Pay it Forward

Heritage association discontinuing annual Folk Festival

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Theresa Ramsey

The Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) is dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture and folkways of our southern Appalachian Mountains. The founding members understood that with the increasing development and changing lifestyles in our county, our priceless heritage was in danger of being lost, simply by our indifference and neglect. In an effort to continue the work of a 2004 Heritage Steering Committee, comprised of concerned citizens that began meeting for the purpose of preserving our heritage, FHAMC was created and officially established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in January 2005.

Margaret Ramsey, one of FHAMC’s founders, believed: “In today’s world, we are constantly amazed by the new technologies that make our lives easier; however, we must never forget the hard work and ingenuity of our forefathers that made these advances possible.” 

The major goals of FHAMC at the time of its inception, which are still appropriate today, are to provide living history experiences as well as partner with like-minded groups to promote heritage through hands-on activities. Also, to: EDUCATE: Increase understanding of past generations/history of where we come from; DEMONSTRATE: Showcase everyday skills, crafts, and music of our ancestors; and, PRESERVE: Promote awareness of the need to preserve the folk heritage of Macon County.

DEMONSTRATIONS ARE a focus of the Folk Heritage Festival

FHAMC’s immediate goal was to develop a showcase for demonstrating the everyday skills, crafts, and music of our ancestors. With wide community support, the first festival was launched in 2004, (later it was renamed the Franklin Area Folk Festival, “A Celebration of Appalachian Heritage”) and it was held in downtown Franklin on the grounds around the Burrell Building (now Town Hall) and other town areas, i.e., Gazebo, Rankin Square, etc. From 2004 until 2012, the festival was organized and sponsored solely by FHAMC board of directors, along with community volunteers. By 2013, it had grown bigger than the volunteer board and other festival helpers could manage, so FHAMC sought a partnership to continue. 

In 2013 and 2014, FHAMC was fortunate to collaborate with the Franklin Main Street Program and the Town of Franklin to help co-sponsor this festival offering administrative and logistical help from Main Street Director Linda Schlott. In order to continue receiving grant funding, FHAMC incorporated paid vendors to help offset costs for the event. To align with their goals, the FHAMC board decided to set guidelines and only accept Appalachian focused/themed vendors. And today, those guidelines are still in effect. FHAMC has stayed true to the heritage preservation component in that the Franklin Area Folk Festival is known as a demonstration’s festival first and foremost.

FOLK HERITAGE festival booth.

In early 2015, Franklin Main Street Program was re-organized and not able to continue offering administrative assistance or Town of Franklin support as a festival partner. Typically, it takes the FHAMC board of directors and volunteers an entire year to plan the festival. In order to continue the quality and scope of the existing festival and redirect their efforts, FHAMC decided to take a year off in 2015 to determine the next steps. In the meantime, an opportunity to meet their goal of providing heritage demonstrations presented itself later that year and they collaborated with Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center, another nonprofit organization, to co-sponsor a Heritage Day at Cowee School. This joint endeavor proved successful, and Cowee’s board of directors agreed to partner with FHAMC to continue the full-scale Franklin Area Folk Festival, “A Celebration of Appalachian Heritage” at the school, which has continued from 2016 until 2023.

After much discussion, the FHAMC board of directors agreed that their efforts to remain more steadfastly focused on their goals to provide living history experiences and programs through hands-on demonstrations ultimately outweighed the demanding logistics and time involved in planning a large-scale event (i.e., a festival). Consequently, last year’s 17th Annual Franklin Area Folk Festival, “A Celebration of Appalachian Heritage,” held on August 19, 2023, was the last one organized by co-sponsors FHAMC and Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center.

MEMBERS OF the Folk Heritage Association board have overseen the implementation of providing living history experiences with the ultimate goal of preserving the folk heritage of Macon County. Pictured above from left with with a model of “Sowing Seeds of the Future” is Anne Hyder, Marty Greeble, Mary Polanski and Theresa Ramsey.

FHAMC will continue collaborating with like-minded groups, like Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center, for heritage events such as 4th Grade Heritage Day in November and Cowee Christmas in December. As we look to the future, a committee has been formed to determine new heritage activities to consider implementing, i.e., North Carolina state concepts like the flower, dog, tree, as well as other areas important to our region like gem mining, quilting, oral traditions, etc. FHAMC plans to host/co-host these “mini” events throughout the year to focus on specific themes centered around heritage demonstrations and music (especially education elements), continue our sponsorship and involvement with the Women’s History Trail projects, and connect with other similar organizations’ events to provide living history experiences and hands-on activities to promote our heritage. By providing opportunities to demonstrate traditional skills from our past, it will help keep our heritage alive, especially if we pass these skills onto our children.

As FHAMC embraces opportunities to use efforts for heritage preservation activities, this nonprofit is also involved in heritage education. In 2016, they adopted the Women’s History Trail (WHT) “Walk in Her Steps” project, a designated path in downtown Franklin identified by bronze plaques that share stories about women who helped shape Macon County’s history. Also, in late 2018, WHT commissioned nationally renowned figurative sculptor Wesley Wofford to begin work on creating a 7-foot-high, 1,500-pound bronze sculpture grouping of three women and two children whose lives and cultures intersected in the early days of Macon County. This monumental bronze sculpture, “Sowing the Seeds of the Future” symbolizes each group of women and their cultural contributions. 

Visit for more information and to learn how to support and get involved with FHAMC. 

See more about the background of the “Sowing the Seeds of the Future” sculpture, the naming of the sculpture park, and this month’s unveiling of the sculpture in the park by reading additional articles in this edition of Macon Sense.