What’s Up With…All the Old Cars?
Hendersonville has been all-in on the automobile since the first engines were being cranked. The first car reported on Hendersonville streets was in 1902 and within a couple years the sycamores and pine trees on Main Street were being pulled and macadam laid down on top of the rutted dirt surface. The first gas pump in town was installed conveniently right on the sidewalk on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Speed was all the rage for Western North Carolinians at the time. In 1910 Hendersonville’s own Carl Thompson made national headlines when he motored from Spartanburg to Hendersonville, a distance of 50 miles with no pavement and no service facilities in between, in a jaw-dropping four hours and 23 minutes. At one point Thompson revved his Willys Overland Touring Car to a death-defying 21 miles per hour!
In 1913 the Greater Henderson Club staged a full week-long love fest for the horseless carriage. The showcase event was a Hendersonville to Atlanta automobile run which had been planned for almost a year. There was a parade with new automobiles draped in flowers, races, hill climbing contests and a blow-out Automobile Ball at the end.
Hendersonville’s fervor for vintage automobiles has hardly waned over the past century. Enthusiasts of classic medal began getting together in 1990 and formed the Hendersonville Antique Car Club. The club maintains a busy schedule of Cruise-Ins, including Friday evenings in conjunction with Music on Main Street when members drive in their Model Ts, 1955 Corvettes, 1964 Mustangs and 1972 Datsun 620s, pop the hoods and wow the nostalgic crowds with their machines.
What’s Up With…All the Movie Cameras?
Hollywood of the East. That is how movie folk talk about North Carolina. It all started back in the early 1980s when big shot Italian movie producer Dino De Laurentiis was looking for a Southern mansion to stand in for an elegant Virginia plantation in the screen adaptation of Steven King's Firestarter. De Laurentiis happened to see a photo of Orton Plantation in Brunswick County on the cover of a magazine and soon he was on a plane to North Carolina to shoot his movie with nine-year old ingenue Drew Barrymore in the lead. In addition to filming around Wilmington the production moved to Western North Carolina to shoot footage around Lake Lure and Chimney Rock.
After the crews were finished with Firestarter in 1984 everyone assumed De Laurentiis was through with the state. Instead, he stayed in Wilmington and constructed the largest television and movie production facility in America outside California. So many productions used North Carolina that it became known as the "Hollywood of the East." It was not the first time the silver screen had been smitten with North Carolina in general and the mountains in particular.
At the dawn of the silent film era in 1914 the Edison Motion Picture Company began making short pictures in Western North Carolina. Thomas Edison, who had been summoned to Asheville years earlier to install an electric trolley, tipped off his movie company about the natural beauty of the region. Downtown Asheville and the surrounding countryside would be used as the backdrop for some 20 movies in the following years before almost all productions beat a retreat to the convenience of Hollywood sound stages in the 1920s.
After De Laurentiis rekindled Hollywood's interest in the Tarheel State it did not take long for Western North Carolina to start piling up credits in classic movies. Lake Lure did its best impersonation of a 1950's Catskills, New York resort for Dirty Dancing in 1986. All of the famous interior dancing scenes - Baby carrying a watermelon and practicing with Johnny in his cabin - were filmed in an old boy's camp that is now Firefly Cove on the north side of the lake. Each summer since 2010 the town has celebrated its part in the movie by staging the Dirty Dancing Festival.
Meanwhile, location scouts were discovering DuPont State Forest in southwestern Henderson County. The waterfalls along the Little River were tabbed to play New York on the big screen, The Last of the Mohicans. Hooker, Triple, High and Bridal Veil Falls all took star turns in the Fenimore Cooper saga. So too did Hickory Nut Gorge at Chimney Rock State Park for the film's climax. But the most memorable waterfall scenes - with Daniel Day Lewis in a cave behind a pounding wall of water - were not shot in WNC, or anywhere else. You may hear folks tell you they were shot here but they were not. Day Lewis is pledging “I will find you” in front of computer generation.
