The Home Place, A tribute to the Wingate Family
The young reporter sent from the New York Times to cover the influx of Scotch-Irish settlers seemed perplexed at those people who looked strange, talked funny, and otherwise showed no semblance of manners or personality. Her mission was to characterize the people who were fast occupying land in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1800s, specifically, in a place called Catawba Valley, Virginia. The flustered reporter headed home without anything positive to say. She would tell her supervisor upon returning to the big city of New York, “there is no story there because they have no culture.” The NY Times would run a story portraying these immigrants as hillbillies, uneducated, shabbily dressed getting drunk on homemade spirits on Saturday night but going to church on Sunday. This description would label folks in Catawba and elsewhere in the Appalachians to this day.
I suppose when I was growing up in Catawba, folks in Salem, Roanoke, and any urban population were asking the question: “What is on the other side of the mountain?” Sadly, not that many people crossed over to find the answer. Those of us in Catawba were asking the same question from our mountain homes about the way of life in urban areas. I felt many years later that the impression of Catawba Valley as non-cultured people would go on forever.
The impression of Catawba was reversed in 1982 when The Homeplace Restaurant opened. It was in 1907 that Captain W. W. Brand sold the property to Jerry Morgan and his wife Mary. They built a home on the farm that was already steeped in history. The new home they built was called the Summit, and it would eventually become The Homeplace Restaurant seventy-five years later. The Homeplace was an icon for 38 years until it closed in May of 2021.
I had a close relationship with the Morgans, living nearby and working on the farm many times over a period of eleven years. I wrote about the farm and what it was before it became The Homeplace in a book called Echoes From Catawba Volume 1 released in 2019. However, this article is not about my book. It is a Tribute to the Harold Wingate Family.
The late Harold Wingate, his wife Millie, and his family took a leap of faith in making this restaurant possible in Catawba. There were some folks who thought this venture would not be a good one. Harold Wingate had few if any bad ideas. Featuring real country cooking by real country cooks would turn out to be a huge success. People came from near and far not only to eat but to experience that breathtaking view as they crested the mountain. And even more, as they stood outside of the Homeplace with a view of Catawba Creek and pasture fields carpeting the Valley floor. Once inside everyone experienced local servers bringing them delicious food and Catawba hospitality. The only thing missing was a NY Times reporter.
It is my opinion as a proud native that the Catawba Sanatorium put our Valley on the map, but the Harold Wingate Family made Catawba a Destination. Thank you, Wingate Family for introducing an amazing number of people to “The Other Side of the Mountain!”