Our Common Thread

Local Artists Collaborate for Shared Goal

When a guild of fiber artists intent on preserving the history of textiles, collaborates with a community of writers intent on making Sparta the hub for writing education and cultural arts, the result is “Our Common Thread,” a community project that brings awareness to the heritage of textiles and the family histories and personal memories they hold.

Handmade Fiber Dolls

Handmade Fiber Dolls

The idea of “Our Common Thread” developed from conversations between Alleghany Writers, the Blue Ridge Fiber Fest, and members of the Mountain Homespun Fiber Guild.

“The mission of the Blue Ridge Fiber Fest is to preserve the history of textiles and promote the teaching of the next generation of fiber artists,” said Deb Clemens, Vendor Manager, Blue Ridge Fiber Fest. “One way to work toward our mission is to collaborate with other agencies and groups to bring awareness of the fiber arts to a group larger than just those who share our passion. One of these groups is Alleghany Writers.


Clemens is an AW board member and part of the committee working to produce a collection of short stories that examine the role of textiles in our heritage and personal history. Our Common Thread Volume 1, is scheduled to be released in time for the 2020 Blue Ridge Fiber Fest. Alleghany Writers is taking story submissions. For submission guidelines and deadlines, go to AlleghanyWriters.com.

The next “Our Common Thread” event will be held at the Alleghany Library on Thursday, October 17.

The event includes:

4:30pm – Demonstrations from local fiber artists. 

5:30pm – Potluck supper. Bring a side dish to share. Drinks and paper products provided.

The public is invited to attend and bring an item to display in our textile gallery, along with any photos, clippings or other history.

“We’ve expanded the afternoon to include fiber demonstrations and a potluck supper,” said Ginger Collins of Alleghany Writers. “The Fiber Guild demonstrations will let attendees experience the creative process. And everyone enjoys a community meal!”

After supper Julia Simmons and Cindy Atwood will lead the conversation as  attendees share their items and tell their stories. There will be a sign-up sheet at the door. Stories are limited to three minutes so all who wish to share will get a chance to participate.

 “Our Common Thread” is a collaboration between Alleghany Writers, the Mountain Homespun Fiber Guild, and the Blue Ridge Fiber Fest, 

Serving the residents of Alleghany County, and visitors too!

In her novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, author Kim Michele Richardson shows the positive effect the Pack Horse library service has in a small mountain community in eastern Kentucky.

Cussy Mary Carter is the Pack Horse Librarian for Troublesome Creek. She has a knack for finding the books her patrons request, and a keen intuition that anticipates their needs.


In Sparta you can find that same kind of helpful service and dedication at Books ‘N Friends Book Store on Main Street. When Joyce Speas, Director of Books ‘N Friends, talks about the store’s regular customers you hear about staff members going out of their way to watch for and put aside customer favorites. “We have a few customers who read certain types of books or certain authors,” says Speas. “When those books come through, our staff sets them aside.” 

What is better than a comfortable chair in a quiet corner surrounded by books?

What is better than a comfortable chair in a quiet corner surrounded by books?

The staff is a combination of Book Women & Book Men, volunteers from the non-profit Friends of the Alleghany Library. They regularly field questions about the store’s inventory and receive compliments for their knowledge of the stock and the organization of books and materials. 

Speas shared the story of a family who come from Florida each year to spend a month in the mountains. They told her that every time they come up, Books ‘N Friends is one of their first stops. “They stop by the store and buy a stack books for the month. Every member of the family picks out books and they and spend their mountain time reading.”

  Books ‘N Friends is popular for its monthly book sale on the first Saturday of each month, and you can buy gift certificates to use all at once or over time. We may not have a Pack Horse Librarian in Sparta, when it comes to serving the county residents and visitors, Books ‘N Friends sure comes close!

Find them on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/spartabooks/

Come to the Alleghany Library on September 26, when Kim Michele Richardson brings The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek to Sparta. Reception at 5:30pm, program with slide show at 6pm. Hear about the Pack Horse Librarians of the 1930’s and the Blue People of Kentucky, the inspirations for her new novel. For more information: Alleghany Library, 336-372-5573, or AlleghanyWriters.com.