The DuPont State Forest was also used as the backdrop in the wildly popular Hunger Games in 2012. Although the lush forest is not discernible on screen there are pivotal scenes shot in pools at the base of Bridal Veil Falls and Triple Falls.
Hollywood has found other uses for Hendersonville as well. Back during World War II days Aaron “Albert” Warner was plucked from a day job of handling financial matters for his family’s famous movie studio, Warner Brothers, and put to work making propaganda films for the U.S. Army. “Major” Warner was also apparently an early “prepper” who was convinced the American coasts were under imminent attack. He had read in a military publication that Asheville and Hendersonville were among the “safe” places to reside and so he purchased the Crail Farm on Crab Creek Road.
The Major provisioned Crail Farm so well, including a herd of dairy cows, that it was said his family could live on the property “for an indefinite period” should the need arise. During his stay Warner hosted several of the studio’s big name stars for vacations in his hideout.
Crail Farm retained its Hollywood ties all the way until it was turned into the Crooked Creek Golf Club (the current clubhouse was stately Warner manor) in 1968. In the honorary foursome for the Grand Opening was none other than Jethro Bodine himself, Max Baer, Jr. of the hit television show, The Beverly Hillbillies. Baer was a crack golfer; a two-time Sacramento junior champion and the winner of that year’s pro-am at teAndy Williams San Diego Open.
What’s Up With…the Hendersonville Meteorite?
When it comes to things falling randomly from the sky the Meteoritical Society has been on the case since 1933. In that time the organization has identified some 1,700 meteorites that have struck the United States; since 1807 the number is around 150. The space debris has been found in almost every state and North Carolina claims 29. Meteorites are named after the geographical area in which the stones were recovered and Hendersonville got its very own meteorite in 1904.
The Hendersonville Meteorite was found about three miles northwest of downtown on land owned by the county near Stony Mountain Road. Today it is the Stoney Mountain Activity Center; a century ago it was a county home for the elderly. It was roughly a cube, six inches in each direction, and weighed about 11 pounds, six ounces which made it an average sized meteorite found in America. There is no way to date unseen meteorites and a wild guess pegged the arrival of the visitor from outer space in 1876 but no one knows.
Charles French Toms knew the strange rock was something special. Toms, whose father Marion Columbus was a prominent businessman and owner of Toms Hill that lords over southwest Hendersonville at the “Busy Bend” in Kanuga Road, would later own a zircon mine in the Green River Valley. He obtained the meteorite and displayed it in one of his family’s stores for two years after it was discovered in 1901. It was then donated to Vanderbilt University for analysis.
Pieces of the Hendersonville Meteorite would wind up as far away as the British Museum but the bulk of the stone, including a polished slab, ended up in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. But thanks to various museum loan programs pieces of the Hendersonville Meteorite have returned home to spend time in the Mineral & Lapidary Museum.
What’s Up With…the World’s Third Oldest River?
Some say the French Broad River is the third oldest river on the planet. Only the Nile River and the New River, a another North Carolina stream are older. Others place the French Broad River only in the Top Ten. Dating rivers is not an exact science after all. By any account the river that begins in Transylvania and flows northwest completely through Henderson County on its way to help form the Tennessee River near Knoxville is old. So old it was here before life - since there were no organisms to die and sink to the bottom the French Broad River contains no fossils.
Apparently early settlers had a limited imagination for place names since there were two Broad Rivers in North Carolina. Since this one flowed into territory controlled by France it became the “French Broad River.” When the location for the new county seat that would become Hendersonville was being debated there were two choices - one on the post road and one on the French Broad River. The post roaders won out and so the river does not flow through the city as it does in Asheville.
