Revisiting Craftsmen Treasures at Queen’s Gap

When Queen’s Gap, a residential development, went bankrupt three years ago. it left behind two remarkable buildings in the process. Both were built in the American Craftsmen style, as were many other new buildings across these mountains. When we last saw these gems, they were being vandalized, and no one seemed to care.

Why they haven’t been sold in an auction of liquidation is beyond me, but at least the current owners have boarded up all first floor windows and doors in an effort to preserve these treasures.

The first is the gatehouse, shown below…

Queen's Gap Gatehouse Profile

The weeds are higher than I’ve ever seen, and Kudzu is creeping its way into the mix, but, so far, the structure is sound.

Queen's Gap Gatehouse Front

Queen's Gap Gatehouse Kudzu
Kudzu is not something that you want climbing all over your house.

Queen's Gap Gatehouse Weeds
Weeds are so opportunistic. They can take over everything.

Queen's Gap Gatehouse Rear View
From the back, only hints if its former beauty are still visible.

Queen's Gap Lodge and Fence

From Thermal City Road, the first things you notice about the lodge are the blue shutters on the first floor.

Queen's Gap Lodge SIgn

Where guests once entered on a sweeping circular drive, only the tall weeds still greet the rare visitor.

Queen's Gap Lodge Awaits

The design of the wood and stone structure still comes through, no matter what.

Queen's Gap Lodge Shuttered
At least the garish blue shutters seem to be doing their job.

Queen's Gap Outdoor Porch

The spacious indoor/outdoor entertaining porch has fared well in spite of losing all of its light fixtures.

Queen's Gap Lodge Eastern View

Queen's Gap Lodge Lantern

Hopefully soon, someone will purchase this architectural relic, and people will once again have parties as they once did. I hope that the next time I update the condition of these iconic structures, the story will be a better one. To see how the buildings have changed over time, search “Queen’s Gap” for earlier posts.

The Black Mountain Range from the East

Having more peaks over 6,500 feet that any other mountain range east of Denver, North Carolina’s Black Mountains are dramatic from any direction, but this afternoon, with the humidity higher than normal, and the sun getting lower in the west, the multiple ridges were especially defined. Interstate 40 made the perfect vantage point.

Black Mountains from I-40

Black Mountains at Sunset
It looked like one of those Japanese water color prints. Mt. Michell, the tallest peak at almost 6,800 feet, was just out of view on the right.

This short video was made a few hours early along the same stretch.

Blue Ridge Mountains on the Horizon

Blue Ridge Escarpment from South Carolina

Approaching the Blue Ridge Mountains from the South Carolina “Upstate” region is always a memorable sight. That’s Interstate 26 in the foreground. Storms were moving over the ridges.

Weeds along Interstate 26

Even the weeds are more vibrant as you get closer to the mountains.

Storm along the Blue Ridge Escarpment

This is the wettest part of the mountains, with Gulf moisture from the south condensing into rain as it hits the upslope of the escarpment.

Rain along the Blue Ridge Escarpment

Tryon Mountain from US Highway 74

The view of Tryon Mountain from US Highway 74 in North Carolina takes me back to the first time I saw the mountains from the Piedmont Plateau. Amazingly, I saw NO billboards anywhere along this stretch of US 74. Europe forbids billboards along most roadways. America should take a lesson about an unspoiled panorama.

Below is a one minute video made from the same Pea Ridge Road overpass that can really give you a sense of grandeur as you transition from the rolling hills into the land of giants. Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are just a few miles north of this view.

Vintage Postcards of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock

By the 1870′s, tourists had already discovered the awesome natural beauty of the Hickorynut Gorge and the mountain that came to be known as Chimney Rock. The stagecoach route between eastern towns and the small village of Asheville used a route that ran along the Broad River and through the steep cliffs of the ancient gorge. Road houses were built in the gorge so that travelers could overnight during the long, arduous trip. A tourist industry was born in the Carolina mountains, long before the first railroad was opened over the Eastern Continental Divide, and America began to appreciate the cool summers and clean air of these lofty peaks.

In 1902, the chimney tower and the cliffs around it were purchased by Lucious Morse, and a road was built to the base of the chimney. Stairs were improved to allow better access to the summit. A climb to the top of the tower became an item on every traveler’s “Bucket List”. Morse and his descendants would own and manage the mountain for the next 105 years. In 2007, the family sold the entire operation to the state of North Carolina, and Chimney Rock State Park was created.