Submitted by: Ginger Collins, Alleghany Writers

Alleghany Junior Appalachian Musicians Begin Their Fall Sememster!

Alleghany JAM Summer Camp students - What a great group of musicians!

Alleghany JAM Summer Camp students - What a great group of musicians!

Fall is coming and so is another inspiring semester of music classes for kids at Alleghany JAM! The non-profit program teaches fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, singing or dance to grades 3-8 Monday and Thursdays afterschool and this year there will be a monthly Teen Gathering (music, games & more) at Alleghany JAM once a month!

”We have six accomplished and enthusiastic teachers at AJAM including: Emily Spencer, Caroline Beverley, Harrol Blevins, Carl Jones, Jesse Maw and Gracie Barker, “ says AJAM Director Erynn Marshall. “Jesse Maw just moved to North Carolina from the Midwest. Besides being a wonderful fiddler, Jesse is studying violin making from Joe Thrift in Mount Airy. Carl Jones from Galax, Virginia has been a popular substitute teacher at AJAM but this semester will be a regular teacher.”

Registration is now open for the Alleghany JAM fall classes. Students receive 24 two hour classes for only $130 or $70 for those requesting financial assistance. Loaner instruments are available at no additional cost. Students of all levels and abilities may join.

Class sizes are limited so sign up soon to save a spot. The semester fee may be divided into monthly payments but the first month payment is due upon registration. Register online at www.alleghanyjam.com. For more info please contact Erynn Marshall at alleghanyjaminfo@gmail.com or call (336) 572-5266.

Upcoming events:

All adult music classes $80. Register at www.alleghanyjam.com

Adult Fiddle Class: all levels with Lucas Pasley. Tuesdays: Aug. 20 – Oct. 8. 5-6 pm.
Adult Banjo Class: all levels with Lucas Pasley. Tuesdays: Aug. 20 – Oct. 8. 6-7pm.
Adult Guitar Classes: beginner with Jesse Maw or intermediate/advanced with Carl Jones. Mondays: Sept. 16, 23, 30, Oct. 7, 14, 28, Nov. 4, 18. 6-7pm.

Alleghany JAM Golf Tournament Fundraiser. Sept. 30. Registration 10am, Lunch 11am, Tee off 12pm.

Sunday Afternoon Coffeehouses

Enjoy a Sunday afternoon with music and gourmet treats at the Alleghan JAM House at 360 N. Main Street in Sparta

Oct. 20, 2-4pm: Alleghany Jam Coffeehouse/Open Mic – Free.
Nov. 17, 2-4pm: Alleghany Jam Coffeehouse/Open Mic – Free.
Dec. 8, 2-4pm: Alleghany Jam Coffeehouse/Open Mic – Free.


Sparta Loves Mysteries!

Alleghany readers have a wide range of interests when it comes to books, but there is definitely a love of mysteries. They like legal thrillers from Lisa Scottoline and others, and police procedurals from authors like Patricia Cornwell. But private eyes and detectives rate highest.

“Some of our most popular mysteries are the private eye or detective type of mysteries” said Debbie Brewer, head librarian of the Alleghany Library.

That would fit the description of novels like the classic Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes books, but Sparta readers are also fond of the more contemporary authors like James Patterson, with his popular Alex Cross series, and stories with lead characters like Catherine Coulter’s Covert Eyes FBI team, or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, the New Jersey bounty hunter with attitude.  “And David Baldacci,” added Brewer. “He has always been popular.”

Sparta will meet another mystery novelist September 7, when Winston-Salem author, Victoria Gilbert, brings Past Due for Murder to the Horizon Bistro for the last Writers on Main of the 2019 season.

In Gilbert’s latest novel, third in her Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series, history once again plays a role in the story, including a piece transplanted from the mountain lights folklore of North Carolina. Librarian Amy Webber becomes suspicious when a student goes missing from a May Day bonfire. When the student is found later, confused and disoriented, next to a dead body, Amy takes up the search for the killer.

