About 15 miles east of Asheville, North Carolina is a little gem nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains: Black Mountain. Voted ‘Best Small Town In Western North Carolina,’ Black Mountain is famous for its art, crafts, music, and beautiful scenery. But the area is special to me for more personal reasons. Black Mountain (and the unincorporated town of Ridgecrest) is where my maternal grandparents lived for a significant portion of their lives. Our visit this past weekend was a bittersweet one; we were meeting to pay tribute to my grandmother at her memorial service, as she passed away this past August.
I’ve been visiting Black Mountain and the surrounding areas for a very long time now. From the age of about four months until long into my teenage years, I spent every summer attending the church music extravaganza hosted at Ridgecrest Conference Center. Though I’m primarily in classical music now, it was at these summer church music conferences that my love for music grew and developed.
A Family Full Of Church Musicians
My family is full of ministers and talented church musicians, and my grandparents were no exception. My maternal grandfather, Paul Bobbitt, was one of the pioneers of the job ‘Minister of Music’ in the modern church. Before his generation, that particular role (planning the music, leading worship, directing a choir and orchestra) didn’t exist in the same way. He served for many years as music director of the Florida Baptist Convention. My maternal grandmother, Mayrene Bobbitt, was a passionate researcher of hymnology, collecting the stories behind some of the great hymns (like Fanny Crosby’s famous “Blessed Assurance”); she wrote and performed monologues based around 12 different hymn writers. She published these monologues in her “Christian Hymn Writers Come Alive” series in the 1980s. In the photo below from the family archives, you can see my grandmother in one of her costumes!
Ridgecrest Conference Center and The Nibble Nook
Ridgecrest Conference Center is associated with the Baptists, a major branch of Protestant Christianity, and has been hosting summer programs since 1909. The facilities have been renovated and added on to over the years, and Ridgecrest is now home to Rutland Chapel, the Mountain Laurel Inn, the Johnson Spring Conference Center, and many other buildings. As a child and teenager, I attended Ridgecrest’s summer music conference every year, participating in children’s programming and by the time I was 12 or 13, performing with the conference center orchestra.
The above photo in black and white comes from somewhere in my family photo archives, and though it’s not dated, it probably came from a Ridgecrest summer conference that took place in the 1950s. My mom thinks it was taken in 1951 in front of Rhododendron Hall on the Ridgecrest Conference Center campus.
One of the highlights of our trips to Ridgecrest were visits with my grandfather to the Nibble Nook. It’s an old-fashioned ice cream parlor with more than 15 flavors on the menu; I’ve been visiting the Nibble Nook all my life, and it’s been around since before WWII. In fact, one of the last photos I have of me with my grandfather is of myself, my cousin Natalie, and our grandfather in front of the Nibble Nook having just eaten ice cream.
The Quaint Town Of Black Mountain
TripAdvisor’s readers recently voted Black Mountain, North Carolina as ‘the prettiest small town in America,’ and I have to say, I think they’re right. Black Mountain has a unique, layered downtown area filled with quaint shops and restaurants and a fun town square complete with oversized rocking chairs. Seeing local artists on the street painting or sculpting is a fairly common sight, and shops are full of locally made wares.
From my childhood, I remember visiting Song of the Wood, which sold hand-made hammered dulcimers and bowed psalteries made by local craftsman Jerry Read Smith; the shop only sees visitors by appointment now, but he has been producing these instruments since the 1970s. My grandfather’s favorite shop in Black Mountain was the Town Hardware & General Store, an old-fashioned store that sells pretty much everything you could want.
This area is home to another vintage ice cream place other than the Nibble Nook: the Dairy King! Yes, you read that right. Not the beloved ice cream chain Dairy Queen, but the Dairy King. It’s a family owned shop that’s been around since 1971, and they serve just what you might expect: soft-serve, sundaes, dipped cones, and the like. My mom remembers visiting this one as well! Their mysterious tagline is the home of the “Blue Cone,” which has always been something of a mystery to me. I suspect that it refers to a unique cone dipping option flavored with blue raspberry; it’s really something!
Billy Graham’s House In Montreat
Nearby Montreat is probably best known for being home to the Montreat Conference Center (a Presbyterian version of the Ridgecrest Conference Center), Montreat College, and for being the home of legendary Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham and his family. Billy and Ruth Graham had their first home in Montreat, where they raised their children. Some members of my family in town for my grandmother’s memorial service actually rented the cabin to stay in, as it has recently been opened to the public. (You can see them trying to open the door in the photo below!)
It’s an old-fashioned mountain cottage with a ton of unique, vintage features and a huge curved picture window on the first floor. Photos of the Graham family and pieces of family history are posted throughout the property, making for an interesting history lesson with your rental!
If you’re looking for a welcoming, beautiful little town to visit outside of Asheville, don’t miss Black Mountain and its surrounding areas. My family has been visiting there for years, and we can guarantee that you’ll have a great time!
For more information on Black Mountain, NC and the surrounding areas, visit exploreblackmountain.com.
Photo credit for the photo of Ridgecrest Conference Center goes to https://ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/. All other photos by the author or taken from her family archives.