January 22, 2021

Lucas Mansion designated Alex’s first Local Historic Landmark

The Hiddenite Center’s James Paul Lucas Mansion in Hiddenite.

Alexander County now has its first Local Historic Landmark as the Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance at their January 4th meeting that designates the Lucas Mansion for the prestigious distinction, according to a county press release.

Connie Kincaid, Business Development Manager for the Alexander County EDC and staff liaison for the Historic Preservation Committee, presented information about the local landmark designation.

The Lucas Mansion, which is the home of the Hiddenite Arts & Heritage Center, is preserved as an early 20th century house museum and art gallery, and serves as the county’s visitor center. The building was constructed in 1906 with major renovations in 1914 and 1984. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Kincaid said the original landowner was Joseph Sharpe, who received the land through a North Carolina Land Grant in 1809. The original home was two stories, but after being purchased by James Paul “Diamond Jim” Lucas in 1908, it was cleverly converted into a three-story mansion. R.Y. and Eileen Lackey Sharpe purchased the property in 1981, and she began efforts to preserve the home and formed a private non-profit 501(c)3 organization for the purpose of managing a museum and educational learning center called The Hiddenite Center. Mrs. Sharpe also added a new east wing to the mansion for public restrooms, more gallery space, and an elevator.

Kincaid noted that the Alexander County Historic Preservation Committee unanimously recommended approval of the Lucas Mansion being named a Local Historic Landmark.

In other business:

• Billie Walker, Assistant Health Director, presented a COVID-19 update to commissioners. As of January 4, Alexander County had 2,827 total cases, with 19 people in the hospital. Walker reported that there have been 31 deaths, but she anticipates a significant increase as reports are received in the coming days.

Walker said there have been three outbreaks at congregate care facilities, with a total of more than 120 cases and 10 deaths.

“COVID-19 is hitting Alexander County very hard right now,” Walker said. “It’s very sad for those who have lost loved ones.”

She said the health department continues to conduct drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinics on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays beginning at 10:00 a.m.

Walker said the state sent 1,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and they will send the same number of doses of each vaccine to cover the second required dose. Additional vaccines could arrive, but the health department hasn’t been notified.

“In addition to the workload of COVID cases and contact tracing, now everyone is wanting to be vaccinated,” she said. “We must follow the state guidelines for vaccinations, so we appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through this together.”

A vaccination hotline has been established to help handle the many phone calls received by the health department. The department has completed Phase 1a of the state’s plan, and begin Phase 1b – Group 1 (those ages 75+) on January 6. Citizens who are in the current phase should call 828-352-7724 to schedule an appointment. No vaccinations will be administered without an appointment.

“Just today [Monday, January 4], we have scheduled 300 appointments so far, and we still have over 100 people to call back and schedule,” Walker said. “This is way more than we’ve ever managed before.”

She said the state’s online vaccine registration system isn’t working correctly, so the department has had to resort to paper questionnaires and hand-keying the data into the system.

“The state system isn’t working well at all, so we’re trying to make it easier on our citizens,” Walker related.

Chairman Larry Yoder expressed the need for the public to be patient and understanding during the vaccine scheduling process. He also urges citizens to continue practicing the 3 Ws – wear a face covering, wait six feet apart, and wash your hands often.

Commissioner Jeff Peal said, “We really appreciate the efforts of our health department. I can’t imagine how you’re doing as much as you are. I appreciate the staff’s efforts, hard work, and dedication.”

Leeanne Whisnant, Consolidated Human Services Director, echoed the commissioners’ remarks.

“They’re dedicated and working so hard. I’m very proud of them,” she said. “We also appreciate our citizens being patient. Emotions are running high and people are stressed. We are here to help the public, but this is definitely the most challenging time I’ve ever worked in.”

Gillispie said that EMS calls totaled 1,781 in October, November, and December, which is a 25 percent increase over the same months in 2019. Of the 1,781 calls, 73 percent were either COVID-positive or possibly related to COVID. He said that seven hospitals have diverted Alexander County EMS calls in just the last seven days, for a total of 142 hours lost while locating a hospital that would treat the patients.

He said that numerous EMS employees received the vaccine with no side effects. The supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) remains good. Emergency Services staff provided some manpower at Valley Nursing this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday due to the number of residents and staff who have tested positive.

Gillispie said that EMS staff will also assist the health department with administering the vaccine, with other staff assisting with appointment scheduling.

•    County Manager Rick French presented budget ordinance amendments #39 – #44 and project budget ordinance #P-1. Some details include a $40,000 Building Reuse Grant from NC Commerce for Piedmont Composites and Tooling; purchase of flagpoles for installation at the Alexander County Services Center and Rocky Face Park; and a $90,000 decrease in revenues from the detention center because of not housing inmates from other counties due to COVID-19.

•    The Commissioners approved a resolution in support of the NCACC’s initiative to address food system resiliency in North Carolina during the 2020-21 year. The goal is to identify ways counties can help ensure all North Carolinians have access to high-quality, affordable food and local producers are able to help meet this need.

•    Commissioners unanimously selected Chairman Larry Yoder to serve as voting delegate at the NCACC (North Carolina Association of County Commissioners) Legislative Goals Conference.

Allison Brown, County Extension Director

•    Commissioners recognized the county’s new Cooperative Extension Director, Allison Brown, who was hired to replace Lenny Rogers upon his retirement. Brown previously served as Agriculture Agent for the county.

“I appreciate the confidence you’ve placed in me. I look forward to serving the citizens of Alexander County,” Brown stated. “Alexander County Cooperative Extension has quality programming and an excellent staff, and it’s an honor to lead this department.”

•    The bi-monthly meeting of the Alexander County Consolidated Human Services Board meeting followed the regular meeting of the board of commissioners.

Linda Clements, Assistant Director of DSS, provided updates on numerous topics, including flood survivor support, Adult Medicaid audit, Medicaid Transformation 2021, Family-Children Protection and Accountability Act, and Families First Prevention Act. Clements also presented information from the Annual Child Protection Report and COVID Impact Report.

Leeanne Whisnant reported that Kristy Hunt, Assistant Director of the Alexander Senior Center, was named the Western Region Volunteer of the Year by the NC Department of Insurance’s Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey is scheduled to present the award on January 25 in Alexander County.

Whisnant also reported that the senior center helped 389 senior citizens save $903,703 in Medicare drug costs in 2020.

The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, February 1, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. in room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. Regular meetings can be viewed on Spectrum channel 192 or at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync.

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