The Army Corps of Engineers showed up in the 1870s with plans to turn the French Broad into a navigable river but it didn’t work. Today the vessels that ply the French Broad in Henderson County are mostly canoes and kayaks meandering gently through open farm fields. But the waters are not without their hair-raising moments. The Siren of the French Broad has her origins in early Cherokee times and the gorgeous dark-haired temptress had her coming out party in an 1845 poem. The Siren comes to male travelers on the river in visions, luring them to the river. As they gaze into the water at her beauty and reach for her the Siren’s flesh turns scaly and yanks the love-struck dupe to his watery doom.
What’s Up With…All the Famous Headstones?
As mountain feuds go, this was one of the feistiest. The centerpiece of the dispute was the muse for Thomas Wolfe’s celebrated debut novel, Look Homeward Angel, in 1929. Here’s the story.
Wolfe drew inspiration for his work of autobiographical fiction from an angel statue that stood on the family porch in Asheville. All parties involved agree on that. Problem is, Thomas Wolfe’s father ran a funeral monument shop so there were a lot of statues hanging around. In fact, W.O. Wolfe had ordered a bunch of the Italian Carrera marble angels from a dealer in Pennsylvania. There was an angel in a cemetery in Old Fort, another in Bryson City and a third in Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville.
Which one was really Wolfe’s “An Angel on the the Porch?” This was no small deal, especially as Wolfe’s novel gained iconic status. For 20 years the towns bickered over who had the real goods?
It eventually got too much for Myra Champion, a Wolfe historian in the Pack Memorial Library, to bear. In 1949 she tracked down anyone from the past half-century who had anything to do with a marble angel in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Old Fort had the best story - old man Wolfe lost that one in a poker game. But in her definitive analysis Champion declared that the true Wolfe angel was in Oakdale, “marking the grave of Mrs. Margaret Bates Johnson, wife of the late Dr. H.F. Johnson, a minister and former president of Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi.”
A slight departure from the grave of a young prostitute it marks in the novel. Apparently the tipping point in its identification stands on the Hendersonville angel’s “phthisic foot” - the withered appendage, as described by Wolfe, that was the result of tuberculosis, the same disease that would take the writer’s life at the age of 37 in 1938.
Wolfe’s headstone was not the first to draw curious tourists to Oakdale. Before Thomas Wolfe set pen to paper folks were coming round to Hendersonville to check on “The Sunshine Lady,” one Miss Lela Davidson. Prior to her death the young governess requested that she be buried in such a way that the sun would alway shine on her.
So in the early 1900s Oakdale built its first ever above-ground vault with thick plate glass squares placed on top. So many people showed up to the grave that in 1937 the grave with covered with concrete - as much for the grossness of the visitors as the grossness going on with the decaying remains inside. According to officials, “Many people expectorated on the glass and for sanitary reasons the top will be covered.”
There are no squabbles about the legitimacy of another famous Hendersonville grave marker - the headstone at the Crab Creek Baptist Church Cemetery marking the final resting place of the McCrary twins is the largest granite tombstone in the world.
If anything, when Billy Leon and Benny Loyd were born two minutes apart on December 7, 1946 they were a bit undersized, just five pounds each. But a bout with German measles when the twins were four years unwired their pituitary glands. The boys weighed 200 pounds each by the time they were ten years old and tipped the scales at over 400 pounds at East Henderson High School. At their heaviest, when they were 22 years old, Benny weighed 814 pounds and Billy 784 with 84-inch waists and 90-inch chests.
Nonetheless, Billy and Benny were surprisingly nimble. They would tool around Hendersonville on mini-bikes (the machinery weighed less than they did) and one year a photographer from Life magazine snapped a shot of the twins at the North Carolina Apple Festival. The publicity helped launch the McCrarys on a show business career that included stints as rodeo clowns and a Vegas casino act.
The twins parlayed their love of mini-bikes into a deal with Honda that had them ride across the country - 100 miles a day for 30 days. Billy and Benny considered themselves “mini-bike stars” until they were lured into professional wrestling as a popular tag-team duo. Since Japanese ring announcers struggled with their name the Hendersonville stars wrestled under the name “McGuire Twins.”
The McGuires went undefeated for years, even though they were often forced to battle three wrestlers since they were so big. Few opponents recovered from a McGuire “Tupelo Splash” which the boys explained was roughly akin to “a rolling pin flattening dough.” Their fame spread and there were appearances on The Tonight Show (“We can’t drown,” Benny told Johnny Carson, “We pop right up like a cork.”), The Merv Griffin Show and the David Frost Show.
In 1978 the McCrarys were officially confirmed by Guinness World Records as the “World’s Heaviest Twins.” They remain the world record holders to this day. Despite all the acclaim, as Billy said in a People magazine profile, “I'd trade it all in a second if I could be 150 pounds."
Billy was the first to die, too young the following year at the age of 32. There were complications from a mini-bike stunt gone wrong in Niagara Falls. After that Benny retreated from the spotlight and came back to Hendersonville, working as an auctioneer and running a Pawn Shop at the Busy Bend on Kanuga Road down the street from his house. He eventually lost half of his weight and became a golfing evangelist, known for a deadly short game.
Benny’s heart gave out 22 years later, in 2001. He was buried beside his brother at the Crab Creek Baptist Church cemetery on an open promontory on Jeter Mountain. The three-ton grave marker is engraved with a Honda mini-bike for each of the McCrary twins with the inscription “A big man with a big heart, loved around the world, with a legend as big as the mountains around him.”
Brush With Greatness around Hendersonville
Over the years the famous have come to live in and around Hendersonville for a spell…
The Manassa Mauler. By 1926 Jack Dempsey had been the heavyweight boxing champion of the world for eight years, although he had taken some time off to court and marry Delaware actress Estelle Taylor, one of the great vamps of the Hollywood silent film era. That year Demsey and Taylor came to Hendersonville to train, lured by a large check from promoter J. Perry Stoltz who was drumming up publicity for his massive 15-story Fleetwood Hotel being built on Jump Off Mountain in Laurel Park.
The Dempseys checked into the Kentucky Home Hotel that then stood at Washington Street and Fourth Avenue. Dempsey was preparing for a title defense with a brawling marine named Gene Tunney and sparred at the Laurel Lake Casino and sometimes at the hotel construction site. Dempsey stayed for a month as hundreds of newspapermen filtered through the town to report on his activities.
The Fleetwood Hotel would never open. The Florida-fueled Hendersonville building boom collapsed shortly after Dempsey left. Things did not go well for the greatest fighter of his age, either. He lost his title to Gene Tunney in front of a record sporting crowd of 120,557 in Philadelphia. There were rumors the champ had been debilitated by a disease he picked up in Hendersonville. Dempsey, however, was less conspiratorial. “I forgot to duck,” he told his wife.
The Poet of the People. In 1945 Carl Sandburg was 67 years old and had lived high in dunes above Lake Michigan for almost 20 years. He had gained national adulation as a poet, biographer and folk performer and was known as the Poet of the People. “I love it here. I love to skip stones,” he said of the Sandburg home in Harbert, Michigan. But Lillian Sandburg was tired of the brutal, windswept winters on the lake. The family would move and the relocation would be up to her.
Lillian Sandburg needed a place to manage her burgeoning goat herd so she concentrated her search on a farm. In Flat Rock she found a 245-acre property underneath Glassy Mountain with a baronial estate that had been constructed in 1845 by Christopher Memminger who would be a future Secretary of the Treasury in the Jefferson Davis administration during the Civil War; his portrait appeared on the Confederate $5 bill. Connemara Farm had been on the market for three years and Lillian Sandburg decided it offered the perfect blend of grazing lands and writerly inspiration. When Carl came to inspect the farm he immediately added his endorsement, and the couple paid $45,000 for Connemara.
Soon a trainload of Sandburg possessions was chugging from Michigan to Flat Rock, including 16,000 books. Carl Sandburg could be expected to relax on the slopes of Glassy Mountain. But when he wasn’t fixing up the century-old house Sandburg would produce more than a third of his life work on the farm in his remaining 22 years and win a second Pulitzer Prize, this time for poetry.
Lillian Sandburg was as renowned in hircine circles as Carl Sandburg was in literary circles. Her Chikaming goats were world famous for the quality of its milk from the Connemara Farms commercial dairy. At its peak, the herd numbered about 200 goats. Jennifer II, a Toggenburg dairy goat, was the world’s top producing Toggenburg in the world in 1960. After Carl Sandburg died in 1967 Lillian turned the property over to the federal government which maintains Connemara as a national historic site, including descendants of the original Chikaming goats.
The King (almost). Sarah Ophella Colley became famous as Minnie Pearl and was a star of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. Her older sister Mary left their Centerville, Tennessee home and settled in Hendersonville where she watched Minnie become a staple of Southern culture. In the early days Minnie would visit her sister by train but she later married Henry Cannon, a former World War II fighter pilot who ran a charter air service for country music stars. One was Elvis Presley.
There came a time when Graceland became a prison for Elvis. He was said to long for a small town like that of his hometown in Tupelo, Mississippi. He wanted to live in a place where he could move about without platoons of bodyguards and just be “one of the boys.” He was told, perhaps on one of Cannon’s flights, that Hendersonville was such a place. There were 700 millionaires in town, town boosters said with dubious accounting. No one would pay Elvis Presley any attention at all.
In the early 1960s Beaumont Mansion, including 204 acres on Kanuga Road, was on the market. Beaumont already had its own notoriety- owner/builder Andrew Johnstone had been murdered in his 1839 Greek Revival mansion during the Civil War by Confederate deserters after he had given them dinner. Elvis reportedly came to Hendersonville and toured the property. He was interested but when word was leaked to the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis the deal fell apart.
It was not the first time Hendersonville had missed out on the King. In the early days of the Apple Festival emcee Kermit Edney was out in Memphis scouting for performers. He was introduced to an up-and-coming singer named Elvis Presley who wanted $300 to play the festival. Edney passed.
Mr. C. Perry Como lived the life in Saluda that Elvis Presley craved. The crooner was looking for a private hideaway to escape from show business and in 1980 he constructed a home on 13 secluded mountaintop acres. The Como property sported a heavy fence and 24-hour security but he scarcely needed it. During his summer stays Como, usually attired in a floppy hat, went about his business in Saluda and Hendersonville completely unbothered.
Como was just another hiker with his grandchildren when he was out on the local trails. But that does not mean Como did not receive the occasional perk during his two decades in Saluda before his death in 2001. Como loved to play golf on the Hendersonville area courses and when he joined Kenmure Country Club he was honored with Membership Number One.
It’s Howdy Doody Time. Buffalo Bob Smith loved to play golf. And he had earned the time off. Beginning in 1947 Buffalo Bob presided over 2,543 television shows in Doodyville, presiding over the antics of a red-headed marionette named Howdy Doody. The puppet had 48 freckles, one for every state in the Union. The children’s show was the first to air 1,000 broadcasts.
After “The Hoody Doody Show” went off the air in 1960 Smith assumed he had seen the last of his freckle-faced friend. He was prepared to settle down with his three radio stations and a liquor store in Florida. But by 1970 Smith was getting requests from nostalgic baby boomers to make appearances on college campus. The team was together again for two more decades. When he put his memoirs down in writing Smith, born Robert Schmidt, called it “Howdy and Me: Buffalo Bob’s Own Story.”
When he retired the choice for a golden years home was between Maine and Florida but his son suggested North Carolina. Smith had a friend who lived in Hendersonville and during a visit saw the Kenmure golf community in Flat Rock. The Smiths moved in during September of 1992 and Howdy lived the next six years of his life in a glass case on a pedestal overlooking the 16th green. After Smith’s death there was a fierce custody battle for Howdy, who was considered one of the most valuable pieces of memorabilia from television’s formative days. Eventually the puppet’s original builder prevailed and Howdy Doody now spends his days in the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan.
