By Clint Parker
Leicester – The Western North Carolina mountains are full of interesting histories about the area. However, the sad part is not many people, even longtime residents, know about that history or care.
Take the Leicester community for example. First off, let’s get the pronunciation correct — Leicester(\les-tər\). Local pastor and Leicester resident Rev. Ralph Sexton, Jr. related once he had traveled to England and went around to different native folk showing his driver’s license and asking people how they would pronounce Leicester, there was so much debate about it back here.
“Leicester(\les-tər\)” was the response, which makes sense given the area was named for Leicester Chapman, a frontiersman who had purchased a tract of land in the area from the City of Asheville. There was already a post office called Turkey Creek in the area which had been started in 1829. After becoming the postmaster in 1852, Chapman would renamed the area Leicester for the Earl of Leicester, which was also his namesake.
You may not know it but Leicester is the final resting place of Lamar Bascom Lunsford, a folk music performer and collector. He was also the organizer of folk festivals. While Mars Hill in Madison County lays claim to being Lunsford’s birthplace, Leicester lays claim to where he was educated, lived and is buried.
Lunsford acquired an appreciation for mountain music and folk songs. He himself became an accomplished fiddler by the time he was in his teens. Lunsford graduated from Camp Hill Academy in Leicester. A search on the internet turned up little on Camp Hill Acadeny as present in websites associated with Lunsford, but a Camp Academy aka Forest Academy is found in the Leicester community.
According to Wikipedia, the school was “built in 1896/7 with funds collected by the local Methodist Episcopal community. It stands on a low ridge on New Leicester Highway at the southeast edge of the former Turkey Creek Meeting Campground, a famous revival campground meeting site which existed from the late 1700s until 1893. The academy, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and would have been in operation by private teachers and private funds in the period that Lunsford was of school age.
An article found on NCpedia.com, says, “In addition to collecting traditional songs, Lunsford composed several new ones, including “Good Old Mountain Dew” in 1920. In 1929 he and composer Lamar Stringfield collaborated on 30 and 1 Folk Songs from the Southern Mountains, a volume of songs arranged with musical accompaniment. Lunsford’s major contribution to the perpetuation of folk music was the formation and promotion of folk festivals. In 1927 he advised the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to add a program of dancing and singing to its Rhododendron Festival. The program was so successful that the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was established the next year. Lunsford organized or helped to found numerous festivals throughout his life, including the first National Folk Festival in St. Louis in 1934.”
It also goes on to say, Lunsford “…spent his later years at home in South Turkey Creek, near Leicester, where he continued to receive and entertain visitors and to participate in local festivals until his death at age ninety-one. He was buried in the Old Brick Church Cemetery, Leicester (You can read all about Lunsford by following the QR code we have on this page).
Remember, we should study our past to know where to go in the future.