The Valle Crucis Episcopal Mission was founded in 1842 under the direction of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in North Carolina, Levi Silliman Ives. The mission thrived under Ives’s leadership until 1852, and under his successor William West Skiles until 1862, but later became inactive. In 1895 Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire reorganized the mission and, after 1903, the new Bishop of Western North Carolina, Junius M. Horner, furthered its development. Since the 1960s the Valle Crucis Mission has served as an Episcopal Conference Center.
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In 1840 a New York botanist searching for exotic plants stayed for a few days in present-day Watauga County, in a fertile valley at Valle Crucis. During his return trip to New York, the botanist met the Bishop Ives in Raleigh. The botanist reported to Ives, who was hoping to start a mission in western North Carolina, about the beauty of the mountain region. Traveling to the area in July 1842, Ives promised local residents to establish an Episcopal mission in the valley, naming it Valle Crucis, the Vale of the Cross. In December 1842, Valle Crucis Episcopal Mission officially was launched when Reverend Henry H. Prout arrived in Watauga County to serve as the new minister.
Ives contributed to the development of the area, and by 1844 had purchased 2,000 acres, constructed a saw mill, and begun construction on mission buildings. Of the original buildings, Ives’s log cabin is still standing, although it has been moved from its original location. Ives hired Skiles, an experienced farmer, to run the agricultural operations. Skiles became an active member of the mission, and was eventually ordained as a Deacon in 1847. The mission originally contained a classical school, but it was closed in 1847 when Bishop Ives instituted the Order of the Holy Cross. The Order was active for about five years.
Bishop Ives resigned from the Diocese of North Carolina in 1852 and joined the Roman Catholic Church. When he did so, he removed himself from involvement in the Valle Crucis Mission and sold his lands in the area. Skiles remained as head of the mission until his death in 1862, at which time the mission essentially closed up shop. Throughout the later nineteenth century, Valle Crucis was visited occasionally by Episcopal ministers, but was otherwise inactive.
In 1895, Bishop Cheshire went to Valle Crucis to revive the Mission. Receiving a small grant of land that formerly belonged to the mission, Cheshire rebuilt the mission. Around the same time, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina was officially divided, and the Reverend Junius M. Horner was made Bishop of the Asheville District. Horner was an ardent supporter of education, greatly influencing the course of the Valle Crucis Mission. Under his direction the mission repurchased 435 acres of its original lands, constructed a sawmill and hydroelectric plant, and began to provide education from first grade through high school. The mission expanded and thrived, increasing its size throughout the early 1900s.
The onset of World War II led the Mission to close its school, which served as a women’s boarding school from 1936 until it closed in 1941. It became a summer retreat for the Episcopal Church during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, the Valle Crucis Episcopal Conference Center opened, and still functions as such today.
David W. Yates, Valle Crucis (1997)
John Preston Arthur, A History of Watauga County, North Carolina (1915)
Ina W. and John J. Van Noppen, Western North Carolina since the Civil War (1973)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 256-257—sketch of Levi S. Ives by Michael T. Malone (1988)
Lawrence London and Sarah Lemmon, ed., The Episcopal Church in North Carolina, 1701-1959 (1987)
Genealogical Society of Watauga County, Watauga County Heritage (1984)