Our Avery County: Dr. Phyllis Crain and the transformation of Crossnore
Elizabeth Baird Hardy
Visitors who have only recently discovered Crossnore may not be aware of its very different appearance and flavor not so long ago. In 1999, the closure of an active hospital left a huge, empty building dominating the hillside of the once-vital town’s main thoroughfare. Fortunately for Crossnore, a serendipitous intersection of events also began in 1999, leading to the very different Crossnore we have today.
Local citizens who wanted to revitalize Crossnore came together that year to form the nonprofit Crossnore Community Enhancement Association. Ann Baker, current co-chair of the association, cites another development in 1999 as critical to the creation of Crossnore’s current beauty and charm: the arrival of Crossnore School Executive Director Dr. Phyllis Crain. “It’s time for a tribute,” said Baker, who, along with CCEA co-chair Jesse Smith, seeks to honor Dr. Crain for her invaluable contributions. Crain’s support has been integral to Crossnore’s rise from a community in need of new life to the now charming small town that harks back to the history of Crossnore School, founded in 1913 by physicians Eustace and Mary Martin Sloop. Local community leader and acknowledged Crossnore ambassador, Rachel Deal, niece of the Sloops, is especially blessed by her long friendship with Dr. Crain. The two indomitable forces have encouraged each other over the years, constantly working to improve Crossnore and Crossnore School. “It’s been a wonderful thing to be part of, (fulfilling) my Aunt Mary’s vision,” shared Deal, who praises and acknowledges Dr. Crain for the work she has done in town and at Crossnore School in the last decade.
Now, where there was once an empty modern building, the Sloop’s original hospital now stands, freed from the structure that had grown up around it, and restored to its former glory. Where the building demolition left a crater, there is now an amphitheater. The Crossnore School and Dr. Crain have been essential elements in beautifying and improving both the school itself and the entire town of Crossnore in the process.
Crossnore Community Enhancement Association members have decided that it is time to pay tribute to Crain for her leadership of the Crossnore School and her subsequent positive impact on the town of Crossnore.
Baker acknowledges that all the changes have not always been painless, but that Dr. Crain’s courageous leadership and dedication to “her children” at Crossnore School and its board members have been beneficial to the community. “Crossnore has created a name for itself that would not have been possible without the partnership with the school,” Baker said. Grants from Handmade in America, The N.C. Rural Center and other organizations have been awarded to the Town of Crossnore, but the enormous support which Dr. Crain has gathered for Crossnore School and for its students has truly benefited the town, both directly and indirectly.
Guests in town are often treated to the experience Baker calls “being Crossnored.” Visitors walk with Deal from the community Meeting House, to the Blair Fraley Sales Store, the Weaving Room and other Crossnore School sites, enjoying her veritable fountain of historical knowledge before winding up at the Sloop Chapel to admire the Ben Long IV fresco Suffer the Little Children and being treated to a chorus of “Amazing Grace” from Miss Rachel herself.
Through the combined efforts of the town and the school, those visitors get to see a place that both evokes the past and bodes well for the future of the town and the school. Deal stresses that without Crain and the Crossnore School’s partnership, the town would not be the place she is so proud to show off to visitors: “I will always treasure being a part of her history here.”