanoa, business leaders reorganized the Swannanoa Business Association and elected new leadership, reaffirming their desire to give their community a voice in regional economic development. The association promoted local restaurants through "A Taste of Swannanoa" and published the annual Swannanoa Business Directory.

Speaking of U.S. 70, the N.C. Department of Transportation in August officially named a stretch of the road the Highway of Heroes, honoring deceased military veterans. Funeral processions often travel the newly named portion between Swannanoa and the Western North Carolina Veterans Cemetery on their way to bury the dead.

In politics, Black Mountain voters had 11 candidates from whom to choose to fill three seats on the board of aldermen. They reelected Mike Sobol and elected Don Collins and Maggie Tuttle to the seats held by incumbents Ruth Brandon and Joan Brown. Shortly afterward, town Manager Marcy Onieal resigned.

Also in November, voters OK’d liquor by the drink, 1,400-929.

The future of the Black Mountain Golf Course changed course as aldermen voted to close the clubhouse. Exhaustive renovations were completed, and an outside firm was brought in to manage the course.

The gruesome death of Rebecca Ogle at Ridgecrest rocked the area. Her assailant was fatally stabbed by the girlfriend of Ogle’s brother — who was also injured at the scene. The juvenile girl was not charged, having killed the assailant in self-defense.


The year marked the end of an era, with the closing of Charles D. Owen Manufacturing Company on Aug. 31, ending blanket manufacturing in the Valley. A year later, National Wiper Alliance, an Asheville manufacturer of industrial wipes and cloths, would buy the former plant for more than $1.2 million. Founded in 1970, Owen Manufacturing at one time employed nearly 1,000 workers at its Warren Wilson Road facility and was the largest unit producer of nonwoven blankets in the world.

In other business news, Highland Farms Retirement Community announced July 19 that Asheville’s Givens Estates was purchasing it, pulling the community off Black Mountain’s tax rolls.

In August, A new state veterans' nursing home opened in Swannanoa in the fall, bringing 175 new jobs to the Valley and care for 100 veterans.

The story of Black Mountain Town Square continued, with groundbreaking in March 2012.

There were new faces and new roles around town, with Steve Padgett, a 21-year veteran of the Black Mountain Police Department, named the chief of the department, and Matt Settlemyer was hired as new town manager.

A familiar face said goodbye to his longtime role in many Valley residents’ lives: Beloved Black Mountain Primary School Principal Jerry Green retired after 35 years of service. He made an appearance later in the year as the grand marshal of the Black Mountain Christmas Parade.

Shocking news hit the area in late summer, as Dr. Leslie Cargile and her husband, William Cargile, were found dead in a Galveston, Texas, hotel room. Their deaths were later ruled suicides.


In the year that saw the Rev. Billy Graham celebrate his 95th birthday on Nov. 7, he and his family bid farewell to George Beverly Shea. One of America's best loved gospel singers and a Montreat resident, Shea died April 16, at the age of 104.

Montreat College officials surprised many in announcing on July 29 that they were pursuing a merger with Point University, a Church of Christ affiliated school in West Point, Georgia. The deal fell through in 2014.

Source for Well-Being and the town of Black Mountain were involved in a zoning battle for most of the year.

In politics, Mike Sobol was elected mayor of Black Mountain and Ryan Stone and Carlos Showers were reelected to serve on the Black Mountain Board of Aldermen.

A couple of months before the election, Vice Mayor and Alderman Tim Rayburn resigned after police say he was drunk and driving a public vehicle at nearly four times the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Only a handful of years after entering the deal, the Black Mountain Board of Aldermen voted 5-0 to negotiate their way out of a five-year contract with Billy Casper Golf in November 2013.

The year came to a close with the first phase of Black Mountain’s Town Square project also brought to a close. The site was dedicated and the town took control of facilities completed to that point, including restrooms, the repaved parking lot, the cascade water feature by Waterscapes by Black Mountain, and the Willie Headley Memorial Garden area, as well as a new sidewalk.


It was a year for milestones, accolades and accomplishments in the Swannanoa Valley.

White Horse Black Mountain celebrated its fifth-year anniversary and Swannanoa Valley Museum kicked off its fifth year of the popular Rim Hike Explorer Series.

Mary Szybist, faculty member in the Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers, won the National Book Award for poetry for her collection "Incarnadine." Security organization SafeWise listed Black Mountain as ninth among 50 safest cities in North Carolina. In May, U.S. News and World Report named Owen High School No.  17 among the magazine's best high schools in North Carolina.

