In the 1880’s, a father traveled to Bat Cave with his son, who was sick. The boy, Paul Mathews, was one of ten childrenof whom five had already died. At the time, the city of Cincinnati where they lived was powered by coal furnaces, and Paul had come down with a respiratory illness. The prescribed cure was mountain air.

Landowner Lew Thatcher with Josephine, his wife of 57 years

Fortunately, Paul recovered. He was so struck by the beauty of the Hickory Nut Gorge that, years later, he came back with his bride on their honeymoon. Paul Matthews went on to become an Episcopal bishop. Meanwhile, his sister became Mother Eva Mary, who founded the Sisters of the Transfiguration.

The brother and sister each purchased a place in Bat Cave as a retreat and they each started a conservation legacy dating back over a century. The Bishop’s family protected hundreds of acres, including the bat cave for which Bat Cave is named. And the Sisters created the Teaching and Research Reserve owned by Conserving Carolina.

Recently, two neighbors—Lew Thatcher and Mattie Decker—met in the Episcopal church in Bat Cave. Sharing their stories, they realized that they lived on properties that shared a common boundary and a family connection.Lew is part of the Bishop’s family while Mattie is an oblate with the Sisters of the Transfiguration.

What if…? they started to ask.

Ultimately, Lew and Mattie brought the brother’s land and the sister’s land together. Lew conveyed a tract of land to Conserving Carolina as an addition to our Teaching and Research Reserve. This brings the reserve to approximately 500 acres and extends it all the way to Chimney Rock State Park!

The Teaching and Research Reserve is open to students and researchers, by reservation. In recent years, the reserve has hosted groups from local schools; colleges and universities; Muddy Sneakers; and Summer of Service.

This addition creates potential for a future hiking trail so others can enjoy the land where Bishop Matthews walked with his wife on their honeymoon, and where Lew often walked with Josephine, his wife of 57 years.

We are deeply grateful to this family—across generations—for protecting their beautiful land with its dramatic rock outcrops, rushing waterfalls, and habitat for rare plants and animals.

P.S. Mattie is a retired university professor and certified nature and forest therapy guide. 

Conserving Carolina – Mountains, Foothills, Rivers, Farms