Small Mountain Towns
On a cool summer evening, the front yards of Victorian homes are alive with fireflies, and front porch swings and rockers set the cadence of life in Saluda, a historic village of 568 souls. With a little imagination, you can conjure up the sounds and smells of the coal-fired Carolina Special train that hauled turn-of-the-century lowcountry visitors up the steep grade to escape the coastal heat.
This Victorian-era resort town is in the “Thermal Belt” of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where warm air settles and moderates the year-round temperatures, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Saluda, spread across seven hills, was originally known as Pace’s Gap. The Pace family built an inn here in the early 1800s at the crossroads of Winding Stair and Howard Gap roads. Don’t be surprised if you see the Pace name in the Main Street Historic District that was recently listed on the National Regiaster of Historic Places. The M.A. Pace General Store is an architectural treasure with corbel brick cornices and panels. Its time-yellowed boxes might hold a treasure for you.
Nearby, Ward’s Grill with its high ceilings and mint green walls adorned with photos of the locals is ready to take you back to the 1940s. Once you have had your coffee at Ward’s and wandered the narrow aisles of the adjacent Thompson’s Store, take a seat on a street bench for a view of the tracks where trains once took on the steepest standard-gauge railroad grade in the U.S.
After a few imaginary trains rumble through and you catch the smell of fresh baked bread, you are beginning to reset your clock to Saluda time. You’ll find that bread in a natural foods bakery in the Nostalgia Courtyard Shops among an interesting mix of other shops peddling everything from antiques and pottery to custom ironwork and handcrafted jewelry.
Saluda’s Main Street is now a North Carolina Scenic Byway, so you’ll want to follow it to see the sites. There’s the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration and the Orchard Inn, both on the National Register of Historic Places. The Inn was built in 1910 as a retreat for the railroad workers. Another must-see is the Green River Plantation, located about 20 miles out from Saluda on the Rutherford/Polk county line. This 42-room mansion built in 1804 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, too.
As you can see, history’s call is strong here, but so is nature’s. Nearby is the 10,000-acre Green River Game Lands where you can fish, hike, canoe or just enjoy the tranquil mountain vistas. Or, drive the 10-mile Pacolet Scenic Byway that follows the Pacolet River from Tryon to Historic Saluda, providing glimpses of waterfalls, wildflowers and beautiful landscape. One natural site not to be missed along this scenic journey is Pearson’s Falls. This North Carolina Heritage site offers an easy quarter mile walk up a well-maintained path to a 90ft waterfall. The glorious view is accented by the wildflowers that populate the river and rock ledges. And the picnic tables make it a perfect lunch spot.
No matter what you do, you’ll find yourself settling into a new rhythm. So, find the beat and relax. You’re on Saluda time.
added: December 11, 2008
updated: January 2, 2009