It’s a cozy mystery with more action. There is a plot that keeps the story moving and a cast of characters with relationships and drama that feels realistic and well-rounded. Goodreads says, “Amy has been a relatable character since the first book and has only grown more so with each installment.”

Writers on Main is a series of free book talks brought to the community by Alleghany Writers, a non-profit creative writing group located in Alleghany County.

The program begins on the Bistro stage on Saturday afternoon, September 7, at 3pm. It is open to the public. Books in the series will be available and Ms. Gilbert will meet with readers and sign books after the book talk and discussion.


Determination Wins Prize for Visiting Student

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This is the face of determination. This is Jayden Brock, nephew of local realtor and Main Street merchant, Heather Purnell. Jayden is visiting from Florida over the summer. He came upon the Puzzle Spot inside A Touch of Grace at the August Music on Main and decided to try one out.

Families teamed up to solve puzzles, individuals worked while their friends gave pointers, and small children found joy in seeing the pieces come together to make a bigger picture.

Families teamed up to solve puzzles, individuals worked while their friends gave pointers, and small children found joy in seeing the pieces come together to make a bigger picture.

When Jayden heard the holder of the record had offered a cash prize challenge of $20.00 to the person who could beat the best time on the True Places puzzle, he decided to give it a try. There are five different puzzles, each with a photo of a book cover from an author who has visited Sparta over the past year. NAPCO, a specialty packaging company based in Sparta, created the puzzles and donated them for use at the summer’s Music on Main events. The Puzzle Spot is manned by members of the Alleghany Writers non-profit.

Jayden timed out at twelve minutes on his first try at the puzzle.  The record to beat was under five minutes. He tried again and got down to ten minutes. As the crowd grew, Jayden backed away to give others a chance at the prize. That’s how the night went. All puzzles were busy through the evening and a few players even wanted to establish a “time to beat” on a certain puzzle, hoping the time would hold and they would be in line for a cash prize challenge.

Jayden returned later in the evening. He gave the puzzle four more tries, whittling his best time from twelve minutes to just nine seconds over the five-minute winning time. He gave me a contact number and I promised to email Sonja Yoerg, the best time record holder, to tell of Jayden’s tenacious efforts to break her record.

Sonja Yoerg sets her best time record at the July 6th Writers on Main.

Sonja Yoerg sets her best time record at the July 6th Writers on Main.

Sonja is the author of the novel, True Places, and a big puzzle fan. She established the “under five minute” record on her book cover puzzle when she visited Sparta in July.

When I emailed Sonja and told her about Jayden and his fierce determination to beat her time, she instructed me to award half of the prize money to Jayden. His determination deserved a reward.

On Saturday afternoon Jayden showed up for the Writers on Main book talk. He got the news about Sonja’s instructions and was excited to receive the $10 prize money. He said it made his summer visit to Sparta really something to remember!

Jaden Brock with Ginger Collins, president, Alleghany Writers.

Jaden Brock with Ginger Collins, president, Alleghany Writers.

Alleghany JAM presents a summer, music camp for kids and teens July 17-19th.

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Summer is in full-swing and Alleghany JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) is too -getting ready for the Alleghany JAM Camp July 17-19th for youth (ages 8 and up including teenagers). It’s a great opportunity for young people to try an instrument for the first time (and JAM supplies any instruments needed for free) or for experienced players to join a stringband with other young musicians, have fun and bring their music to the next level. “JAM Camp is one of the ways we keep the kids playing music and inspired over the summer,” says Program Director, Erynn Marshall. “When I was a kid you could tell a big difference in ability between the kids who played music over the summer and the ones who put their instruments away until fall when school started again. “ Alleghany JAM is always making it possible for children to have many chances to learn, play traditional music and meet other children who play music as well. Some become life-long friends, play in bands or make music for their own enjoyment, their families or the community.

