Looking ahead while honoring our past

Published 3:48 pm Friday, June 30, 2017

Editor’s Note: the following are remarks delivered by Jamie Carpenter, executive director of the Tryon Downtown Development Association, at their annual meeting held at Sunnydale on June 26.

I have had the pleasure of serving TDDA for almost 2 years now, and every day I find out something new and unique about Tryon and the area. Tryon is a place that is completely filled with history. Not the typical history, but one of the most unique histories I have ever heard, especially from a place this size. I don’t say this to be trite or gloat, but this place really is fascinating.

Being a town with such an interesting past, we often look backward on bringing back the good old days, or what used to make Tryon so special.

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Now, after years of great history, years of revitalization, and hard work by the volunteers and staff before me, we must continue to think forward, like the great leaders of our community before us.

We need to honor our past, while looking to our future.

Wanda May always leaves me articles that she thinks I may find interesting or helpful, and she left me one a few weeks ago that really struck a chord.

This was an interview of Kirrin Makker, who is currently writing a book called the “Myths of Main Street.” In this article, she was interviewed about the process she’s taking for the book. One very interesting point she made was about the Main Street approach of history and nostalgia.

She talks about the Main Street program’s history of reviving small town America through developing a tourist economy using historic building stock. She goes on to say this is all wonderful, but the formula of looking backward focuses more on nostalgia rather than the future. Nostalgic main streets give visitors a step back in time and out of reality, but can sometimes ignore what strategies are best for giving towns a vibrant future, where a diverse cross-section of people may want to make their lives.

Another point she makes is that there is a romance we associate with the architecture of Main Street that’s not so accurate to its history of development. We tend to view it as a relic of a simpler time, when people made things by hand, there wasn’t fierce competition or a need to get the cheapest good, and everything in one’s midst was made locally. The truth is that the beauty and quick growth of Main Street, its frenzy of economic and physical development, occurred because people were clever and took advantage of the latest technologies and markets. There was nothing quaint and simple about life on Main Street in 1900. One might have even called it cutting edge.

Tryon does a great job in honoring its history, but if we really look back and think about it, our history has always been defined by change and new things. I have always liked to think of Tryon as a town of outsiders, and it really has been that way throughout its history. This is very apparent in the Tryon Historical Museum, which focuses much more on the people and personalities of our past.

Mike McCue’s Tryon Artists: 1892-1942 noted that before 1900, the Tryon boosters bragged about the town having residents from 22 different states.

The publication goes on to say Tryon housed artists who had already honed their craft, many of whom escaped city life for a respite in Tryon, and eventually to make their permanent residence. Because of our connection to big cities through the railroad, Tryon was always ahead of its time. The train brought passengers overnight from cities like Chicago and Detroit, and had a railway delivery, telegraph and telephone much earlier than many communities in Western North Carolina.

Back in the late 1800s, artists Amelia Watson and Margaret Warner Morley visited their friend William Gillette at his summer home in Tryon. They eventually moved here … sound familiar?

There are plenty of scenic, pastoral mountain and foothill communities that scatter throughout western North Carolina, any place that is ideal for painting beautiful scenic views. What set Tryon apart has always been the social and intellectual atmosphere that is inspiring for artists of all levels and media.

Another part of Tryon’s history I love is that it’s a place where women flourished at times when just about everywhere else discounted them.

Strong women have showered Tryon with so many great things… from the establishment of the Fine Arts Center, Lanier Library, Tryon Arts and Crafts and more, and still have strong leadership in our business and cultural community.

From its early days as an artists’ colony, Tryon welcomed female artists and writers with open arms.

This year marks 100 years since Carter Brown came to Polk County, establishing the Pine Crest Inn and bringing equestrian sport into significance in Tryon.

Just over 60 years ago, the US Equestrian Team conducted their trials in Tryon, receiving national coverage.

Now, coming next year, the World Equestrian Games will take place in our region.

I know the games are creating an exciting and also unsettling tension for a lot of folks in the area, but to me it’s continuing with our history of being a forward thinking, unique place and one of the most incredible opportunities to show off the assets we have in Tryon.

TDDA and the Tryon Main Street program has come a long way since it started over 20 years ago, and we are at a place where we can continue to fine-tune our beautiful downtown environment, and also be innovative and have fun in our approach.

The TDDA board of directors has updated our vision to create a focus for the next several years. That vision is to be an inspiring, livable arts community, steeped in cultural and equestrian heritage where our present blends with our notable history, and drives our future.

To do this, we are focusing on three areas that we call our economic development strategies. Those strategies are designed to take our assets that we all know and love about Tryon, and use those to extend our economic reach to help businesses and our downtown community thrive. We have so many great things about Tryon, it was difficult to narrow down to three to focus on, but we did… and they are:

  1. Tryon is an inspiring community, rooted in equine culture
  2. Tryon is a vibrant community for the literary, visual and performing arts
  3. Tryon is a desirable and livable community for everyone.

These will be our three main committees, working to achieve our collective vision for downtown. There are opportunities for volunteers to sign up for the different areas you may be interested in. There may be one project or area you’d like to help with, or you may be involved with a group or organization that is already working on something similar. Please let us know. There are also opportunities to be involved with our many events. Find out more by stopping by the TDDA office, or visiting www.downtowntryon.org

An important part of the Main Street program is that it’s not completed by one person, or one group, but has to have broad-based support from the community. Our work is incremental and takes place slowly over time, and the fruits of many years of work are showing downtown. We’re not done, but we’re moving forward, and I challenge you all to think about some of the great Tryonites of the past and present and what they did that made Tryon what it is today, and what can WE do to continue the historic tradition Tryon has of being a place of creativity, inspiration and innovation.