History of Henderson County
Courtesy of the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce.
William Mills must have played possum at King's Mountain. He was left for dead, but after the victorious patriots camped down for the night, the stout Tory crawled away in the darkness and made toward his home on the Green River, in (then) Rutherford County. He didn't stop there, but headed for the high ridges beyond. On Sugar Loaf Mountain, the wounded soldier lived in a cave until tempers in the lowlands cooled and peace was a reality.
From his hideout, and looking through the eyes of a white man and farmer, Mills must have marveled at the emptiness of the paradise below him. It was Cherokee land, expressly forbidden to settlers. But while Indians occasionally hunted in the rich middle valleys of the French Broad, they had no villages there.
Mills returned after the Revolution to become Henderson's first white settler. The date is uncertain, but his grant, dated 1787, was among the first land grants west of the Blue Ridge.
The Tory, now a stout American citizen, located at Fruitland. He must have taken delight in exploring the land and discovering its varied features, because by right of discovery he gave it its first place names: Bearwallow, Sugar Loaf, Bald Top, Mills River and Mills Gap.
Henderson is called a "typical" mountain county, because it consists of all these elements: Mountain ranges, isolated peaks, a rolling plateau, and level valley areas. Elevations range from 1,400 near Bat Cave at the foot of the Blue Ridge, to 5,000 on Little Pisgah.
Henderson is almost circled with mountains. On the west, the county touches the Pisgah Ledge, and the eastern and southern boundaries coincide roughly with the Blue Ridge and Saluda Mountains. The sides of Henderson's mountains usually are steep, and those around Bat Cave are stony and perpendicular.
For all their gentle inclines, however, the routes have lifted the lowlander onto a remarkable intermountain plateau, covering about 75 square miles around Hendersonville, Flat Rock and Fruitland. It has an elevation of from 2,100 to 2,300 feet, and until the visitor lifts his eyes and sees the rim of mountains around him, he can well believe he is down in the Piedmont. The unusual flatland may be a souvenir left by the prehistoric river Appalachia.
Henderson offers the easiest passageway from the lowlands into the Appalachians. The eastern entry is from Hickory Nut Gorge and on up U.S. 64. The crest of the Blue Ridge is passed at Reedy Patch Gap, just at Edneyville, but the motorist never realizes it. From the south, U.S. 25 threads with equal skill across the water divide.
At first agriculture was the sole producer of revenue for the citizens of Henderson County. Adding to the economy later was what is today called tourism. Having easy access from the lowlands, Hendersonville became a vacation spot for people to spend the summer months because of its invigorating climate. This basic economy held up until after World War II, with the founding of the Chamber of Commerce program, industrial development became an important part of that program. As a result, today the economy base consists of manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, and retirement development.
The first settlers developed the usual pioneer household: Hard-working and self-sufficient. Early products were corn, wheat, rye, grass, potatoes, and cabbage. William Mills each year put out hundreds of fruit trees at this Fruitland home, and his neighbors, observing how well they thrived, honored him by imitation. Today, Henderson County leads the State in production of apples, and the orchards continue to spread up and down the hillsides.
Henderson County shared in and got hurt by the curious land boom of the '20s. This was a backwash of the Florida boom, which was beginning to die out, and promoters flocked into the mountains in an effort to duplicate their success further south. They were heartily joined by the more enthusiastic and hopeful natives. Mountain land ordinarily worth $5 an acre sold for 10 or 20 times as much; subdivisions with fancy names sprang up by the dozens.
About 1926, Commodore Peary Stolz of Florida started work on a 14-day hotel atop Jump Off Rock. The steel skeleton and part of the concrete was already up when money and boom ran out. The gaunt Fleetwood Hotel carcass for a long time was grim reminder of the fiasco.
At prices in those days, $175,000 would have finished the structure. But it was finally sold for $6 laborer's lien, according to a local resident, and scrapped for its steel. Bathtubs which had been delivered at the site were hawked over the mountains from wagons and many of them are in use in some of the older homes today
Flat Rock: (Altitude 2,207) The Old Flat Rock while remote and apparently indifferent to the new bustle, was as responsible as anything for modern Henderson. Its sophisticated settlers formed a continuous and ever-renewed link between the mountain folks and the world of business and ideas. The first grant in the Flat Rock neighborhood was to John Earl in 1791, and probably he and some neighbors were in the area before that.