2014: Pete Ripmaster competed in the Iditarod.

Peter Ripmaster, owner of Black Mountain Running Co., completed the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile ultra-marathon through the Alaskan wilderness.

In business news, Kearfott Corp. announced a plan to expand its manufacturing facility with an investment of up to $11.9 million in facilities and equipment. Completed, the plan would create 75 new jobs. The year before, Kearfott, the Valley's third-largest employer had laid off 90 people.

Source for Well-Being, a center of alternative healing, announced it would close its Black Mountain location after a year-long struggle with the city over the property's zoning. In August, the business moved to Asheville.

In June, the Montreat College board of trustees voted to select Paul Maurer as the college's eighth president. Maurer, who came from Gordon College south of Boston, was appointed president nearly a year after Montreat announced plans, later aborted, to pursue a merger with Point University.

In town news, Craig Bannerman retired as BMFD deputy chief. He joined the department in 1986 as a volunteer. Josh Harrold was hired as the town’s planning director, it’s first since 2011.

2014: Development of Black Mountain Town Square took several years at the start of the decade. Pictured here, kids cool off in June 2016 at the Rotary splash fountain.

In September, Black Mountain dedicated Town Square, a 1.3-acre park built on property that residents encouraged the town to acquire in 2009. More than 800 people and entities contributed nearly $500,000 toward the square, which includes a splash fountain, a legacy brick pathway, restroom and Willie's Garden.

As the Black Mountain Golf Course saga continued, the Black Mountain Board voted to buy out the contract for Billy Casper Golf, ending nearly three years of its management and return the Black Mountain Golf Course to town control.

In October, Montreat's board of commissioners voted 4-1 to site the town's new town hall on town property on Florida Terrace. In so doing, the board rejected arguments by many town residents that the town hall would be better built elsewhere. In December, a half-dozen Montreat property owners filed a lawsuit asking a judge to prevent the town from building on Florida Terrace, which they contend is too steep to make construction financially feasible.

In Valley sports, Jager Gardner of Owen High School became Buncombe County and WNC's all-time leading rusher during the Warhorses’ 56-7 victory over Salisbury in November.


Infrastructure news started the year, with homeowners at The Settings as well as the town of Black Mountain winning a lawsuit against the holder of the site’s bonds that allowed for the completion of roads and other infrastructure needs that were left undone when the Great Recession hit.

At Lake Tomahawk, the town removed more than 50 trees from the dam because state engineers concluded they posed a threat to the structural integrity of the dam.

The fast-moving Weed Lane fire that started March 30 ended up burning 752 acres in Ridgecrest.

2015: A large excavated lot is all that remains of the initial work done on Montreat's proposed town hall on Florida Terrace. The plan met with controversy.

The Montreat Town Hall story ramped up in February, as a Buncombe County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction halting the construction on Florida Terrace. In November, new Mayor Tim Helms said the site would no longer be considered.

In politics, the town of Black Mountain in May revised its minimum housing code that provides more protection for renters. Aldermen passed a $102.1 million budget the following month that did not require a tax increase.

At Town Hall, Angela Reece took over for longtime Black Mountain clerk Darlene Whitenant, who retired.

2015: Having sworn her in, Mayor Michael Sobol congratulates Angela Reece on her new job as town clerk.

In November elections, incumbents Don Collins, Maggie Tuttle and Larry Harris won seats on the Black Mountain Board of Aldermen. Winning the two open seats in Montreat were Kitty Fouche and Bill Gilliland

In March, Black Mountain aldermen increased players’ rates at the Black Mountain Golf Course in hopes of turning the course’s finances around.

In sports, Owen football coaching legend Kenny Ford announced in March that he would retire. Nathan Padgett was named as his replacement.

2015: Owen football coach Kenny Ford announces his retirement. Pictured here, Ford stands next to Jager Gardner during practice in 2012.

Montreat College renamed the primary chapel on campus to Graham Chapel in honor of the Rev. Billy Graham and Ruth Bell Graham. It also announced construction of a $2 million athletic complex.

Warren Wilson had a year in the news: Poet Ellen Bryant was named a MacArthur Fellow. The board voted to divest endowment funds from fossil fuels over the next five years. The school was named N.C.’s most gay-friendly college by eCollegeFinder, one of the “most Zen schools” by HerCampus and “Green College of the Year” by WNC’s Sierra Club.

In the spring, Asheville Christian Academy’s girls soccer team won its first state title. The boys team would follow with a title in November.


