Mountain Moods series: In western North Carolina, there’s a place for everyone: artists and epicures, locals and visitors, explorers and kick-back-and-relaxers. Down in the valleys, high on the peaks, around
Mountain Moods series: In western North Carolina, there’s a place for everyone: artists and epicures, locals and visitors, explorers and kick-back-and-relaxers. Down in the valleys, high on the peaks, around every bend in the road, communities with identities all their own remind us that our mountains contain multitudes.
The southern mountains have largely been shaped by the pursuit of respite. Little Charleston is what people once called Flat Rock for its appeal to monied Charlestonians desperate for a little cool air and a porch free of mosquitoes in the 19th century. Every May or June, they came to the mountains in droves, pockets full of plantation wealth, to escape. They raised up estates in the woods and waited for the breeze.
But long before their summer houses sprang up and the railroad followed suit, the flat rock of Flat Rock stretched out as a meeting ground for the region’s Indigenous people, a spot to trade goods and resolve disputes. The Cherokee and Catawba never settled the forests surrounding those wide granite outcrops; instead, they cultivated a place of peace.
Since then, these mountains have welcomed people from all over. The syrupy-sweet Deep South voices mixed with the lilt of the Scots-Irish who came to the Blue Ridge in search of a fresh start, a way of life free of the religious skirmishes and land grabs in Britain. They put their hands into the dirt and up came apple trees — and apple brandy and apple pies and apple cider and apple butter.
Just after the Civil War, some 50 formerly enslaved people wound in. They worked the land above Lake Summit long enough to buy it, purchasing 180 acres near Hendersonville and Saluda and raising up the Kingdom of Happy Land. They had a king and a queen and fashioned a new community of free men and women, an autonomous civilization based on memories of African traditions long ago ripped away. For around 40 years, the Green River kingdom thrived, building and selling carts across the region and growing to as many as 400 residents.
For centuries, this land offered a way for people to shape new lives. And, in turn, they’ve shaped this land into a place rich with history and music and drink, a wilderness refined. And this is what they come for all summer — wide forests and comfortable beds.
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For more than a hundred years, children have stepped out of train cars and SUVs to climb into the bunk beds of the dozens of camps tucked away around Hendersonville and Brevard. On a slow summer drive down Crab Creek Road, you might hear the kids calling as they fling themselves into lakes from zip lines or slides or swings or thin air. Meanwhile, their parents have stopped off for a quiet bite at “Little Rainbow Row” in Little Charleston — and they’re taking their time.
Take a drive to Highlands, and you’ll find people from across North America who came to this patch of Appalachia to get comfortable. Many of them have retired from something else entirely — an office on one coast or another, a sticky Florida summer, a bundled-up experience in a frigid Midwestern town — and they come here like those Charlestonians and Scots-Irish came: to find something better. Of course, this “better” often comes with a view and, perhaps, an afternoon tee time, but the principle is the same: This stretch of mountains offers a place to grow something new.
Head farther south to Tryon today, and you’ll find people arriving with horses in tow, steeplechases and mint juleps in their eyes. In Cullowhee, they’re stepping into waders and tying flies along the Tuckasegee. In Brevard, they’re spraying the mud from the once-gleaming mountain bikes lined up outside a brewery. All across these southern mountains, we’ve come to find peace, and that makes for a place cultured by many cultures and histories — Charlestonians and Scots-Irish and Hondurans and Africans and Floridians and on and on — and one unifying urge: to appreciate what might otherwise go overlooked.
Because no matter where people come from, they want to be here. This is the place that has welcomed them, so they’ll take up residence in former estates or a newly built community of tiny homes, and they’ll duck into the shops in Saluda to buy pottery, and tour the old houses of Rutherfordton because the mountains have called. They’ll slow down to pet the Sandburg goats and stare up at Bridal Veil Falls because these forests have been cultivated for centuries to make space. And that space is at once genteel and generous, long ago set aside for sitting back and waiting for the breeze.
Read more about the Southern Mountains:
English-Style Charm at the Highlander Mountain House
Peak Style in Highlands
Tea & Toasts in Hendersonville