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Alleghany Jam Camp consists of three days of music classes, jams, and fun games for kids Wednesday – Friday, 11am-4:30pm on July 17-19th. Daytime activities all happen at the beautiful Alleghany JAM House (formerly the Senator’s House) at 360 N. Main St in Sparta, NC. The camp winds up with the kids heading down to the Alleghany Fiddlers Convention at the Fairgrounds at 4:30pm Friday to play a few tunes to kick off the opening ceremonies. Three great teachers are teaching the kids and teens this year at camp: Lucas Pasley from Sparta, Caroline Beverley from Elkin, and for the first time dancer/banjo player Julie Shepherd-Powell from Boone, NC. Classes being taught for beginners or experienced players include: fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, singing, stringband, and flatfoot dance. Alleghany JAM has kept fees much lower than other camps: only $75 per child or $50 for those requesting financial assistance or with more than one family member attending. All lunches are included. Students can register online at www.alleghanyjam.com or call (276) 237-6866 get info or registration. Those interested should contact Alleghany JAM very soon so we can order free lunches for your child or grand-child and plan what classes they will participate in. It will be fun for all kids and teens and help ensure the traditional music of our region will continue for generations to come!

Laurel Springs VFD Auxiliary-Come support us at the Fiddlers Convention!

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Do you love good food and supporting a great cause? If the answer to the question is yes, then you don’t want to miss this year’s 25th Annual Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention on July 19-20th! The Laurel Springs VFD Auxiliary will staff the concessions stand at this year’s event.

The Laurel Springs VFD Auxiliary holds fundraisers to supply their firefighters with equipment. For example, they provide dress uniforms, polos, and t-shirts for the firefighters. Currently, they are raising funds to help provide new chairs for a meeting room at the fire department and for an electronic sign to go outside of the Fire Department to keep the Community informed of upcoming events. The VFD Auxiliary members play a vital role in the fire department, and just like the firefighters, the VFD Auxiliary are all volunteers.

Want to help? When attending the Fiddlers Convention this year, be sure to visit the concessions and choose a BBQ chicken plate, a burger, hotdog, a grilled chicken sandwich, or chili cheese fries. In addition to great food, you are helping this volunteer group serve our community.

Meet Our Special Guests Who will Make an Appearance at the Blue Ridge Fiber Fest!

The Blue Ridge Fiber Festival will be on June 7th and 8th here in Alleghany County, 1375 US HWY 21 North, and we wanted to give you an introduction to some of the special guests that will be in attendance!



First, we would like to introduce Weston. Weston is an English Angora rabbit. There are four recognized breeds of angora rabbit:  English, French, Giant and Satin.  Each has a distinct quality to their wool, and each breed may be represented in the barn at the Fiber Fest!



This leads us to our next guest, Vanessa. Vanessa is also an Angora rabbit but is a little different than Weston. Vanessa is a French Angora rabbit. 

Slap Shot

Slap Shot

Meet Slap Shot! Slap Shot is an Angora Goat and produces a fiber called mohair. The average Angora Goat in the U.S. shears approximately 5.3 pounds of mohair per shearing and are usually sheared twice a year. They produce a fiber with a staple length of between 12 and 15cm. However, Slap Shot is a little more special than just any Angora Goat, he was born on the first day of the Stanley Cup finals!

Be sure to make plans to attend the Blue Ridge Fiber Festival, June 7th & 8th, where you can meet these lovely animals and learn more about them! The animals will be on display surrounded by their shepherds who can speak for them and educate a curious public about each one’s unique fiber characteristics. The festival will provide services for farmers as well.  From shearing to product photography to the enhancement of their farmer’s business and the growth of the family farm.

Mark Handy

Dr. Mark Handy is not a typical physician. For starters…he plays the banjo.

Dr. Handy is known throughout the region of Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina as an accomplished musician, a fine flat-footer, and he was even in a music video with Zach Galifianakis.

It’s enough to make you forget that he is also a beloved physician, a decorated medical school educator, and a tireless volunteer for emergency services.

In 2019, Dr. Handy was honored by being named the 2019 Volunteer Clinical Faculty Awardee by UVA’s Alpha Omega Alpha. It is given annually to a volunteer clinical faculty member for excellence in clinical mentorship. 