A late 2015 rainstorm meant ArtSpace Charter School started the year cleaning up from significant flooding and mud damage. The cleanup would take until spring.

The year started with honors for Anthony Penland, chief of the Swannanoa Fire Department, who was named Career Fire Chief of the Year (2015) by the Western North Carolina Association of Firefighters.

Just after halting plans to build a new Montreat Town Hall on Florida Terrace, a new Montreat town board also suspended construction on the Texas Road bridge. In June, four residents settled their complaints with the town board over the proposed town hall site.

In Black Mountain, aldermen passed a budget that kept the tax rate steady and adopted a 115-page bike plan. Later in the year, Black Mountain Police Chief Steve Padgett announced his retirement.

In March, Gov. Pat McCrory bestowed the The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award on Jack Allison, as well as Ruth and Nelson Higgins.

Talk about good deeds: Town employee Keith Belt was a hero to 87-year-old Dot Jones in February, likely saving her life. Driving home on a 15-degree, snowy night, after spending hours clearing snow, Belt saw a dark figure in the road. Jones had slipped in ice after being dropped off by a taxi on a return home from a hospital visit. She tried crawling home. Belt spotted her and got her safely and warmly home.

2016: Town employee Keith Belt’s actions in the middle of the night in February likely saved a local woman’s life.

In April, Valley resident Cheryl Wilson began training as executive director of Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, replacing retiring exec Renae Brame, who retired in May. The organization also celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015. Later in the year, at another mainstay of the Valley, Bruce Granger became the new executive director of Bounty & Soul. It extended its reach into the Latino community with a community resources event at Owen Middle School.

In October, Black Mountain native Andrew Brunson was imprisoned by the Turkish government on charges of espionage, among other things. He would not be freed for two years.

In entertainment news, Hollywood came to the Valley, with the filming of “Three Buildings Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” It started in North Fork and a pivotal scene was captured in the Town Pump Tavern. The town of Sylva also had a major role in the movie.

2016: Jarring messages appear along North Fork Left Fork in Black Mountain as crews began filming “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” directed by Martin McDonagh.

The Swannanoa Gathering celebrated its 25th year with a national debut of a song by folk music icon Janis Ian.

The year was Steven Solnick’s last at Warren Wilson College; he retired as of July 1.

In sports, WWC’s mountain biking team won its division of the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships. 

Asheville Christian Academy boys soccer team again won a state championship.

2016: The Women's March in Black Mountain attracted hundreds of people who marched from Town Square for women's rights and various other causes. Photos used by permission of photographer David O. Hearne.


As the year started and a new president took the White House, hundreds of people gathered in Town Square for the Women’s March on Black Mountain, taking part in a nationwide event.

The community came together to support the family of Montreat track coach Britten Olinger, who was critically injured when his car was hit by a speeding car in downtown Black Mountain. Montreat College, The Native Kitchen and Social Pub and Lookout Brewing held events to help with Olinger’s recovery. In June 2018, the driver, Kyle Carney, was sentenced to at least 29 months in prison. 

The Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth and Families expanded into the historic Swannanoa 4-H Camp.

By 2017, the real estate market had certain rebounded: Greybeard Realty reported that Black Mountain homes were selling in less than three months.

In April, two Montreat College professors quit over the school’s new “community life covenant,” a document defining expectations for Christian living that includes affirming “the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.”

Later in the year, Montreat College was presented with a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education certificate.

Swannanoa Valley Museum reopened after renovations.

In town government news, aldermen reduced speeds on Dougherty, Church, Connally and Charlotte streets. Shawn Freeman was appointed Black Mountain police chief, replacing Steve Padgett, who retired.

Town alderman adopted a 2017-18 budget of just over $11 million.

Warren Wilson College welcomed a new president, Lynn Morton, in July. She is the college's eighth leader and its first female president.

In August, the Valley marked the total solar eclipse. While totality hit just west of Black Mountain, that didn't stop the area from celebrating with a days-long "Rock the Eclipse" party.

2017: These kids found the best place to watch the eclipse at Town Square - flat on their backs.

Four candidates — Bob Pauly, Jermie Konegni, Matt Robinson and Ryan Stone — campaigned for Black Mountain aldermen seats. In November, Don Collins was elected mayor, and Stone and Konegni were elected aldermen. In Montreat, David Arrant was sworn in as police chief. In November’s election, Kent Otto, Alice Boggs Lentz and Tom Widmer were elected as commissioners. 

A longtime Swannanoa fixture, Osega Gymnastics moved out of the Valley, leaving a hole in child care options for families.

