In 1889, William West Skiles described a North Carolina location “entirely shut in by forest-clad mountains.” The area “was watered by three small, limpid streams, two of them leaping down the hillsides in foaming cascades,” Skiles wrote in Missionary Life at Valle Crucis.
“It was this secluded valley which, from the cross-like form of the three streams at their junction,” Skiles continued, “was now to receive the name of Valle Crucis.” The Latin name means ‘Vale of the Cross.’
The limpid streams of Skiles’ time didn’t stay that way. A devastating flood struck in August, 1940, drowning people in the raging Dutch Creek, and leaving severe property damage in both valleys.
In the days following the flood, residents congregated at one of the town’s two general stores, and Mr. Mast, or Mr. Farthing down the street, would “check them off” as survivors. One of the last to appear was a woman called “Cethy,” who had walked from her home on Dutch Creek beyond the falls. Mr. Mast was relieved to see her and asked, “Cethy, did you lose much in the flood?” Her answer came out in a hesitant, soft voice, “No – o – o, not much. Jis my cow, part o’ my house, and my husband. Not much.”
By 1940 both Mast General Store and the Farthing Store were already institutions. Henry Taylor had built the first (though it wasn’t yet named that) in 1882 and opened it in 1883. The Taylors meantime added rooms to their home over the years to accommodate travelers and guests. Renting rooms to traveling salesmen, the Taylor’s would charge $.25 per overnight stay.
The home was at one time listed as a hotel in a state business directory, as the popularity of the hidden mountain retreat soared. With business booming down the hill at his general store in 1897, Taylor sold half interest of the company to one of his employees, William Wellington Mast. The store was known as the Taylor and Mast General Store until 1913, when W.W. purchased the entire business, and it became simply Mast General Store.
For the next 60 years, the Mast family carried cloth, flour, sugar, coffee, boots, overalls, seed, cookware, plows, cradles, and even caskets at their general store. Credit was extended to those who needed it and payments were often taken in trade. The Mast Store not only offered merchandise but also served as a community-gathering place. A trip to the store almost always included sitting a spell around the pot-bellied stove to share local news and gossip. When someone in the community was sick or needy, the word spread quickly and neighbors rushed to help each other.
Just two-tenths of a mile away from the Mast General Store, R.L. Lowe of Banner Elk in 1909 erected the Valle Crucis Supply Co. The store sold dried goods, clothing, hardware, furs, grains, and roots and herbs. Tokens were exchanged when customers bartered for goods.
The following year, Charles D. “Squire” Taylor and his son-in-law Dr. Henry B. Perry purchased it and named it Valle Crucis Company. Squire Taylor was the son of the same Henry Taylor mentioned earlier, who operated the Taylor and Moore General Store and built the Mast General Store. Squire sold the first of two houses he built to Ben Farthing in 1920.
In 1914, Ben’s brother R. Aubyn Farthing became manager of the Valle Crucis Company and eventually the owner. In the 1920s, Ben bought a share of the store and co-operated it (Ben also taught school and worked at the Valle Crucis bank.)
Aubyn Farthing, nicknamed “Mr. Valle Crucis,” became the town’s postmaster in 1928 and remained so until 1963. Illustrating the partisan politics of the day, the Valle Crucis Company, operated by the Republican Farthings, reputedly served as the Valle Crucis post office because the Republicans were in office. The Mast General Store took over as the Valle Crucis post office when the Democrats came into power.
In the 1930′s, Farthing began curing hams and selling them to summer tourists. He shipped them internationally. The Farthing/Mast connection continued into the next generation: Aubyn Farthing’s daughter, Mary Hazel, married H.W. Mast, son of Mast General Store owner W.W. Mast.
Ben and Aubyn dissolved their partnership in 1938. In 1948, Aubyn bought out Dr. Perry. The store remained in the Farthing family until 1958.
The Farthing/Mast families had been interwoven for years, and ultimately the two businesses became one. In 1982, John and Faye Cooper, owners of the Mast Store, re-opened the old Farthing building just down the road and converted it to the Mast Store Annex.