The Journey from the Turkey Creek Campground to Leicester Community Center
The grounds at the Leicester Community Center have a story to tell. The 21 acres now including the Community Center, Lawter Court, and Camp Forrest were donated to the Methodist Church by James Gudger on March 22nd 1827 this deed is in deed book 13 page 466 at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds. This brought the birth of the Turkey Creek Campground. There was a large arbor with benches, a pulpit, and an altar where many people knelt and came up shouting. There were sepreate meetings held for men and women. Around the large arbor were plank tents consisting of four rooms each. The beds were straw covered floors and bedding. The reception room had long benches and the kitchen had a fireplace for food preparation. Each year for about a week to 10 days in August people would come from all over to worship. They came in wagons, on horses and later on in buggies and carriages. Bishop Francis Asbury writes in his diary of visiting the campground in 1806 and preaching to 500 souls. The Holston Methodism Volume 4 mentions a meeting in the fall of 1851 where preaching by Rev William Hicks over 100 people were converted in a 20 hour period. By 1893 the property was in poor condition and interest in the meetings had fallen. The event that would end the camp meetings happened that year. Two men inflamed by a quarrel got into a fist fight. The smaller of the two was taking a beating so he pulled a knife and stabbed the other man to death. Soon after that incident the meetings stopped altogether. The property, still owned by the Methodist Church, was converted into two parsonages, one for the Sandy Mush Charge and one for the Leicester Charge. On May 1, 1957 The Leicester Charge requested that the land be split between the 2 charges. After this split took place the Leicester Charge met at Dix Creek Methodist Church on November 10th 1957 and adopted a resolution to give the parsonage and property to the Leicester Youth Center the parsonage trustees were: Hal Wells, Donald Austin, and J. Fred Hall. The Articles of Incorporation were filed with the state of North Carolina on November 25th 1957. This document can be found in book C020 page 587 at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds.
The initial board of directors were: Claude H. Rogers, Kate S. Reeves, and J. Millard Shook. The men and women listed as the original incorporators were: Donald C. McKenzie, Kate S. Reeves, Claude H. Rogers, J. Millard Shook, John G. Kerr, and N.A. Randall. The activities during this time included many for the youth of the community. To occupy their time they could participate in Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball team play, scouting for all ages, both boys and girls, a junior rifle club which was affiliated with the NRA, Home Economics, 4-H and FFA clubs, football and basketball games, a dramatic club and a host of other wholesome activities. Dr. John G. Kerr, for whom the Erwin High football field was named, was president of the Leicester Youth Center for many of those early years. The center at this time had a well equipped kitchen, a dining and meeting hall, a library, and two bathrooms. Outside was a basketball court, baseball field, a rifle range, a picnic area with a large barbeque pit, and a ring for horseback riding. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Community’s spirit came in 1961 when the Leicester Grange won the $10,000 Community Service Award. The National Grange wasn’t the only organization to recognize Leicester for it’s community improvements in 1961. The community took first place in the farm division of the WNC rural community development contest and third place in the youth division of that contest. The center flourished as the Leicester Youth Center for over 25 years when another change came.
On May 24th 1985 the official name was changed from the Leicester Youth Center to the Leicester Community Center. This document can be found in book C071 page 661 at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds. However many still refer to it as the Youth Center. The president at this time was J.B. Snelson and the secretary was Joann Swilling. This change came due to the center being used more as a community center than a youth center. However to this day the focus is on the youth. We still maintain a baseball field, basketball court, and a playground for the youth. We have won many awards over the years from groups like the Buncombe County Rural Development Program, and WNC Communities.
Leila Houston (London, 1977) is a visual artist whose work investigates the social, political and historical aspects of a place.