The nomination for Dr. Handy might just be the best description of this unconventional doctor that can be assembled: 

“Dr. Handy embodies the commitment to education, compassion and service that Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) society strives for its members to embody. I spent one month working with Dr. Handy during my family medicine rotation caring for the under-served patients of Abingdon in rural Southwest Virginia. Despite a busy practice where we saw 30+ patients everyday in addition to numerous house visits, Dr. Handy provided me the platform to develop my critical thinking skills by giving me  the independence to create plans for patients. At end of every shift, he would assess gaps in my knowledge with the simple statement “tell me about x,” and would spend the next hour filling in the gaps. Furthermore, in a primary care climate where every clinic visit is scheduled to be ten minutes long; he emphasized the importance of compassion by giving me the flexibility in the amount of time I spent with patients listening to fascinating stories about their lives and their lost loved ones. Dr. Handy also ensured that patients treated me with respect. I distinctly remember an occasion when he was quick to provide education to a patient who made a racially insensitive comment in reference to me. Unsurprisingly, the utmost respect in which I hold Dr. Handy is shared by all students that I have encountered who have worked with him. As such, I strongly believe he is a deserving candidate of the AOA Volunteer faculty award.”

Dr. Handy is also a 2014 winner of the Carl and Ruth Looney Humanitarian Award granted by the Emory & Henry Alumni Association.

Mark finished at Emory & Henry with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, and graduated from East Carolina School of Medicine and the ETSU Family Residency Program. He is a family medicine practitioner in Abingdon, Virginia. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, the ISHN Board of Quality Assurance, is Medical Director of Hometown Hospice, and is Medical Director for Intrepid Home Health. He received the Board of Governors for East Carolina University School of Medicine. He is President and CEO of Abingdon Medical Arts, President and CEO of Triple H Farms of Alleghany, President and CEO of William M. Handy, MD, PC, and Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Virginia.  He is a past winner of the Teacher of the Year Award at UVA, the Resident Teacher Award, and was named Medical Director of the Year for Emergency Medical Services.  He is an accomplished banjo player and champion clogger, and is a member of Mountain Park Old Time Band and Tune Town Band, which won Vocal Group of the Year at Blue Ridge Acoustic Uprising in 2014.

Something for Everyone...That's My Alleghany County! By: Peggy Cooper

No matter what your lifestyle, Alleghany County has something to offer. You can have a farm or pasture land with grand mountain views, a peaceful, secluded riverfront retreat, a house in Sparta, where vintage small town living and accessibility puts you within walking distance to shopping, recreation, and dining. Or, you can choose the country club lifestyle, with all the amenities it includes, like golf, swimming, tennis, and a full calendar of social activities. This is the lifestyle I have chosen in High Meadows, a golf and country club community in Roaring Gap, just south of Sparta.

From my home base in High Meadows, I can hike the local trails of Grandfather Mountain, travel the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, stop by an artist studio to watch the creative process, or take a kayak trip down the New River, then come home to High Meadows, hop on my golf cart, visit my friends, and meet a group for dinner at the clubhouse where there is gourmet dining and personal attention from the management and staff.

This makes my location a perfect setting for visiting family and friends, especially in the summer when the low humidity and mild temperatures draw the city dwellers up the mountain! My grandchildren love our community pool, but are just as excited to ride the gold cart in search of wildlife, and their favorite, the albino deer.

Our George Cobb designed golf course is in pristine condition and you can find a partner whether you’re a scratch golfer or just love the sunshine, exercise, and camaraderie of fellow players. Our Club calendar includes road trips, wine dinners, and other social activities, but it’s just as much fun to drive ten minutes into Sparta where the charm of small town life is ever present. With a full calendar of music events, monthly I can stop for a meal in one of the many restaurants or just walk Main Street and enjoy an ice cream cone, a great cup of coffee, and enough shopping to make those trips “down the mountain” few and far between.

Although my Roaring Gap location is in a secluded mountain setting, I can leave my home in High Meadows, turn left for Sparta, or turn right and be on Interstate 77 in 20 minutes, in Winston-Salem within the hour, and reach Charlotte in 90 minutes. This is what makes Alleghany County the best of both worlds for me.

Written By: Peggy Cooper, Realtor & Resident of High Meadows Golf & Country Club