Wednesday, December, 7th, 2022

Journey to Golden Valley


By Troy Damron

The school that became Toccoa Falls Institute in 1911 had its beginning in Golden Valley, North Carolina, in 1907 as Golden Institute. Although I heard Dr. Forrest make this statement on many occasions, I did not become interested in the details of these early “roots” until I was preparing to write the book A Tree God Planted.

By that time, the people who could have given first hand information of the Golden ValleyGolden Valley experience were no longer available. When the book went to press, the information concerning Golden Valley was meager and may have been inaccurate in the details of location and portrayal of the first building at the institute.

I felt that the unresolved question in my mind might be partially answered if I could find Golden Valley, visit the location, and interview any residents who were old enough to know about the Golden Valley days.

A visit to Golden Valley eventually became a reality, and the information gained provided valuable help in understanding more about this chapter of the Toccoa Falls story. The purpose of this article is to share information with the Toccoa Falls constituency and perhaps shed additional light on the beginning of Toccoa Falls College.

My daughter, Carol Wheeler, who lives in King Mountain, North Carolina, was aware of my interest in Golden Valley and in talking with one of her acquaintances in the area, discovered that she lived in Golden Valley. This lady gave Carol the name of an elderly couple, the Graysons, who had lived in Golden Valley all their lives and might have information about Golden Institute.

Carol made an appointment by telephone to see the Graysons and then called me to suggest that I accompany her for the meeting. Ruth, my daughter who lives in Toccoa, and I drove to King’s Mountain and accompanied Carol the next day to Golden Valley.

We drove to Shelby, North Carolina via route 74 and on the outskirts of Shelby we turned right on route 226. We then followed route 226 through Polkville to the home of the Graysons. They provided us with much valuable information about Golden Valley and Golden Institute, and then Mr. Grayson volunteered to take us to the site of Golden Institute. This site is located adjacent to Fair View Baptist Church in a “Y” formed by the junction of route 226 and a gravel road that exits to the left.

A large white frame residence Golden Valleyis located on the site and is a part of the original Golden Institute building complex. No part of the building resembles the building shown in my book as the first building at Golden Institute, and the Graysons said they had no recollection of a building that had that configuration.

It is therefore possible that the information from the college archives that tentatively identifies the first building at Golden Valley may be inaccurate. Golden Institute was founded in 1903 by Miss Emily Prudden, a deaf, middle-aged, schoolmarm, who had considerable money and a desire to provide educational opportunities for the young mountain people of the Carolinas.

The name “Golden” was applied to the region because of the discovery of gold in the valley a few years earlier. The only one of these schools still in existence is Pfieffer College in Misenheimer, North Carolina. Miss Prudden’s plan was to establish the schools and then to seek other sponsors to support and to operate them. Because of the great variation in the ages and educational status of the students, a curriculum was provided that was supposed to take a student where he was and help him to arrive where he wanted to go.

The school was founded on religious principles, but training for the ministry was only one of the several occupations for which training was provided. Dr. Forrest purchased the unfinished school at Golden Valley in 1907. And became its new owner and sponsor. The William McDuffies were employed to run the institute and a program for additional building and student recruitment was instituted. Within a few years, Dr. Forrest became convinced that the school should be relocated and a search for a new location was begun.

Several reasons may have figured in the decision. The institute was seventeen miles from a railroad and was in other ways difficult to reach. The school had a variety of training programs and did not concentrate on training for the ministry, which was high on Dr. Forrest’s agenda.

The church for the institute was Baptist while Dr. Forrest was Presbyterian and this may have produced some lack of unity. These ideas should not be considered as facts, but as suggestions based on known information. The Haddock Inn at Toccoa Falls was eventually purchased and Dr. Forrest and at least part of the students and staff moved to Toccoa Falls in 1911. The property at Golden Valley was sold to the Southern Baptist who continued to operate Golden Institute at the same location for several years.

In 1919, Golden institute was moved to Buke County and the name was changed to South Mountain Institute. The school was operated at the new location until the 1930’s. Two faculty members from South Mountain Institute, Ora Landis and Dorothy Geiger, eventually came to teach at Toccoa Falls but did not seem to know of the connection between Golden Valley and South Mountain Institute.

The human mind has the ability to project itself into the past and in its imagination identify with people and events of the historical past. This is sometimes referred to as “seeing with the mind’s eye.” For example, I did not live during the American Revolution, but in my mind’s eyes, I have stood with the embattled farmers at Concord Bridge when they “fired the shot heard ‘round the world.”

In like manner, I did not live during the Golden Valley experience but in my mind’s eye I have seen the students attend their classes, plant their gardens, attend worship services, and dream of the day when God would send them into the world to serve humanity.

I have now been to Golden Valley and the experience has given me a greater appreciation for the attitudes and ideas that existed at Golden Institute and that were transferred to Toccoa Falls and helped to produce the Toccoa Falls College of today.

Golden Valley

The original building at the Golden Valley.

Golden Valley

This photograph shows members of the first faculty and students body at Golden Valley. Once the Toccoa Falls property was purchased in 1911, many in this group relocated to Toccoa, Georgia. Mrs. Forrest is the last person seated on the second row. Also include in the photo is William McDuffie, his wife Lillian, and their baby.


Editor’s note: The following photos were taken during a recent trip to Golden Valley.

Golden Valley house and barn
Golden Valley house and barn (Photo by Steve Collins, class of 1997). Nothing remains of the original house.

Golden Valley Barn
Golden Valley barn and possible location of the first school building.

Golden Valley House front view
Another photo of the house that is now located on the original property

Gas station
This is Metcalfe Station (the street sign is spelled wrong)—a stop on the Lawndale Railway. The train ran on narrow rails and served as a means for the Lawndale Mill to get supplies back and forth to nearby Shelby, NC. The railroad also ran a passenger train (1899-1943) for those who needed a ride into the city. We believe it is the station where the Forrests met new students coming to school at Golden Valley. According to Dr. Forrest, the ride from the school to the station was 17 miles most of it was spent traveling along rut filled roads that were often washed out by heavy rains.

Box car
One of the original box cars located at Metcalfe Station.

Fairview Baptist Church
Fairview Baptist Church (Photo by Steve Collins, class of 1997) This church is located immediately across from the Golden Valley property.


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