Henry Neal (1889-1963), Penland’s chef for over 20 years (c.1933-1955), was known for his hearty home-cooked southern food. Neal’s craft was cooking, and while he did not play a role in the revival of hand crafts in North Carolina, he was an integral part of Penland’s staff and summer community.
He and his wife, Alice Whitted Neal (1893-1959), lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Alice cooked for the Frank Porter Graham family and Henry for one of the University of North Carolina fraternities. The Neals were active members of St. Paul AME Church in Chapel Hill and Henry Neal was a 3rd Degree Mason with the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge.
In the summer months, Neal traveled by train to Marion, North Carolina, where Lucy Morgan met him and together they drove up the mountain to Penland. During World War II, Henry Neal worked as a cook in one of the University mess halls taken over by the US Navy; but, he still spent his summers preparing meals for the students, instructors, staff, and visitors at Penland School of Handicrafts. During those years he was cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for 80 to 90 people.
Neal suffered a serious heart attack and was not able to come to Penland for the summers of 1952-1954. He was welcomed back in 1955. Writing about his return in the in the school’s newsletter, Lucy Morgan recalled:
I had missed Henry terribly, but I didn’t really realize how good it would be to have him back until he was again in our kitchen. Even tho he was supposed to be just on a visit, he dropped into the kitchen just as naturally as if he had never left. Charles who was cooking for us this summer, accepted him happily and they worked harmoniously.
Again, as of old, I went down about six for my breakfast tray which Henry had all ready except for the eggs, toast and coffee, and while he was fixing them we did our philosophizing for the day.
In the mid-1930s a small cabin was built next to The Pines dining hall for Henry Neal and his assistant. Known as Henry’s Hotel, it serves today as housing for Penland instructors.
- Michelle A. Francis, 2008
- Alice Battle Oral Interview with Bob Gilgore, February 20, 2001. Interview K-523, Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
- Alice Battle Telephone Interview with Michelle Francis, Penland School of Crafts, 5 April 2007.
- Cemetery Census. Orange County North Carolina Cemeteries, Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. http://cemeterycensus.com/nc/orng/cem077.htm.
- Morgan, Lucy. Gift from the Hills: Miss Lucy Morgan’s Story of Her Unique Penland School, with LeGette Blythe. Including an Epilogue. Enl. ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.
- Morgan, Lucy, editor. Mountain Milestones, 1956 Number. Penland School of Handicrafts, Penland, NC: 3.