Asheville's Premier Conservation Neighborhood
Greyson Bradley Originally published in The Fairview Town Crier The author’s grandparents (Tom and Flora Oaks Merrell), uncle (Clinton Merrell), and father are (R.G. Bradley) were all involved in the development of Fairview and its main through route).
Early History of Highway 74A, Scenic Byway
Highway 74A, part of which is now a North Carolina Scenic Byway, most likely follows the route of a Cherokee Indian trail connecting the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Piedmont. This trail later became a sand and gravel turnpike (toll) road known as the Drover's Turnpike. The Harris house (later Logan house) was built as early as 1800 and still stands on Boys Camp Road. By 1840 a series of inns had been built along the trail, including Sherrill's Inn (1834) and Esmeralda Inn (1840).
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The scenery (Little Pisgah, Chimney Rock, Shumont, Sugar Loaf, Round Top, Rumbling Bald Mountains, Hickory Creek, and Rocky Broad River) made grand and picturesque views. The elevation at the Eastern Continental Divide is 2880 feet, and the shoreline of Lake Lure is 900 feet. This drop in altitude of almost 2000 feet causes seasonal differences of about two weeks within a distance of scarcely ten miles.
During the 1800s the inns created a regional network of way stations that provided meals and lodging for weary travelers and drovers. With the rivers too rough to navigate and the railroad still decades in the future, the roads were highly regarded and well kept by the residents of this remote and sparsely populated area. The roads and the stagecoach service served as the ties to the outside world. The "Great Western Stageline" ran from Salisbury to Asheville as early as 1839. Twenty years later the United States Mail Line established the Charlotte-to-Asheville stagecoach run. Pony Express-type mail service and a Post Office were established at Gerton, then known as Bearwallow, on April 14, 1858. Flora Oats Merrell was the daughter of the Postmaster, and two of her brothers ran the route between Biltmore and Rutherfordton. Henry E. Colton wrote in one of his two books about Western North Carolina that in 1859 a fee for travel from Charlotte to Asheville on the Sullivan Stage Coach line was nine dollars.
North Carolina Scenic Byway - Hwy. 74A
Dr. John Harris owned the Harris House before selling it to the Logan family in 1866. Dr. Harris was a doctor and entrepreneur. He knew the value of a good road to the outside world, and he was particularly interested in the road from Asheville to Rutherfordton. Due mainly to his efforts, the North Carolina General Assembly in 1823 authorized an expenditure to be used for improving the road through Hickory Nut Gorge from Asheville to Rutherfordton. A report written by Dr. Harris to the general assembly in 1830 stated that the road had been "much traveled"' and "the rich romantic valley of Hickory Creek and Rocky Broad River here to fore locked up by the impassable towers of rocks and mountains is now beginning to develop its resources and present to the way worn traveler a good road through an exceedingly rough country, rendered doubly interesting by the bold and majestic mountain scenery." In 1841 Dr. Harris, Bedford Sherrill (builder and owner of Sherrill's Inn and son-in-law of Dr. Harris), and four other men from Buncombe and Rutherford counties were appointed as commissioners for the purpose of "keeping" the turnpike road. The Hickory Nut Turnpike Company had the power to sell stock and keep the road in good repair.
Locke Craig was elected governor in 1912, and in 1914 he allocated funds to improve the Asheville-to-Rutherfordton Turnpike, replacing it with a sand-and-gravel road. In July of 1916 heavy rains covered the mountain region, flooding a great part of downtown Asheville’s riverfront and many mountain communities as well. The infamous "washout" cut deeper, wider, and relocated streambeds through Fairview and destroyed parts of the road. Bearwallow Baptist Church was left on the "wrong side" of a deep and wide gulch cut by the raging Hickory Creek. The road through the gorge had to be reworked and in places relocated. The altered roadbed for what is now U. S. 74A was established, and the road was first paved in 1923 and 1924.
Lake Lure dam was built during the early 1920s, and in 1926 the water behind the dam formed the new lake. As a result, the turnpike road, which basically followed the Rocky Broad River, had to be relocated and rebuilt. The south side of the lake was chosen.
In 1881 a guidebook for North Carolina was written by a certain Miss Chunn. In it she stated, ". . . the trip through the Hickory Nut Gap and Hickory Nut Gorge claims manifold attractions including Chimney Rock, etc., in addition to the wild beauty of the route. It is suggested that several days be given to the pass . . ." It is still worth a few days of time.