Feature Image: On a high hill, red maples cluster around St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church, built in 1833. Family members of signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in its churchyard.
Historic and Holy
Dark wood, red velvet, and plain windows contribute to the serenity inside St. John, built by the Baring family of Charleston, who sought respite from malaria in Flat Rock. Black slaves and white families worshiped side by side here, decades before the Emancipation Proclamation.
St. John’s mossy monuments tell tales of battle bravery spanning generations. Edward P. King, the World War II general who led the defense of the Bataan Peninsula, is buried in this historic graveyard, as are Confederate soldiers from surrounding states.
“Little Rainbow Row” is a nod to Flat Rock’s ties to Charleston.
Its colorfully painted emporiums, anchored by The Wrinkled Egg (owned by Virginia Spiegener, below), service hikers, visitors, hungry wanderers, and generations of youngsters bound for neighboring summer camps, thataway.
You’ll know you’re near a Hubba Hubba Smokehouse pimento cheese and pulled pork sandwich long before you reach the restaurant’s lively outdoor eating area: Just sniff the aroma wafting through Little Rainbow Row.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning “poet of the people,” Carl Sandburg, moved to the Flat Rock estate known as Connemara in 1945, when he was 67, and wrote a third of his works here. The farm, now a National Historic Site, comprises trails, pastures, and a serene lake. Inside, dozens of bookshelves hold the 17,000 books that the Sandburgs had shipped from Michigan to North Carolina. Surveying the mountain view from his new home, Sandburg commented that he’d bought 245 acres of land “and a million acres of sky.” After his death in 1967, Sandburg’s wife, Lilian, sold the home to the National Park Service to preserve her husband’s legacy.
A Storied Herd
Sandburg’s wife, Lilian, suggested the move to Flat Rock, which provided an attractive climate and plenty of room for her goat herd, which she called Chikaming. She sold her goats’ milk to local dairies, including Biltmore Dairy, and, in 1960, one of her Toggenburg goats broke a world record for milk production. Lilian also raised Nubian and Saanen goats, and their descendants still roam the barn and outbuildings. Believing that the goats would be more manageable if they were used to human contact, Lilian hugged and kissed each baby goat, a tradition that National Park Service employees carry on today.
Georgia Bonesteel has been credited with inventing “lap quilting,” in which quilting becomes a portable hobby rather than requiring a frame and multiple stitchers. Bonesteel moved to Flat Rock in 1972 with her family, and volunteered at Connemara. She was inspired to create a quilt as a backdrop for presentations there. In time, she became host of PBS’s Lap Quilting with Georgia Bonesteel, which aired for 30 years.
Blue Ridge Belle
This Victorian Second Empire beauty in the heart of Flat Rock was built in 1836 by Count Joseph Marie Gabriel St. Xavier de Choiseul, the French consul to Charleston and Savannah, as a summer home. The “Saluda Cottages,” as it is known, is one of several local manors built for the Low Country haut monde, who were eager to escape the coastal heat and mosquitoes. The architecture reflects its unusual history: The seven-bedroom stunner is crowned by a French mansard roof and wrapped in a very Southern columned porch, with statuary on the rear lawn. Although privately owned, there’s no royal title required for a jaw-dropping drive past this 30-acre estate.
Famous apple cider doughnuts are a fall tradition at Sky Top Orchard, perched, aptly, on the top of Mount McAlpine.
With its 100 acres of pick-your-own apples (through October), stunning views, hay rides, homemade goodies, picnic places, and memory-making activities, Sky Top attracts pickers, snackers, cooks, and the curious of all ages from August to December.
Professional actor Robroy Farquhar opened The Old Mill Playhouse in 1941. Today, the 500-seat Flat Rock Playhouse employs as many as 88 people each season to produce a variety of plays and musicals, from Les Misérables to Cats to Harvey. The theater’s sets are built on site, in the paint shop or the prop shop. Actors sleep in dorms, and three meals a day are served in the dining facility. The legendary playhouse is designated as the State Theatre of North Carolina, and the camaraderie generated during a summer season means New York actors leave reluctantly every fall. It’s a unique experience for many reasons, not the least of which is the location: on a big — and very flat — rock.