Incorporated in 1911, the town’s history dates back much further, to 1848 when Martin L. Banner established a permanent settlement in the Elk River Valley. These early settlers supported themselves through hunting, trapping, growing and trading. Not unlike the settlers, much of the area still depends on farming; however, the most popular crop has become Christmas trees. The local economy is also supported by the modern version of trading; tourism.
While the town’s 2000 census found a little more than 800 residents, including students at Lees McRae college, more than 100,000 people visit the area each year, half of which come for two festivals; the Highland Games and Wooly Worm Festival. These events, together, draw more than 50,000 people to the area annually.
The people of Banner Elk preserve the history and legends of the town in order to boost cultural tourism. There are many legends that are remembered today concerning Banner Elk and Avery County. The two most famous describe the time before the white settlers came to Banner Elk. These legends were passed down from generation to generation in the families of the first white settlers. Both of these legends explain the origin of how the Old Fields of Toe got its name. One talks about the conflict between two rival chiefs. The daughter of one of the chiefs, Estetoe, fell in love with the son of the other. However, the daughter and son were not allowed to marry. This caused a huge war between the two rival tribes in this area. One version of this story ends with Estetoe bringing about peace between the two tribes so that she and her lover were allowed to wed. Another version suggests that Estetoe was engaged to a man within her tribe but her father forbid the marriage. As a result, Estetoe drowned herself in the river. The Indians then named the area after her. However, the name of the fields was later shortened to Toe by the whites because it was easier for them to pronounce. These legends encourage tourists to visit, because people hear these stories and then visit Banner Elk in order to experience all of the Native American culture in this area, including cultural arts and crafts, gem mining, a gem shop with minerals and Native American artifacts, and more.
The Banner Elk Bed and Breakfast family of inns
Innkeepers – Greg and Amy Gardner
Banner Elk, NC 28604
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