James Whitcomb Riley, Fletcher
A series of markers comprised the “Open-Air Westminster Abbey of the South.” Each monument consisted of a large granite mountain boulder and a bronze plaque. The plaque was engraved with the name, date of birth and a statement about the person’s significance to southern culture or in some cases their relationship to Calvary Episcopal Church. All of these stones were of about the same height but of different shapes. It was this that gave the Abbey its unique appearance. The boulders were erected in rows – a “Poets’ Corner,” a “Musicians’ Corner,” a “Statemen’s Corner,” an “Artists’ Corner,” a “Benefactors’ Corner,” and a “Short-Story Writers’ “Paragraph’.”
The memorials that formed the “Open Air Westminster of the South” were removed in October 2020. In August of 2022, the stones which had previously held memorial plaques to specific individuals were arranged around the perimeter of the existing labyrinth at Calvary. (See "Controversies" below.) A series of videos with journalists, historians and clergy produced during the church's period of discernment over the fate of the memorials is available at "Blessed with Memory — Calvary Episcopal Church."
Images: Plaque | Rear view | View of the memorials at "Westminster Abbey of the South" before they were removed in October 2020 | View of the lawn where granite boulders stood | Labyrinth at Calvary Episcopal Church | Granite boulders forming the Labyrinth | Granite boulders without bronze plaques.
IN LOVING MEMORY / JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY / “THE HOOSIER POET”
BORN IN GREENFIELD, INDIANA, OCTOBER 7, 1853 / DIED IN INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA, JULY 22, 1916 / A FRIEND OF “BILL NYE” / A VISITOR AT “BUCK SHOALS” ON THE / FRENCH BROAD RIVER / NEAR THIS CHURCH
ERECTED BY DOCTOR JOE SHELBY RILEY / COUSIN OF THE POET / SUMMER OF 1927
Calvary Episcopal Church
July 17, 1927
35.442600 , -82.503600 View in Geobrowse
"Westminster Abbey of South," Spartanburg Herald Journal (Spartanburg, SC) September 24, 1939, Link
Calvary Episcopal Church. "Reconsidering 'The Outdoor Abbey of the South'," in Monuments at Clavary, www.calvaryfletcher.org, (accessed February 24, 2023) Link
Ellisont, Jon. "Confederates at Calvary," Mountain Express (Asheville, NC), September 16, 2019, mountainx.com, (accessed February 24, 2023) Link
Hicklin, J.B. “Elaborate Abbey to Immortalize South’s Leaders,” Forest City Courier (Forest City, NC), September 24, 1931, (accessed May 27, 2016) Link
Jenkins, Mark. “Historical Sketch of Calvary Episcopal Church,” (Calvary Parish, Fletcher, 1959) Link
“Bronze Tablet Unveiled In Memory Of James Whitcomb Riley,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana), July 30, 1927
“Calvary Church, Fletcher, N.C. Between Asheville and Hendersonville,” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (PO77), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Link
“Fletcher Markers,” The Historical Marker Database, HMdb.org, (accessed May 25, 2016) Link
“Friendship of Nye and Riley Is Told by Church Tablet,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana), July 17, 1927
“James Whitcomb Riley, 1849–1916.” Poetry Foundation, http://www.poetryfoundation.org, (accessed June 10, 2016) Link
“North Carolina Will Unveil Memorial to ‘Hoosier Poet,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana), July 13, 1927
“Riley, James Whitcomb,” Memorial To.” E. M. Ball Photographic Collection (1918-1969) D. H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804, Link
“Southern Town Will Dedicate Riley Tablet,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana), June 25, 1927
Dr. Joe Shelby Riley
Dr. Joe Shelby Riley, a cousin of the poet and the memorial’s donor was one of the scheduled speakers. The dedication also included the reading of several of Riley’s poems. Douglas Nye, son of Bill Nye, also appeared on the program for the day’s events that were described as a “festival” to James Whitcomb Riley.
James Whitcomb Riley is known as the “Hoosier Poet” because of his birth in Indiana. He is also
known as “The Children’s Poet” due to his popularity with young readers. He was a close friend
of Bill Nye, a member of Calvary Episcopal Church, and was a regular visitor to Nye’s home. This
explains his inclusion in a memorial garden created to immortalize men and women important
to southern culture and history.
Dr. Clarence Stuart McClellan, Jr., pastor of the church from 1924 to 1930, was originator of the “Abbey” idea, the purpose of which was to "memorialize the fine and noble things in the Old South and pass these on through bronze and granite to future generations." He conceived the idea of having various patriotic and civic organizations erect native stone monuments with appropriate bronze tablets on them. He had expressed his hope that the monuments would serve as a means for reconciling the combatants of the Civil War and explains why many of the memorials were to men from both southern and northern states.
Following the massacre of nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 by white supremacist Dylann Roof, Americans, especially southerners, have reflected on and argued over the historical legacy of slavery, the Civil War, the Confederacy, and white supremacy. Monuments have been a particular focus of these debates and controversies, especially after the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 and after President Donald Trump expressed his opposition to the removal of Confederate memorials. Despite laws in many southern states intended to prevent or impede the removal or relocation of historical monuments, protesters and local community leaders have removed or relocated controversial monuments associated with slavery, the Confederacy, and white supremacy. The pace of the removal of controversial monuments accelerated sharply in 2020, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Beginning in Lent of 2020, Calvary Episcopal Church held conversations with journalists, historians, and clergy to help understand the history of confederate monuments in this region and in the life of the parish today, and whether this set of memorials "constructed to serve a particular vision of reconciliation still contribute to what as we understand as God’s call to reconciliation today." Following these conversations a decision was made to remove the memorials which occurred in October 2020.
In August of 2022, the stones minus the memorial plaques were arranged around the perimeter of an existing labyrinth at Calvary. Creative works of art are planned for the spaces on the stones that once held the plaques. This art “will be intended to help visitors to the labyrinth enter into a contemplative reflection on Christ’s mission of healing and reconciliation.” The stones being repurposed in this manner are intended to further transform the labyrinth experience and with the addition of explanatory signage give emphasis to the healing of traumatic experiences, especially the trauma of war.
The removed plaques which had been donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (including the “Dixie Highway” plaque from a monument near Hendersonville Road) were returned to the Moses Wood camp of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. A successor organization to the B’nai B’rith Lodge of Asheville agreed to receive the Zebulon Vance plaque, and efforts were made to return other plaques to the parties which contributed them.
Calvary Episcopal Church is located at 2840 Hendersonville Road, at
its intersection with Old Airport Road in Fletcher, NC.
The Calvary Episcopal Church marker stands near the sanctuary.
Eighteen “Open-Air Westminster Abbey of the South” markers stood in two rows in a lawn area facing Old Airport Road to the right of the church until October 2020 before being permanently removed. The stones, minus their plaques, were then incorporated into a labyrinth located behind the church. The memorials were moved twice before. Originally they were dispersed throughout the churchyard before being placed in a landscaped plot along the western edge of the church property. It is likely they had to be relocated when the road was widened to four lanes.