Nancy Barnum Clarke, a great-granddaughter of P.T. Barnum, was born on February 6, 1889 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Soon her family moved to Eastover, South Carolina and lived at the “Goodwill Plantation” in her early years. The property had been used as a type of storage facility for Barnum’s traveling circus animals, tents, and other accoutrements while it wasn’t touring the U.S., and thus was a familiar seasonal locale for the family through the years. Barnum’s granddaughter Julia Hurd eventually bought the Plantation, and married a nearby property owner named Henry Peck Clarke. These were Nancy’s parents, and though there were other pregnancies, Nancy was the only child of her parents to survive. Her mother died of complications after childbirth in 1894.
Henry soon remarried to Mary Jane Macfie and had their only child together that they named Harry. Although the Clarke family was based out of Columbia, South Carolina, they summered in the Transylvania mountains, eventually purchasing a total of 523 acres in the Dunn’s Rock area in 1897 and 1898. Henry hired English-born architect Richard Sharp Smith to design the family home on this property; Smith was a notable architect at the time and worked on the Vanderbilt Estate, among other prestigious projects. Henry and Mary gave the location the name of Rockbrook. The house still stands today on the Camp Rockbrook property as the centerpiece of the site.
Nancy earned both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree – an unusual achievement for women in this era – before returning home to live with her parents. Her father employed the assistance of a car dealer, Henry Nash Carrier, while purchasing an automobile, and this activity led to Nancy’s introduction to the man who would become her husband. Nancy Barnum Clarke and Henry Nash Carrier were married on April 30, 1913 on the Rockbrook property with much celebrating. The couple lived in a large, “modern” bungalow on East Main Street. When Nancy’s brother Harry married in 1918, the two siblings decided to swap residences, and the Clarkes moved into the East Main Street house, while Nancy and her husband Henry moved into the home at Rockbrook.
Nancy Carrier is well known by many in the county as the founder and owner of Camp Rockbrook for Girls until the Carriers sold it in 1961. Camp Rockbrook has an extensive history of its own, which has been covered in other articles and sources. Nancy’s impact beyond the camp may be less apparent, though no less important to the foundation of two long-standing institutions in Transylvania County: Brevard Music Center and Lyday Memorial Hospital.
Nancy was one of the founding members of the Brevard Music Foundation, created to transform the Brevard Music Camp (now Brevard Music Center) into a non-profit and save it from dissolution. She served as the first Board president of the foundation as well. She and others spearheaded the fundraising efforts that ensured the Camp’s continued success. After her death, the Nancy Carrier Memorial Scholarship was established in her honor.
Nancy was also involved in the formation of the first community hospital, Lyday Memorial Hospital. Prior to the creation of this hospital, there hadn’t been a hospital in Transylvania County for nearly four years. Part of the delay had to do with staffing, and when it finally opened in 1932, they hired Dr. Charles Newland, a well-known local doctor and surgeon who had many contributions of his own to the development of medical care in the county, and Dr. C.E. Cunningham, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University Medical School, who was considered a world-class medical professional. It was named in honor of A. J. Lyday, a pioneering doctor who began a tradition of medical practice in his descendants. Nancy was the chair of the first hospital auxiliary and was instrumental in the incorporation of it as a non-profit organization.
Both Nancy and her husband Henry passed away in 1977, leaving a lasting impact on their community and the culture of Transylvania County. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.