What’s Up With…All the Nicknames?
When your stock in trade is selling your city to visitors a catchy slogan can come in handy - and Hendersonville has tried several. Boosters of the Western North Carolina mountains began popping up after the Civil War, spreading word of the “healing springs and healthy climate” to outsiders. In 1876 a 29-year old native of Salisbury named Frances Fisher wrote a novel about her adventures in “"Mountains that like giants stand, sentinel enchanted land.” Fisher, who wrote over 50 books under her pen name f Christian Reid, called her novel The Land of the Sky.
The name was an was an instant star. In short order hotels from Caesar’s Head in South Carolina to Asheville were luring out-of-town guests to “The Land of The Sky.” When the Southern Railway began pushing track out of Charleston into the mountains the entire region - Flat Rock, Tryon, Saluda, Hendersonville and other points - were lumped into “The Land of the Sky.”
The Southern worked the slogan hard. The railroad published regular promotional guidebooks to the Land of the Sky and its copywriters tried to give each of the mountain towns a personality. Asheville became the “madonna of the Mountains.” Saluda was “Charming, Healthful, Recuperative” andFlat Rock was “Historic and Exquisitively Picturesque.” Waynesville was "A Natural Resort of Great Beauty and Fine Climate" and Hot Springs was “An Ideal Autumn and Winter Resort.” Brevard resided “in the Exquisite Land of Waterfalls.” Lake Toxaway was “A Wonder-spot of Scenic Beauty.” And Hendersonville was the “Gem City of the Western NorthCarolina Mountains.”
If we are scoring at home I think we can agree that Brevard won the hyperbolic name game competition - Transylvania County still uses the “Land of Waterfalls” moniker a century later. But Hendersonville was a close second. After all, it is a gem of a city and the Land of the Sky abounds in gems and minerals. The city adopted the nickname and used it into the 1930s when the United States Postal Serviceinitiated all-North Carolina airmail service and stamped each letter with the slogan of its city of origin. Hendersonville was “The Gem City.” Asheville, incidentally, had not yet purloined The Land of the Sky slogan for its own yet and was still scuffling in the branding game - it was “Men to Match our Mountains.” Not exactly a tourism magnet.
After World War II Hendersonville cashed out “Gem City” and decided to chase tourist dollars as the “Friendly City. There are plenty of other “friendly” cities in America and even others in North Carolina - in the days of U.S. Postal Service airmail stamping Charlotte was the “Friendly City.” By the 1970s the Chamber of Commerce was ready to jettison the slogan and recruited owner of WHKP radio and long-time morning radio host Kermit Edney for help. Speaking directly to the retirees he had seen around town who had wearied of the sameness of the Florida climate Edney coined the slogan “City of Four Seasons.” And it has stuck ever since.
What’s Up With…Those Serpentine Twists in Main Street?
The city shapers have all had strong visions of Hendersonville's Main Street from the very beginning. When Judge Mitchell donated the original land he specified that Main Street be 100 feet wide so ""a carriage and four horses could turn around without backing." That also left room for him to plant shade trees that could juice real estate sales. Poles with oil lamps were installed right down the middle of the wide thoroughfare.
The roomy expanse seemed to work well enough long after the horse-drawn phaetons gave way to the automobile. Until those cars started zipping along too fast and roaring past the Main Street merchants on the four-lane state highway. In 1964, a 57-page report was commissioned on the need for a downtown Hendersonville make-over. Nothing was done.
By 1975, 17 businesses had boarded up on Main Street. The spectators for the nightly drag races down the straight, wide strip of asphalt outnumbered the shoppers. Desperate, community leaders blew the dust bunnies off their decade-old manifesto and flew out to Grand Junction, Colorado to check out that city's traffic-calming, pedestrian-friendly street designs.
