The coolest thing about my job is taking a walk down memory lane

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Fred McCormick

“What’s the coolest thing about being a newspaper reporter?”

That’s probably the question that comes up most often when people learn I write for The Black Mountain News or recognize me out in the community.

You’d think that after hearing that for five years I’d have some standard go-to answer, but it’s never as easy as it would seem.

Obviously meeting so many people, each with their own unique story about how they came to the Swannanoa Valley or what it was like growing up here, ranks up there. Those stories provide insight into what makes this community special. So it’s pretty common for me to respond along those lines.

But in the day-to-day grind of trying to stay on top of the things that matter to readers and why, there is nothing more exciting than digging through the archives.

The Black Mountain News began covering the Swannanoa Valley in 1945, announcing on the front page of its inaugural edition that “Black Mountain and Swannanoa Now Have Their Own Newspaper.”

Since then, it has provided weekly accounts of significant events throughout the area and included the voices and stories of countless residents. This week, as I was doing research for a story, I caught a glimpse into life in the Valley a quarter of a century ago.

I didn’t live here in 1993, but the stories I’ve heard about the snowfall that March are legendary. That year, the “Storm of the Century,” which is also commonly referred to as the “Great Blizzard of 1993,” dumped snow all over the eastern side of the continent.

The March 18, 1993 edition of the paper barely made it out as half of the staff were unable to make it to the office. The feature story that week led with the news that a “massive snow has placed hundreds in the Swannanoa Valley at great risk.”

It was reported the following week that 20 - 30 inches of snow “held the Valley captive for a tense four-day period.”

In the spring of that year, four homes on Piney Mountain burned down when a faulty furnace in a vacant rental property ignited a blaze that covered 450 acres.

Folks enjoying a nice summer day around Lake Tomahawk in July of 1993 were all looking up as four parachuters descended from the sky and splashed down into the small body of water. The following fall, another group was meeting at the lake to discuss the health risks of an increasing population of ducks, geese and pigeons.

The Lake Tomahawk Advisory Committee held a meeting that October to discuss the risks associated with the waste of the fowl. The late Dr. John Wilson, the chairman of that committee, warned that while feeding the ducks was a longstanding tradition at the lake, it would likely need to cease.

On the east side of Black Mountain, what now serves as a landmark for many was unveiled.

The Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery opened on Oct. 18, 1993. The site, which is now dotted with tombstones of veterans, took over a year to build. It was The state Legislature approved funding for the project after three of the state’s four veterans cemeteries were full. Gordon Greenwood, a Black Mountain native who owned The Black Mountain news from 1946-1967 and served in the N.C. House of Representatives for nearly three decades, was instrumental in its creation.

The Town of Black Mountain celebrated a century in existence that year as well.

A monument along Sutton Avenue was erected on the site of a former loading dock by the Centennial Commission and dedicated to 40 influential families from the first 100 years of the town. A large eagle was affixed to the top. 

The commission also posthumously recognized Laurence Brown, the son of Black Mountain’s first mayor, who would go on have a 34-year career in law enforcement. Brown became the sheriff of Buncombe County in 1926 and spent two years as the chief of the Black Mountain Police Department before being elected sheriff again.

Two-way radios were installed in patrol cars in 1933 under Brown’s leadership and his efforts to combat juvenile crime were recognized nationally. His junior deputy program, which taught children good citizenship, reached an estimated 15,000 kids.

As the 1993 drew to a close, Black Mountain Auxiliary Police Chief Johnny Raines and the Black Mountain Police Reserve Christmas Project provided food for 50 families in the Swannanoa Valley.

Children sat with Santa Claus as the food and gifts, which were paid for by the department’s fundraising efforts, were distributed.

There are 74 years of archived newspapers here at The Black Mountain News, and each one tells the story of this valley and the people in it.

While seeing my byline along with the likes of the men and women who have kept this thing going strong all this time is something that will always make me proud, it’s the unique opportunity to get to know this place we call home that is the coolest part about it.