HomeLand Use in Western North Carolina Lesson Plans from the Southern Appalachian ArchivesWNC people in their environment: the McClure Photo Collection and the Dillingham letters

WNC people in their environment: the McClure Photo Collection and the Dillingham letters

This activity allows students to explore archival photos and letters describing what life might be like for many WNC farmers and families in the Mars Hill area. Students will examine the archival materials and then write their own letter from one of subjects in a photo they choose. This activity encourages imagination, observation and synthesis of other course content.

Out of class assignment (with 20 minute in-class prep) or a full 50 minute class period

During this activity, students will view MHU Southern Appalachian Archive’s McClure Photo Collection (found in attached presentation slides). This collection of photos were intended for the WNC Farmers Federation News in the 1900s, depicting the life of many families and farmers in the Mars Hill and surrounding areas. After studying the photos carefully and reading the photocopied letters, taking in the details, students will be asked to pick one or two photos and write their own letter from the point of view of the subject(s) in the photo. These general questions are meant to saprk ideas, by no means are these questions require strict answers:

From 1916 to 1920, Jim McClure, created The Hickory Nut Gap Farm and initiated the visionary Farmers Federation, which is a cooperative organization to bring better agriculture to Western North Carolina. The cooperative ended in 1963, but still impacts Farmers today. Jim and his wife, Elizabeth McClure fell in love with the Hickory Nut Gap area near Buncombe and Henderson County and made the Sherrill’s Inn and farm their home.The land of Hickory Nut Gap Farm is now jointly owned by six of McClure’s grandchildren and the extended families of their own. The photos in this activity are ones that were intended for the Farmers Federation newspaper. The letters are either addressed to or from A. C. Dillingham of the Barnardsville area. The modern-day community of Dillingham is accessed from the Barnardsville exit, a few miles east of Mars Hill. While the photos depict the emotions and expressions of people in this area, the letters give words to the experiences of mountain people. When paired, students can get glimpse into the life of Madison County residents over a hundred years ago.


  1. Print photocopies of letters to be read during class as a brief example of WNC life and an idea of what student’s letters could discuss (possibly be read aloud by students). See R: drive for letters.
  2. Access McClure photos powerpoint and send to students.
  3. An optional handout is included with assignment instructions


A Letter from the Past:

Read the four sample letters from the A.C. Dillingham collection that your instructor provided. As you learned in class, A.C. Dillingham was a farmer and mill owner from the Barnardsville area. These letters were written to or from A.C. in the late 1800’s.

Now look at the collection of photos from the McClure Collection (the powerpoint of 38 photos is posted below). Choose one photo and examine it carefully. Now, write a one-page (hand-written) letter from the perspective of a person in the photo you chose.  

The following questions might help you get started, but don’t feel limited by them.

Lesson Materials: