Vacation Along the Highlands Heritage Trail

Posted by Jochen | Posted in Things to Do | Posted on Friday, January 14, 2011

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Plan a Walk Through Time in This Charming Western North Carolina Town

With more than 60 structures in and around Highlands listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s easy to see that this is a place as rich in history as it is in beauty.

Founded in 1875 by Kansas developers, Samuel Truman Kelsey and Clinton Carter Hutchinson – Highlands did not live up to original expectations.  Legend has it the two men drew lines on a map from Chicago to Savannah and from New Orleans to New York, in the hopes that the area where the lines intersected would become a commercial crossroads and major trading center in the South.  What the two did not realize was the rough terrain soaring to over 4,000 feet above sea level was impassable for early steam engines and intimidating for heavily loaded mule- and horse-drawn carriages.  Awe-struck by the beauty of the region, the two purchased 839 acres and their dream evolved to the development of a health and summer resort – which quickly grew in popularity with wealthy planters from coastal South Carolina and Atlanta as they sought to escape the oppressive heat of the lower elevations during the summer months.  

Committed to preserving their colorful past, The Highlands Historical Society in conjunction with the Highlands Chamber of Commerce have detailed a walking tour of the area – much of which is located in the historic downtown district. They have dubbed the tour The Highlands Heritage Trail and they invite you to plan a walk through time during your next visit to this charming Western North Carolina town.

The Highlands Heritage Trail:

1. Partridge-Rice Home (circa 1883) This 1½-story frame house with multi-gable roof  was the original home of Highlands miller William Partridge and wife Eliza. The family of town butcher Luke Rice also lived in this house from 1909-68. Today, it is home to the Highlands Chamber of Commerce.

2. Boynton-Norton Home (circa 1881) This 2-story multi-gabled frame residence was built by Capt. Charles Boynton. It was converted to a boarding house, called the Crisp House in 1924. It continued to serve as a boarding house for the next 7 decades before becoming the Main Street Inn in 1998.

3. Hick’s Building (circa 1927) Orignally built to house Jim Hick’s barber shop, this building was also home to the first restaurant in town, Elinor Cleaveland’s Highlands Grille.

4. Rice and Thompson Building (circa 1928) Home to Irvin Rice’s Meat Market and Grocery, brother Luke ran his butchery in the rear. In the late ‘20’s, hamburger at Rice’s Meat Market sold for 10¢ a pound and a round steak could be purchased for a quarter. It has also served as a  tea room, a hat and dress shop, and a café and drug store. Current resident, Wit’s End has sold ladies’ and children’s clothing here since 1940.

5. Potts Livery Stable and Grocery (circa 1902, 1926) In the early 1900’s, Billy Potts was well-known for his fast horses and fast deliveries. Frank and Roy Potts later established Potts Brothers grocery in its place, which served Highlands for the next 30 years.

6. Cleaveland’s Grocery site (circa 1885, 1920) This gabled grocery was built by Highlands pioneer W. B. Cleaveland. It later became a general store that thrived for over 30 years. Today it houses Ann Jacob Gallery.

7. Bascom-Marett Store site (circa 1883) One of the earliest businesses in Highlands was the hardware store, built by H. M. Bascom that lasted over 40 years.  George Marett took over in 1925 under the name Highlands Hardware for 13 more years. Marett expanded the building to include a 2-story plain square-frame grocery. In 1940, the original building was moved on logs across 4th Street, and in 1956 Marett’s building was moved to 3rd Street – both represented on the Highlands Heritage Trail.

8. First School site (circa 1878) Built of white pine planks, the first Highlands School served the town for 40 years where the Town Hall exists today. Its bell still rings in the millennium clock tower above. The single story building housed the famed Highlands Academy and the beginning of today’s Hudson Library.

9. Second School site (circa 1918) Where the ABC store now stands, the brown-shingle two-story building that served as the second Highlands School stood for over 30. It was known as the Town Clock School on Knowledge Hill.

10. House-Trapier-Wright (Prince) House (circa 1877) The oldest existing house in Highlands is a frame house with multi-gable roof built by Arthur House near his sawmill. It was bought by Frank Wright in 1913 and became known as the Prince house, when Frank’s sister Lizzie married a Prince. It has housed the Highlands Historical Society since 2000.

