Music Brought Them Together
By David L. Tate
We know music brings people together. This is especially true for the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church in one small event in our early history.
Edgar Tufts first came to Banner Elk as a Presbyterian seminary student in 1895 and returned two years later as a fully ordained evangelist for the isolated, poverty-stricken, mountain area. He began a ministry then that grew over time to include churches, schools, hospitals, and an orphanage to meet the diverse needs of the people living in one of the poorest areas of our country.
Reverend Edgar Tufts served the spiritual needs of multiple communities in our area when traveling from one village to another typically involved riding horses on small dirt roads. In addition to Banner Elk, one of the communities he served was a community now known as Pineola. The Ritter Lumber Company operated a camp in the area, cutting old growth trees for lumber. They had many employees doing dangerous work and had hired a young camp doctor who had just completed his internship at the University of Tennessee.
Reverend Tufts had a small portable pump organ for church services that he carried with him to his different congregations in the mountain communities he served. One night in 1908, in the absence of his organist, the Ritter Lumber camp physician, Dr. W.C. Tate, volunteered to play the organ for the service. This started a productive and lifelong friendship between the two young men.
Reverend Tufts talked Dr. Tate into joining his ministry in Banner Elk to replace a doctor whose health was forcing him to leave the small practice he had started to meet the drastic health needs of the mountain community. Dr. Tate brought his bride to Banner Elk in 1910 to live in the home provided by the ministry and to serve the area’s health needs. At first, his practice involved riding on horseback to the homes of his patients or caring for them in his home. Over time, his practice grew and expanded into a series of larger and larger hospitals built by the Tufts’ ministry.
Following the death of his good friend and spiritual brother in ministry, Dr. Tate carried on and at one point in time served as the Director of Grace Hospital, President of Lees-McRae College, Director of Grandfather Home for Children and President of the Banner Elk Bank.
The Reverend Edgar Tufts’ great grandson, Robert Tufts who lives in his great-grandfathers old home in Banner Elk, recently donated the antique pump organ that brought Reverend Tufts and Dr. Tate together more than 110 years ago. The music that brought them together in the worship of God has, over time, served the spiritual, health and educational needs of thousands and thousands of people throughout these mountains.
We honor all the good done by and through Reverend Tufts and Dr. Tate and gladly accept the donation of this organ as a significant part of our heritage of service to the people of our area. Many thanks to Robert and Kimberly Tufts. May God’s name be praised.
More About the Organ
It was manufactured by the Mason & Hamlin Company, who also still manufacture excellent quality pianos. In 1882 it was patented as the “Baby Organ” intended for children. It quickly became popular for use in homes, churches, and schools because of its high quality and low price of $22.