Chimney Rock State Park

By the 1920′s, there was a boom in visitors to Chimney Rock, and the Morse family, who owned the mountain, saw the potential of creating a large lake where the Rocky Broad River drained in to an expansive area of bottomland farms. The North Carolina Mountains had no natural lakes, and the idea of a European type lake resort appealed to the entrepreneurial instincts of the Morse family, shown below. The family expanded their empire to include all of the land where the lake would be filled. A large dam was built at the Hickorynut Gap, and Lake Lure was born in 1926. It was actually named by Morse’s wife, who believed that potential land buyers would be “lured” by the name. A large hotel was constructed, along with shops and restaurants, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chimney Rock Morse Family

From those early days, photographers and artists made cards featuring the scenic wonder of the gorge, and the practice continues today. Below are but a few of the postcards that were printed in those early days, capturing the beauty that could be found along the Blue Ridge southeast of Asheville. Although most of these cards are in color, they were actually hand colored using black and white photographs. You’ll notice a painterly quality in most of them.

Posters for the Southern Railway, below, appeared in the 1890′s.

Land of the Sky postcard 1

Land of the Sky postcard 2

Chimney Rock Opera Box
This is one of the earliest postcards distributed by the Morse family. It shows women in a precarious place known as the “Opera Box”.

Chimney Rock Entrance 20s
This is the earliest card showing an automobile. The wall at the entrance had not yet been built. By the way, you can click on any photo to display the larger version, if one exists.

Chimney Rock Entrance

Chimney Rock postcard entrance

Chimney Rock postcard parking

Bottomless Pools Postcard 2

Chimney Rock Elevator
In 1949 a 26 story elevator shaft was blasted through solid granite, and a 200 foot tunnel was carved into the mountain to access the elevator. Suddenly, Chimney Rock became accessible to everyone, and the number of visitors soared.

Chimney Rock Sky Lounge
A gift shop and snack bar was built at the top of the elevator, and connected to the chimney tower with a walk bridge.

Hickorynut Falls postcard 2

Lake Lure postcard highway 1

Chimney Rock Village postcard

Chimney Rock postcard flag 5

Chimney Rock postcard gorge 4

Chimney Rock NC postcard parking

The Tiffany Stained Glass of St. Francis Episcopal in Rutherfordton

All across America, small 19th century churches commissioned stained glass windows from Tiffany and Company in New York. One of those fortunate sanctuaries just happens to be near the center of the small village of Rutherfordton, North Carolina, barely twenty miles east of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock in the Blue Ridge foothills. St. Francis Episcopal Church installed two Tiffanys, along with a first rate collection of windows from other noted studios, after it was constructed in the 1880′s.

St Francis Altar Rutherfordton

St. Francis Altar Window Rutherfordton
The main altar of the small chapel features a triple window of unknown origin, depicting the Nativity.

St. Francis Tiffany Double rear

The largest Tiffany is on the rear wall of the church. The right window features the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, surrounded by white lilies, and the left window’s image is not identified yet.

St. Francis Tiffany Mary and Baby

St. Francis Tiffany glass detail
This detail from the left panel shows the sensitivity of the glass painter to the sadness in the face of the man as he cradles the body of what might be his daughter.

St. Francis Tiffany Cross window

I’ve been told that this window from the north wall is the other Tiffany. Judging from the intricate workmanship, it certainly appears to be a Tiffany.

St. Francis Rutherfordton Jesus Window

It’s possible that this window of Christ is also a Tiffany. The style matches the other windows, and has an opalescent radiance like many other Tiffany creations.

St. Francis Window Rutherfordton
This window, featuring a likeness of Saint Francis, shows some of the most detailed glass painting of any of the windows.

St. Francis Rutherfordton Elizabeth glass

St. Francis Stained Glass Elizabeth

This St. Elizabeth window, above, is truly a masterpiece of stained glass design.

St. Francis Chutch Angel stained glass 2

St. Francis Angel stained glass
This window shows the angel of the Annunciation, holding the sacred Lily, signifying purity.

St. Francis Portal Rutherfordton

This stone archway leading to a bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi captures the solemnity of the gardens around the chapel.

St. Francis Episcopal Rutherfordton

St. Francis Episcopal Church is truly an oasis in this otherwise under publicized Piedmont town. Who would have thought that such masterpieces would be so accessible in such an out-of-the-way place. It’s well worth a visit, and the church is always open during the day.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain at Sunset

At 4,232 ft. above sea level, Bearwallow Mountain stands as the highest peak in the widely-visible Bearwallow Highlands range. Straddling the Eastern Continental Divide, it makes up part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment as well as the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Crowned with a grassy meadow at its summit, the mountain features a nearly 360 degree view that encompasses some of the southern Appalachian’s highest peaks including Mt. Mitchell in the Black Mountains and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams range. Its breathtaking vista also includes a bird’s-eye view of Hickory Nut Gorge, downtown Hendersonville, and the upstate rolling hills of South Carolina. A historic fire lookout tower occupies the summit, as do grazing cattle who call the mountaintop home.