The Farmer Hotel, now Woodfield Inn, which was completed some time around 1850, proved to be the first germ which shaped a small settlement of Low Country Estates into a famous summer resort section of this region, The Little Charleston of the Mountains.
Many of the old families return to the old St. John-in-The-Wilderness to have their marriages performed. It is constructed of hand-made yellow brick, with round arched windows and a square bell tower. The first rector, the Rev. T.W. C. Mott, was the only Episcopal clergyman in Western North Carolina from 1836 to 1843.
The Episcopal Chapel was built in 1834-36 especially for the South Carolinians and their friends, and became the nucleus of the diocese of North Carolina which was organized in 1836.
Fletcher: Fletcher's widely publicized "Westminister Abbey of the South" has had no additions for a long time. The boulders set up and marked as memorials to great southerners stand in front of the Calvary Episcopal Church, waiting for someone to take up the dream of Rev. Clarence Stuart McClellan of New York, who started the memorial idea some 25 years ago.
The dream was to build a shrine that would place "before the eyes and minds and hearts of coming generations the great ideals of the south; its songs, its poetry, its books and prose and their writers, statesmen" every bit of history that is meaningful to the future.
There are memorials to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America; Henry Timrod, Laureate of the Confederacy; Orren Randolph Smith, designer of the Stars and Bars; Joel Chandler Harris, creator of "Uncle Remus;" Francis Scott Key, composer of the Star Spangled Banner; and John Fox Jr., the novelist and others.
Calvary Church was organized in 1857 by the colony of the Low Country South Carolinians who settled there. Baptists were already on hand in a church formed in 1838. In the Episcopal graveyard is buried Bill Nye, humorist.
Fletcher, once called Shufordville is an old town, settled just after the Revolution, and grew up around the inn on the turnpike operated by the Fletcher family.
Buried Treasure: The trouble with Abraham Kuykendall was that his ingenuity was better than his memory. Abraham kept a tavern near Mud Creek Church, Henderson County; and reputedly lived to 104 years old. According to legend, when he sold his property he was paid off in gold coins. He blindfolded two of his servants, led them through the forest one dark night, and directed them to dig a hole for the money. Some time later he had use for some cash, but he was unable to remember where he had buried it. While searching for his treasure, he fell and died from injuries. A lot of people since have tried to find Abraham's Gold.
Schools: Henderson County's interest in religion was paralleled by concern for education. The first schools were known as "old field schools." The first academy was founded at Mills River in 1797, with Rev. David Haddon as first teacher. Records show 29 public schools and perhaps as many private ones prior to 1860.
Stories About Names: Henderson County was named for Leonard Henderson who died in 1833, five years before the county was created. He was Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court but had no recorded connection with the area. At the time, the East dominated the North Carolina Legislature and it was difficult to get legislation passed to create new counties in the west. One device was to name the new county for some popular easterner.
Balfour was named for Captain William Balfour Troy, who opened a rock quarry there in 1880.
Bearwallow was named by and early settler, William Mills, because of its much frequented bear wallow.
Edneyville was named for Rev. Samuel Edney, Methodist Preacher, who served as postmaster and magistrate.
Etowah is from the Cherokee work "itawa" meaning unknown.
Fletcher was named for the Fletcher family of which Dr. George W. Fletcher was a prominent member.
Horse Shoe was named for a bend in the French Broad River on which the village is situated.
Mills River, first called Mills Creek, was named for William Mills, first white settler in Henderson County.
Tuxedo, called Lakewood until renamed to avoid confusion with another Lakewood. Tuxedo was chosen because it was considered euphonious.
Zirconia was named for zircon mines once operated there.
Hendersonville was named after Judge Leonard Henderson.
Flat Rock is built around a tremendous outcrop of granite which is said to have been the site of Cherokee gatherings. Old Indian grave sites are known and it is said that an Indian mound at one time was opened by the Smithsonian Institution not far from the big rock. A great deal of it has been blasted away and used for material for highways. At present the rock is visible for about 150 by 100 feet, but it continues just under the soil for some distance.
The above information was taken from an article titled "Henderson" which appeared in the State Magazine in 1957.