By Jan Lawrence
Born in Connecticut but raised in Minnesota, Dr. Lucy Hale Holmes was a Presbyterian missionary physician. She and her husband, George Washington Holmes, served as missionary physicians to Persia (now Iran) in the 1880s and 1890s.
Widowed in 1910, she first was associated with Maryville College (Maryville, TN) where she worked with a family of mountain people. She loved Appalachia and its people. She applied to work at the Dorland Bell School for Girls in Madison County but was told by the Presbyterian Mission Board she was too old.
She leased rooms in several boarding houses in Asheville before renting a room in the John Buckner house on Blackberry Inn Road in the Beech Community of north Buncombe County. She fell in love with the area and bought an acre of land in 1917 from Professor F. A. Penland.
In 1918 she contracted with Merchant Construction of Asheville to build a house on the property at 24 Sugar Cove Road. Over four thousand square feet, she referred to the house as “the cottage.” Her main requirement of the contractor was that they utilize as many men from the community as possible in the construction.
She and her companion, Miss Mina Batchelder, lived in the house for several years. They suffered many difficulties, not the least of which was transportation from the home to Asheville for supplies, a difficult task on the dirt road that was not paved until 1962.
She continued to serve the needs of the people of the community and they sold her butter, cream, eggs and other farm products. She was a mainstay of the Beech Presbyterian Church, paying the pastor’s salary for a number of years. She taught the women many things such as Bible knowledge, the Great Books, Art Appreciation and History as well as handcrafts and parlor games. A stage was built in her house for church plays. She referred to the living room as “The Community Room.”
About 1932 Miss Batchelder returned to her home in Philadelphia because of complications from a broken leg. Dr. Holmes asked a local nurse, Mary Cannon Whitton, to become her companion and minister to the medical needs of the community. In 1933 Mrs. Whitton moved into the house with her children who were high schoolers and older.
Mrs. Whitton and her daughter Pearl Nolan were responsible for Dr. Holmes’ care as well as the house. In 1939 Dr. Holmes sold the house (part and parcel, which meant everything in it) to Mrs. Whitton and her daughter Pearl Nolan with the proviso that she be cared for the remainder of her life in the house. She lived ten additional years, living three longer than Mrs. Whitton.
Dr. Holmes practiced medicine in the Beech Community for almost 25 years. When the school was established in 1924, Dr. Holmes provided care for its students. She and Mrs. Whitton brought physicians and dentists to the community for wellness checks and care. Mrs. Holmes tended to the first aid needs of the students and even delivered one baby.
Pearl Nolan worked as a secretary/receptionist for both Dr. C. N. Sprinkle and Dr. Lawrence Sprinkle, his son, for many years.
Mrs. Whitton was the great-granddaughter of town founder M. Montraville Weaver. Her great-granddaughter Dr. Mary Ann Curl is an internist and geriatrician and her granddaughter Jan Lawrence works with The Dry Ridge Historical Museum and is the current owner of the house on Sugar Cove Road.
Editor’s note: Lawrence is the chairperson of the Dry Ridge Museum.