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Newton Banner ~ Sophronia Mast House ca. 1890
Georges Gap Road Cove Creek

Newton Banner Sophronia Mast House in Sugar Grove North Carolina NC
All photos and illustrations by Pat Johns ©2007 - present
All Rights Reserved
See links to article references at the end of the article.
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September, 2007

"My Grandfather lived to be 99 years old . . ," Grace Banner Vannoy (1926 - 2006) frequently told visitors. Grace Vannoy was a granddaughter of Newton Banner and Sophronia Mast and lived most of her life in her grandparents' (and then her parents') 1890 home and then in her own home just across the street. The homes are located in the Cove Creek section of Sugar Grove in western Watauga County.

Front Porch of the Banner Mast House in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County

Newton Banner ("Uncle Newt" or "Grandpa" to most who knew him) was born in 1842, the son of Martin Luther Banner and Mary Weaver Ogburn.

According to BannersElk.com (see link below) :

"In the year of 1840, Martin Luther Banner - a man of Welch descent - first saw the area now known as Banner Elk in the valley of Elk Creek in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He was just passing through on the way to Nashville when he was taken aback by the natural beauty of the North Carolina mountains, and decided right then and there he would return. He did return with his family around 1845, and about a year later they moved across Sugar Mountain Gap, cleared a small field and built a cabin about where Lees-McRae College now stands."
    ~ www.BannersElk.com (see link below)

The story is that Banner Elk, North Carolina was originally known as Banner's Elk because one of the Banner family members shot and killed the last elk seen in the area.

Grace Banner Vannoy in 2004 at the graves of
Newton and Sophronia Banner in Banner Elk:

Granddaughter Grace Banner Vannoy in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC

Newton Banner and one of his brothers walked to Kentucky to join the Confederate Army during the Civil War but Newton was not accepted because of his small size (under 100 lbs.). When he tried to join the Union army he was told that he could only if he could "whip" the largest man in the outfit, which he did.

After the war, he met up with his brother (who had fought for the Confederacy) and they began their journey home. Newton's brother was ill and died on the way home.

In Cove Creek Newton married Sophronia Mast ("Fronie" to Newton). They traveled to Oregon for several years and returned to Cove Creek and built the house on Georges Gap Road in 1890.

Banner Mast House in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC

The house was originally built as an "income property", today's term would be "Bed and Breakfast". Georges Gap Road was a major route to Tennessee and was used by many drummers (traveling salesmen) at that time. The house is right on the road and has two staircases inside. The one just inside the front door leads to two large rooms with fireplaces that were rented to drummers. The family used the staircase in the rear which led to their rooms upstairs. Newton was frequently away. At one point he was a mail carrier in the western North Carolina mountains.

Grace Vannoy shared many memories about her Grandfather. Her parents, Thomas Banner (born 1893) and Josie Baird Banner (born 1894), lived in the house with their 5 daughters and Sophronia (until her death in 1931) and Newton (until his death in December 1941.) Grace, like most others who describe him, referred to "Grandpa" as a "character".

DayLily at The Banner Mast House in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC
Back Staircase The Banner Mast House in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC
DayLilies at the Banner Mast house in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC

Because Newton Banner fought with the Union Army during the Civil War he had a small pension. This was a time when few people had much cash. Newton was known for being generous, especially with children.

He was also known for playing cards and checkers on his front porch and asking most anyone who passed the house to come up and play. This got him in trouble with local churches but he kept right on playing and taking his daily "medicinal" whiskey.

Because locals knew he had a pension, he was frequently asked for money. This prompted him to put a sign in his yard telling people to look elsewhere for their "security" and ended with the phrase he is known for today, "Life is just one damned thing after another."

The Banner Mast house in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC

Newton's most famous adventure occurred when he and one of his brothers attended a reunion for soldiers of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On their trip home they were invited to the White House where they demonstrated buck dancing for President Franklin Roosevelt.

However, Newton Banner was a lifelong Republican who frequently ridiculed members of the Democratic party and referred to one of his canes that broke while on a walk as a "Democratic cane" !

DayLilies at The Woods at the Banner Mast house in Sugar Grove North Carolina Watauga County NC

Newton and Sophronia Banner had 6 children :

  • Addie C. Banner
  • Susan A. Banner (born 1871)
  • Daniel B. Banner (born 1879)
  • Jacob N. Banner (born 1884 - 1887)
  • Arthur M. Banner (born 1887)
  • Thomas J. Banner (born 1893)

Thomas J. Banner and Josie Baird Banner had 5 daughters :

  • Ada Banner Crisp
  • Mary Banner Moody
  • Virginia Banner Miller
  • Grace Banner Vannoy (1926 - 2006)
  • Cholene Banner Aldrich (still alive (2007))

Howard and Grace Banner Vannoy have 3 daughters :

  • Anne Baird
  • Dr. Tommie Boyd
  • Mary Aldrich

Graves of Newton Banner and Sophronia Mast Banner in Banner Elk North Carolina Avery County

Newton and Sophronia Banner are buried on the campus of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina, near where Martin Luther Banner first settled.

Links to references in this article: