“The Little Charleston of the Mountains”
The village of Flat Rock lies twenty-two miles south of Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Named for the great expanse of exposed flat rock, the village can trace its beginnings to the time of the Cherokee
Nation. Known as the Mountaineers among American tribes, the Cherokee laid claim to this region as their summer home and hunting grounds. Although development has covered much of the flat rock, a portion can still be seen at the Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina.
After the country won its independence in the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee, having sided with the British, found themselves a defeated people. North Carolina ceded all land claimed by the Cherokee to the national government in 1783. Shortly after the War ended, the US government began issuing land grants to veterans, as both a thank you for their service and as a way to develop vast expanses of raw land. By the 1790s, Flat Rock saw an influx of educated, self reliant pioneers, mostly of English and Scots-Irish descent. They built mills and taverns, and raised livestock for trade, using trails carved by the Cherokee. The 1790s saw men such as Captain Kuykendall, John Davis and Col. Earle, who is credited with opening the Old Buncombe Turnpike from Landrum, SC. Today, Greenville Highway, Route 225, closely follows the Old Buncombe Turnpike through the center of Flat Rock. One small original portion is preserved and identified with an historic marker.
By the early 19th century, the bustling and important seaport of Charleston was enjoying unparalleled success. Plantations were at the cusp of production, providing owners with great wealth and the ability to escape the humid, warm and unhealthy Low Country summers. When they heard of the climate, clear water and scenery of Flat Rock, they began the long trek up the mountains to explore.
By 1827, the Low Country colony in Flat Rock had begun. Among the very first to build substantial summer homes were Charles and Susan Baring, who built Mountain Lodge and St. John in the Wilderness Church, all the while acquiring vast quantities of land. Judge Mitchell King, while searching for a healthy climate or his wife, was so enamored with Flat Rock that he purchased the sawmill tract belonging to John Davis, an early settler and veteran of the War of 1812.
Judge King, being a frugal Scot, built his home, Argyle, around the Davis house, which predated the new construction considerably. Their friends followed and built their own estates at the end of long tree-lined drives.
Early Flat Rock became a distinctive and influential social colony, populated by the who’s-who of the South. Of all the influential people who resided in Flat Rock, C. G. Memminger, first Secretary of the Confederate Treasury, was most associated with our Nation’s history. He built Rock Hill, where he spent summers and where his family lived permanently during the Civil War years. Rock Hill is now The Carl Sandburg Home, a National Park, and National Historic Site.
The Civil War years dealt a severe blow to the village of Flat Rock by depleting plantation wealth and robbing many of their Low Country properties. Flat Rock did not see war time action as such, but its residents suffered enormously from war’s results. Resiliency won out, and to this day most of the grand estate houses from the 19th century are intact and well cared for. The entire Village of Flat Rock is on the National Register of Historic Places.
We are indeed “The Little Charleston of the Mountains.”
– Galen Reuther 3/14/17