Last evening, I was part of a Sunset-Moonrise hike to the summit of Bearwallow that was organized by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy out of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Our rendezvous point was at Bearwallow Gap, just up the road from Grand Highlands, a mountaintop development between Chimney Rock and Hendersonville.

Grand Highlands Pasture

The view from above Grand Highlands is always spectacular.

Grand Highlands Lodge

No wonder so many weddings are held in this lodge.

Grand Highlands Tudor

The view toward Apple Valley is awe-inspiring, no matter the season.

Bearwallow Mountain Clouds

At the summit, the view to the southwest is made all the more dramatic by a cloud bank, and by fog that has settled in the valley.

Bearwallow Mountain Northwest View

The view toward the northwest shows the many ridges between Bearwallow and Mount Mitchell.

Bearwalow Mountain West Viewl

Back toward the southwest, Hendersonville is nestled in the distant valley.

Bearwallow Mountain North View

To the north, US 74A/NC 9 is clearly visible as it crosses the gap at Fairview on its way to Asheville.

Maria atop Bearwallow Mountain

Maria, one of the Conservancy’s guides, has a lively conversation as the sun begins its on-time display. The clouds couldn’t have been more cooperative.

Bearwallow Mountain Hikers

It was the perfect evening to enjoy one of nature’s greatest shows.

Bearwallow Mountain Sunset Finale

And Nature didn’t disappoint…

Bearwallow Mountain Sunset

Here, the sun was just touching the farthest mountain ridge west of Hendersonville.

Bearwallow Mountain Hiking Group

The masses were not disappointed. The simultaneous rising of the “Super Moon” was obscured by clouds, but the one mile climb to the top was well worth the ultimate reward. Perhaps the same journey for the August full moon will be a different story. Stay tuned.

Cleghorn Plantation House is Reborn

Over the past two years, I have chronicled the decay of the historic 1835 Cleghorn Plantation house, and the outcry from my readers has been universal. “How can this kind of thing happen to a piece of Western North Carolina history?” Although the bankrupt development containing the house was sold to The Challenge Golf Group, Ltd., a Texas based corporation, in 2010, legal roadblocks and lawsuits prevented any work to be done on the site, and the golf course closed in October, 2012. The future of the house looked bleak. Last winter, the legal cases were finally settled, and the development was reacquired by its former owner, Ken Bortner, who immediatly began rehabilitating the course, the swimming pool, and all public areas. The course opened for business on March 1, and, best of all, Ken Bortner began to repair and restore the long suffering plantation house.

Cleghorn Plantation Main Gate

The main entrance has been totally redone, and a new artistic copper sculpture of the original house has been added.
Cleghorn Plantation Copper Sculpture

Cleghorn Plantation House

At sunset, the newly repaired exterior glows in a way not seen in years. The land where the house and golf course sits was given to William Cleghorn by King George II in 1752.

Cleghorn Plantation Front Elevation

The house has been made water tight, and rotting wood has been replaced. A new coat of paint gives the dowager a new lease on life. These double deck porches are relatively recent to the house, but the added square footage will contribute to the financial viability of the house when it once again opens to the public.

Cleghorn Plantation Porch Corner

Cleghorn Plantation Teak Porch

The floor of the front porch is weather resistant teak. Very beautiful!

Cleghorn Plantation Western View

The western view toward the Blue Ridge Mountains is as breathtaking as ever.

The interior has been cleaned and decluttered in preparation for remodeling. Although it would be nice to think that it will be restored to its antebellum glory with antiques and artwork from the period, most likely it will be reoutfitted for receptions and meetings. These rooms were originally bed chambers because they were cooler in the summer than the second floor. The main entrance was at the top of a sweeping outdoor staircase on the upper floor. At least it is being preserved, and those 18″ thick brick walls aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Cleghorn Plantation First Tee

The golf course has been brought back to its original 1972 glory, when it was voted as one of the top 100 golf courses in America. The stone work around the tees, above, was done by local stone mason Mike Connor. The course was designed by George Cobb, who also designed the Par 3 course at Augusta National, and Quail Hollow in Charlotte.

Cleghorn Plantation Sixth Hole

The view from the top of the sixth hole rivals any mountain course anywhere in North Carolina. Ken Bortner, working with his new General manger and Director of Golf, Dave Long, has made a major financial commitment into the property, and Cleghorn Plantation has risen from the ashes. Make sure you look at past postings about this iconic piece of history.

The video below was made at the top of hole 6. It really shows the elevation change from tee to fairway. That’s me on the tee, by the way. It’s a minute long.

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