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Is this called Highland Lake? Until recently, no

Highland Lake was officially named Madonna Lake until U.S. Geological Survey changed it back to Highland Lake. Highland Lake was officially named Madonna Lake until U.S. Geological Survey changed it back to Highland Lake.

FLAT ROCK — Here’s one that’s a bit like who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? What’s the name of the body of water at the Highland Lake Inn and Conference Center on Highland Lake Road?


Highland Lake, of course. Except wasn't,  at least not officially, until recently.  Look up the official record of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and you would find, as Flat Rock Mayor Bob Staton did, that the 224-year-old mill pond was called Madonna Lake.
Staton, who is leaving his job as mayor after three terms in December, did what he’s prone to do: Took a deep dive into history, wrote it up and made the case for changing Madonna Lake back to its once and by all accounts current name.
The Madonna Lake change was one of two requests the Board on Geographic Names recently granted. It also approved nationally known quilter Georgia Bonesteel’s request to name a stream that runs behind her home and through Bonclarken Quilt Creek.

Madonna Lake

Dammed in 1795 to power John Earle’s gristmill, the impoundment became known as Earle’s mill pound. When the mill changed hands, so did the name of the .22-acre lake. Around 1873, it was known as Rhett’s mill pond. Staton traced the current (if unofficial) name to the Highland Lake Club, which acquired the lake and surrounding land in 1910. “Although the club had a short life, the name of the lake remained unchanged through subsequent ownerships at least until 1955 when it was acquired by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh for a diocesan retreat center and summer camp known as Our Lady of the Hills,” Staton said in the documentation he sent to the Board on Geographic Names, a division of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Catholics named the lake Madonna Lake in honor of the Virgin Mary and for 30 years, until 1985, when the Lindsey family bought the property, Madonna Lake it was. The new owners restored the historic name, Staton said, and much of the surrounding development follows suit: North Highland Lake Road, Highland Lake Drive, Highland Park Drive, Highland Lake Village, etc.
“Highland Lake is the historic name of the lake that began as Earle’s mill pond near the end of the 18th century,” Staton, an attorney, said in his closing argument to the official government namers. “It is the name by which the lake was known for the first half of the 20th century and has been known again since 1985.” Few people today know or recall that a Catholic retreat center operated there, he added, or that the pond was known as Madonna Lake. Thus, “the U.S. Geological Survey should correctly reflect the name of the lake as it is known today by changing its official identification from Madonna Lake to Highland Lake.”
The verdict? The name is changed.
The U.S. Board of Geographic Names notified Staton in August of its decision. The official entry says the name “refers to the historic Highland Lake Club, which owned the lake in the early 1900s,” and helpfully overrules other shorter lived options. “Not: Madonna Lake, Rhett’s Mill Pond, Rhett’s Pond.”

Quilt Creek

Georgia Bonesteel loves the creek that runs behind her home and empties into Highland Lake. She and her husband, Pete, live on Lowndes Lane, which is adjacent Bonclarken.
“Ever since we moved here I’ve known there was this wonderful little creek that we’ve protected and kept the beavers out of,” she said. “I just got it in my mind that the creek deserves a name.”
She talked to the neighbors in Bonclarken, who supported her idea, then got help from Village Administrator Pat Christie, who researched the process for a naming request through the U.S. Geological Survey.
“There were quite a few forms we had to fill out,” Bonesteel said.
Founding president of Western North Carolina Quilters Guild, Bonesteel is probably the best known quilter in North Carolina, if not all of America. She and her husband, Pete, have lived in Flat Rock since 1972. Seven years later, she began hosting “Lap Quilting with Georgia Bonesteel,” a series on PBS that continued for 30 years.
The official U.S. Geological Survey for Quilt Creek says that it is “named for the quilting events that take place near the stream.” Those events might include YouTube quilting lessons Bonesteel’s own home and the WNC Quilters Guild.
“We do a quilt show every other year at Bonclarken gym,” she said. “Then we have retreats three where quilters gather for two days and study and share their knowledge.”
She plans to get a plaque that will commemorate the name of Quilt Creek. Bonesteel said it was her research for the nomination that turned up the official name in USGS maps for Highland Lake.
“I had to put down where my proposed Quilt Creek would go in and I could look up and see that was Madonna Lake,” she said.

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