In Valley sports, Owen Warlassies basketball coach Tim Raines retired and Chuck Robinson left as boys basketball coach. Replacing them are Aaron Fernandez and Clint McElrath.

Owen athletes Sidney and Saevion Gibbs transferred to Christ School. Saevion Gibbs would return to Owen in January 2019.

Owen High junior Chesney Gardner scored her 1,000 point. Owen Babe Ruth 8U softball team finished second in the state in its division. Montreat College men’s basketball team started the season 9-0.

2017: Owen Warlassies basketball coach Tim Raines announces his retirement, and Chesney Gardner surpassed the 1,000-point mark.

In November, the town acquired 4 acres near downtown for $2 million. The former home of Carolina Foam, Fabric and Home Decor would become home to the public services and recreation departments in 2018.


The Rev. Billy Graham died at age 99 on Feb. 21, and the Valley came out to honor its longtime resident. Montreat residents shared their stories.

Black Mountain Library celebrated its golden anniversary in April. The library has been in its current location since 1968, but it began in 1922 in a room at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Black Mountain town Manager Matt Settlemyer abruptly resigned on May 22, and former Buncombe County DA Ron Moore took over as interim manager. The board voted 4-1 on Sept. 10 to offer the town manager position to Josh Harrold, who served as Black Mountain's director of planning and development for over three years before taking a similar position in Lewisville.

In June, more abrupt town news: Alderman Jeremie Konegni resigned after being arrested by Black Mountain police May 13 and charged with assault on a female at his home. Former Owen coach Tim Raines was appointed to fill the seat.

In the fall, Warren Wilson College marked its largest freshman class ever. The freshman class consists of 250 students with 104 of them from North Carolina. It’s the largest freshman class in the college’s history and the largest group of N.C. first-year students that the college has enrolled for at least 20 years.

In October, the town recognized two officers on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic.  During separate incidents in August, officers Jon McDonald and Ian Ammons responded to calls involving unresponsive subjects. In each situation, the officers determined, the victim was experiencing an overdose. Their actions saved both lives.

In November, BMPD's first K-9 officer, Brisco, retired, and the force welcomed Cayman as a replacement.  

Plans moved forward to add an Interstate 40 interchange at Blue Ridge Road. Plans for the interchange were unveiled in December. A community input session was held a few months later, in March 2019. The project was set to begin in 2021. 

2018: Area residents look over a potential design for an I-40 interchange at Blue Ridge Road on Dec. 13 in the Lakeview Center.


After 25 years on the job, the head of Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce, Bob McMurray, announced his retirement. When McMurray succeeded Lamont Davis in the role, the area was nothing near what it is today: Cherry Street was a collection of mostly vacant buildings in the 1970s and 1980s.

The community rallied around Owen alumnus Tate Brown, a 2015 graduate, who shared his battle with testicular cancer that left him at one point on life support.

The Ridge Church, at home in the former Ridgecrest Baptist Church, celebrated its first year, bringing new life to the 1934 building.

Swannanoa Valley Museum kicked off its 30th anniversary season in the spring.

In May, town business owner Bob Orr was charged with six felony counts of secret peeping using an electronic device into a room occupied by another person. 

Black Mountain Home for Children expanded its programming, launching a new apprenticeship program to residents in Rae Campbell Independent Living Village.

Montreat broke ground on a new Town Hall in June. The nearly 4,000-square-foot facility, designed by Black Mountain architect Maury Hurt, will cost $1.6 million to build. 

Over the summer, the ever-popular Black Mountain's tailgate market hit the 25-year mark. Alderman Carlos Showers told the town in October of his cancer diagnosis, but vowed to fight the disease and continue to serve in his elected position. 

2019: Carlos Showers said he is not seeking a third term as a Black Mountain alderman so that younger people can have a chance to lead.

In politics, alderman approved an $11.5 million budget for Black Mountain in June, up more than 3%. The property tax rate remained stable.

In infrastructure, the town contracted with a firm to help shore up the dam at Lake Tomahawk. And following an independent study in 2018, Black Mountain alderman agreed to change the traffic flow downtown, turning Cherry Street into a one-way thoroughfare

In one of their final acts of 2019, aldermen approved an effort to seek funding to clean up the Swannanoa River. 

One of Owen's top female athletes, Chesney Gardner, graduated in June and headed to University of South Carolina-Aiken. She was honored in May by the Town Board.

Owen Warhorse football made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. They fell to Mountain Heritage in the second round after a first-round rout of West Stanly.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect a groundbreaking on Montreat's Town Hall in 2019.