11. Old Hudson Library building (circa 1915) Designed by the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Dr. Huger Elliott and built by local contractor Walter Reese, the library served the people of Highlands for almost 70 years. Gertrude and Dolly Harbison were its librarians for 50 of those years. Seven years after a new Hudson Library had been constructed, the old Hudson Library building was moved to join the Historic Village to house the Highlands Historical Museum and Archives in 2002.

12. Bug Hill (circa 1908-18) Dr. Mary Lapham, a pioneer of the Swiss cure of tuberculosis, established a Sanatorium in Highlands, known locally as Bug Hill. Many TB patients, who came to Highlands to die, lived instead long productive lives because of Dr. Lapham’s prescription of fresh mountain air and sunshine. After the Sanatorium was destroyed by fire in 1918, its 60 open-air cottages were removed. The Highlands Recreation Park now occupies the site, and one Bug Hill Cottage has been preserved by the Highlands Historical Society.

13. Anderson-Sullivan Home site (circa 1906) A reputedly beautiful Scottish Mansion made entirely of native wood, it was built by the famed creator of puffed wheat and puffed rice, Alexander Anderson. Sadly, the home was torn down in 1973.

14. Zoellner’s Garage (circa 1878) Originally serving as Monroe Skinner’s blacksmith shop, this building became Carl Zoellner’s Esso Station and Garage in the late 1930s. The building also served the town as Highlands Laundry for almost 40 years.

15. Dr. O’Farrell’s Drug Store (circa 1882) Home to Highlands’ 1st newspaper “Blue Ridge Enterprise”, the building also housed Dr. Henry O’Farrell’s pharmacy where legend says R. J. Reynolds first demonstrated how to roll a cigarette for the townsfolk.

16. Highlands House-Highlands Inn (circa 1880) Built by Joseph Halleck as a 3-story frame hotel with 2-story front porch, Highlands House was later given to John Jay and Mary Chapin Smith as a wedding gift in 1886. It was renamed Highlands Inn in 1925, and is now listed on the National Register.

17. Grey Cottage (circa 1883) Built before Mary Chapin married John Jay Smith, this wooden-shingled frame Victorian home with decorative bargeboards in gables served them both well for 60 years. A student of botany and accomplished poet, Mary was well-known for her beautiful garden and devotion to the growth of the Hudson Library. Her husband ’s sawmills supplied most of the wood used to build houses in Highlands before 1920.

18. Episcopal Church of the Incarnation (circa 1896) This 1-story frame Victorian structure with high-pitched roof and circular patterned wooden-shingled belfry was the 3rd church building in Highlands. Its earliest priest earned an annual salary of $100. Today, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation is on the National Register of Historic Places.

19. Hutchinson-Frost-Hall-Farnsworth Home (circa 1878) This lovely Victorian home with multi-gable roof and wrap-around porch was first envisioned by Arthur Hutchinson, co-founder of Highlands. It was completed in 1880 by Dr. Charles Frost, Highlands’ 1st long-term resident physician. It was later owned by the Hall and Farnsworth families.

20. Reinke Home (circa 1934) This charming log cabin was built as a model of the famed Joe Webb style of construction. It was originally owned by Edwin Reinke, 1st director of the Highlands Biological Station

21. Kelsey-Harbison-Harris Home site (circa 1875) The two-story home which once stood here was the first house in Highlands. It was built for $350 by Samuel Kelsey, co-founder of the town. It was consumed by fire in 1976, and all that remains is its handsome chimney at the rear of The Falls on Main.

22. Kelsey Memorial – In 1929, the Highlands Improvement Society created a memorial at the intersection of Church and 5th Streets to one of the founders of the town, Samuel Kelsey. It stands near the beginning of the 5-mile Kelsey Trail which leads to Whiteside Mountain.

23. First Presbyterian Church (circa 1885) This lovely 1-story frame structure with jerkinhead gable roof, steeple, and belfry represents the second church building in Highlands. It appears today on the National Register.

24. Central House (circa 1878) This 2½-story frame hotel with gable roof, shed dormer, and 2-tier front porch was one of Highlands’ earliest boarding houses. It is listed on the National Register.

25. Rock Store (circa 1889) This long, low granite structure was built by Highlands pioneer James Rideout to serve as a general merchandise store. In 1934-35 it served as the first floor of the new 3-story Edwards Inn, designed by Linton Young and built by Wilton Cobb.

26. Post Office-Telephone Exchange (circa 1923) Legend has it that Nellie Cleaveland rang a large bell atop a high pole to announce to the people of Highlands that the mail had arrived. Beginning in 1936, Dorothy and Caroline Hall and later Manila Reese serviced all telephone calls into or out of Highlands, and were rumored to “holler” to individuals down the street to come answer the phone.

27. Davis House-Lee’s Inn site (circa 1889) Built by H. M. Bascom, the 3½-story frame hotel with 2-tier wrap-around porch and gable roof originally known as Davis House was considered one of the most elegant inns in the Southeast. A severe loss to Highlands, it burned in 1982 and was replaced in 1998 by Kelsey and Hutchinson Lodge.

28. Islington House-King’s Inn site (circa 1883) An expansion of Monroe Skinner 1878 home, this 3-story frame hotel with hip roof and 2-story wrap-around porch was named Islington House by owner Margaretta Ravenel. It thrived for 30 years as a very popular inn, but stood abandoned for a dozen years before Bob King revived it as King’s Inn from 1925 until it burned in 1994.

29. Pierson Inn site (circa 1899) On the former site of pioneer builder Joseph Halleck’s home, Jeremiah and Emma Pierson constructed a 3-story frame building with 2-tier porches called the Pierson Inn. Flanked by two 2-story cottages, known as Piermont and Lakemont, the Inn also featured one of Highlands’ earliest golf links surrounding a lake near today’s Highlands School. The Inn closed in 1958 and was finally demolished in 1993. Only the two cottages remain.

30. Satulah Mountain District  A number of homes in the Satulah Mountain District qualified for recognition on the National Register. Dr. Theodore Lamb was the 1st summer resident on Satulah in 1892. Other prominent Highlands residents, like John Elliott, Mary Lapham, H. M. Bascom, Robert Eskrigge, Minnie Warren, Henry Sloan, Alice Lyons, and Marie Huger, erected homes here between 1900 and 1925.

31. Kibbee-Hines Cottage (circa 1878) Highlands’ first resident physician, Dr. George Kibbee, built his 1½-story wooden shingled front-gabled home for his family here the very same year that he died of yellow fever. It was destroyed by fire in 2006 and replaced by Satulah Village Townhouses.

32. Selleck-Hill-McCall Home (circa 1879) This 2-story, wooden shingled home with salt box gable roof was built by Highlands pioneer Eben Selleck . Owned by the family of Lilia McCall since the  early 1930s and known as The Rabbit Hole, its lawn played host to the elephants of the circus that visited Highlands in 1938.

33. Anderson Dime and Drug stores (circa 1924) Charlie Anderson established a dime and drug store that served Highlands for almost 60 years. The rebuilt drugstore now serves as Mirror Lake Antiques.

34. Highlands Bank-Gem Shop (circa 1923) When the 1st Highlands Bank failed in 1933 due to the Depression, the Bank of Franklin took over. Jackson County Bank bought the site back in 1936 and subsequently served Highlands for the next 20 years. In 1956, Archie and Hazel Jellen opened the first gem store in Macon County here, which still specializes in locally mined emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.

35. Bill’s Soda Shop (circa 1883) Originally constructed as Martin’s Meat Market and subsequently serving as a drugstore, post office, phone company, and town hall, this corner store served as a popular meeting place in town and became famous as Bill’s Soda Shop, where folks enjoyed cherry sodas and the occasional ammonia coke until the shop closed in 1972.

36. Dimick’s Cheap Cash Store site (circa 1878) One of Highlands’ earliest businesses, Annie Dimick’s Cheap Cash Store, sold general merchandise and specialized in good Rio coffee.

37. William B. Cleaveland Home (circa 1888) This 1½-story multi-gabled family home with wrap-around porch  was built by Highlands pioneer William B. Cleaveland across the street from his grocery store.

38. Arthur Homesite and Park (circa 1879) One of Western North Carolina’s first historians, John P. Arthur built his Highlands home surrounded by a meadow and fronted with a white picket fence. By the mid 1920s it became a park shaded by large maples and fronted with 6 benches installed by the ladies of the Improvement Society. The Boy Scouts built a cabin here in 1939.

39. T. Baxter White House (circa 1875) This front-gabled “white house” built by Highlands’ 1st settler, T. Baxter White, served as the town’s 1st post office and country store in addition to his home.

40. Highlands Methodist Church (circa 1909) Designed by renowned architect Upton C. Ewing, this 1-story cut stone structure with a classical revival style portico and tall steeple-belfry was the second home of the Methodists in Highlands and served to reunite the Southern and Northern Methodists from their separate churches in town following the Civil War. It was here that the Methodists hosted Sunday afternoon services for the African-Americans, who served summer families in the town and performed popular gospel concerts as fund-raising benefits for the church and the hospital.

41. Masonic Hall (circa 1893) Designed “to take good men and make better people out of them”, the Masonic Lodge of Highlands was first established in 1890 and moved into its new hall in 1893. Dr. Elbert Gilbert, the town’s 1st resident dentist, practiced here during the mid 1920s, and the building also housed Town Hall from the early 1930s to 1950.

42. Root’s Gift Shop and Tea Room site (circa 1926) Beginning in 1931, Annie Root operated a very popular gift shop and tea room here for 30 years. During the late 1920s, her husband Joseph installed the waterworks for the town, engineered the Highlands Country Club golf course, and surveyed many properties of the town.

43. Helen’s Barn (circa 1935) A large board and batten frame building constructed in 1932 on land purchased by Charlie Wright with the proceeds from his Carnegie Gold Medal, became the site of Helen’s Barn – providing a popular mountain music and dance hall for the residents of Highlands. Originally located on the corner of Main and 1st, it was rebuilt where it stands today after its destruction by fire in 1935. Helen Wright Wilson and her children treated Highlanders to over 50 years of square dancing and it is rumored that many a courtship began at Helen’s Barn.

44. Salt Rock It was here that Joseph Dobson once grazed his sheep and cattle on the land grant he purchased at 10 cents an acre in 1844. Salt was often used by herdsmen to calm their stock, and the rock that still stands at the southwest corner of Wright Square helped prevent the salt from soaking into the ground. It is also believed that the Cherokee Indians are said to have used this site for camping.

45. Old log Law House site (circa unknown) Before the town of Highlands existed, a single-room log Law House served as a place where the county sheriff collected taxes, elections took place, and circuit riders preached the Gospel. This became the site of Highlands’ 1st non-denominational Sunday School in 1876, before becoming Sumner Clark’s tool shed in the mid-1880’s.

46. Dobson-Stewart-Memminger-Raoul Home (circa 1879) William Dobson – son of settler Joseph Dobson –  sold 839 acres to Kelsey and Hutchinson for $2 an acre for what would later become the town of Highlands. It is here that he built his home with the help of Cherokee laborers, who were thought to bring luck. They carved the talismanic arrows that support the eaves and point toward the home. The home was later owned by Henry Stewart, a New York Times columnist and one of the most prolific agricultural writers in America, and Gustavus Memminger, a leading figure in the world of phosphate mining. The Raoul family ran it and the adjacent Laurel Lodge as an Inn and Tea Room during the depression. In 1978 a furniture store moved in and built the large brick addition.

47. Methodist-Baptist Church (circa 1885, 1940) The Northern Methodists were the first denomination to build their own sanctuary in Highlands in 1885. They sold the 1-story front-gabled structure with a small rose window to the Baptists in 1904, and built a new church with their Southern counterparts nearer the center of town. In 1940, the Baptists rebuilt the sanctuary on a cruciform plan with cross gable roof and stone veneer.

48. Hunt-Esty Cottage site (circa 1883) This a 1½-story cottage with front gable roof and wrap-around porch, including belvedere-like corner treatments was built by Judge Dana Hunt as a second home. Known as White Oak House, it was regrettably torn down in 2001.

To learn more about Highland’s history, visit the Highlands Historical Society online. Much of the historic data included in this blog was provided by the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

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