Reluctantly, Hendersonville waved goodbye to its long-lived four-lane Main Street with parking on both sides of the streets. In came curb extensions known as "bulb-outs." They reached so far into the old roadway that the mid-block crosswalks barely require ten steps. A city gardener was hired, paid for partly by merchants. Brick planters followed along the length of the street. By 1978, $235,000 later,Hendersonville's new Downtown Shopping Park was ready.
The serpentine strategy on Main Street has been a hit; there have been awards, a revitalization of business and a closer observance to the 20 mph speed limit. Everyone is happy - except perhaps for the drover of the occasional oxen team who is forced to back up to get in and out of town.
What’s Up With…White Squirrels
Where would science fiction writers be without the nefarious circus train crash to kickstart their hair-raising sagas? Madison, Florida suffered one of those dreaded circus transport incidents in 1949 when a carnival truck left the road and tipped over. But the consequences were not that scary. Some white squirrels scurried off from the accident scene and took up residence in a nearby pecan grove.
The farmer eventually scooped up two of the critters and sent them to live with his niece in Brevard. She kept them inside as pets hoping the snow-kissed rodents might breed. No such luck. Eventually one escaped and other released. Despite their lack of amorous success in captivity white squirrels soon began appearing around town. Or so the story goes.
The white squirrels are not pigment-starved albinos as they boast dark beady eyes. Other towns claim fealty to their white squirrels but they are bred from albinos. Botanists do not recognize a distinct species of white squirrels and these are probably the offspring of hooking up with gray squirrels. The Gray Squirrel is the official State Mammal of the North Carolina but the folks in Brevard go way beyond that - in 1986 the city council declared the entirety of the city a sanctuary for all squirrels, gray, white or in between. Today squirrel census counters estimate that more than 25% of all the squirrels scurrying around Brevard are white.
One of the best places to spot one of these rascals is on the leafy campus of Brevard College. But they are visible in backyards around Hendersonville as well. One time of year you are guaranteed to spot the rare breed is during the White Squirrel Festival held each May, highlighted by a parade and a squirrel box derby down Jailhouse Hill. Always in attendance is Pisgah Pete, a rescued white squirrel.
What’s Up With…All the Wild Water?
Western North Carolina is known for its abundance of waterfalls. Transylvania County next door has greedily usurped the title Land of Waterfalls but Henderson County is not devoid of its own hydrospectaculars - especially if one does not swear a strict fealty to artificially drawn country borders. Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest. Triple Falls, High Falls and Hooker Falls in the DuPont State Forest. Pearson’s Falls in Tryon. Hickory Nut Falls in Chimney Rock. Little Bradley Falls and Big Bradley Falls in the Green River Game Lands. All are famous waterfalls so close that you can stand in Henderson County and feel their spray.
What Henderson County lacks in calendar-worthy waterfalls it makes up for in excitement. The boulder-choked Green River, which features a series of plunges and pools, is the wildest river in Western North Carolina. Whitewater come from around the world to test their skills on the Green, especially on a section called the Narrows, where the river is pinched to a creek-like four feet in spots. The churning water produces nine rapids classified as class IV and eight as class V, the most difficult runnable rapids. The three most notorious have been rated a notch higher - "Go Left and Die" (5.1), "Gorilla" (5.2) and Sunshine (5.2). Kayakers have been seriously hurt and two paddlers have lost their lives in the Green River.
A complete descent of the Green River was not accomplished until 1988 but by 1996 the kayaking community was making a race of it. Entrants are required to sign a waiver before competing that includes such cautionary phrases as "extensive dental damage" and "I have been warned of the stupidity of this activity." It is no wonder that fewer than 600 people have competed in the Green River Narrows Race through the years, with participation now hovering about 125 entrants each November. Even though the racers are doing battle with the river and their own inner demons more than each other the winning times have dropped by more than 20% since the first race in 1996.