From just about any angle, Saluda’s downtown mercantile looks like it came straight from a postcard. These few blocks along the train tracks are chocked full of nostalgia and local goods.
Like the neighbouring town of Tryon, Saluda is part of Polk County which also holds the towns of Flat Rock and Columbus, plus the Cooper’s Gap, Green Creek, and White Oak communities. There are a few bits of Saluda that spread into Henderson County as well.
My song pick for this entry is “All the World is Green” by Tom Waits because of all the “Green-” named places in the area- way more than I will even mention!
Saluda was first inhabited by the Cherokee, and they called it Tsaludiyi, the “green corn place.” After Europeans moved in, Saluda became a busy exchange for railway connections and as a result it became a settlement to meet the needs of railroad workers who spent over a year building on to a new line.
With new lodging inns and stores popping up in such a beautiful natural area, Saluda started drawing tourists as well. It was finally chartered as a town at the start of the 1880s.
The old depot is now the home of Saluda’s Historic Depot & Museum. I learned that it was part of the Asheville-Spartanburg Railroad system and was the country’s first large-scale project powered by convict labour.
While in operation, this railroad segment had the steepest grade of any railroad, known as the Saluda Grade. This route was known for fatal accidents and thankfully has not carried any passengers since the late 1960s.
Below is a peek inside the museum and its vast collection of maps, documents, photos, signage, toy trains, small-scale displays, and other artifacts of the Asheville-Spartanburg Road and Saluda history.
The depot also shares its space with the Saluda Visitor Center and an art gallery on the other side. There are a few parking spaces here, just watch out for the reserved ones for B&B guests only.
Most of the buildings are just as they were back in the late 1800s and have been celebrated on the National Register of Historic Places since 1996.
The All-In-One Saluda City Hall, Mayor’s Office, Police Department, and “City Jail As Needed” occupies the end of the block next to the Depot Museum. It was not open to the public today but there were some comical old police cruisers on display outside.
The M. A. Pace General Store opened its doors in 1899 and has been operating by succeeding generations up until 2011 when the last family member in ownership passed away. Grandchildren of a family who grew up with the original Paces purchased it.
Pace’s is where you can buy your pantry and basic goods plus any home/garden/farm items like early settlers of the 1900s did, but it now takes on the title of a museum too.
The giant cash register used from day one until the new owners took over is on display with original scales and tools, framed photos of the family, Coke memorabilia, and relics of many long-forgotten brands.
It became a bit overwhelming for me, but there were countless interesting things to check out.
Thompson’s is where you can check off the rest of your grocery list, with a larger variety of fresh produce and things unavailable at Pace’s. This grocery is the oldest in North Carolina and is known regionally for its incredible butchery and brand of sausages called Charlie’s Sage Sausage.
In East Tennessee speak, this is the Benton’s Bacon of our neck of the woods, or the Hickory Nut Gap Farm of the greater Asheville area.
The Purple Onion, Green River Barbecue, the Blue Squirrel, and Azalea Bistro are just a few dining options in Saluda. Sadly, crowds started filing up in front of each place and I wanted to keep a safe distance still, so I will have to experience them another time.
Green River Brew Depot is a funky spot behind the police station, with a super cordial bartender and a pretty standard bar set-up of stools, TVs, rock/pop music, and posters on the wall.
Several shops and boutiques fill out the rest of this small town center, and one of the coolest ones is Mineral Spirits. Western North Carolina is a literal gold mine for gems, minerals, crystals, and geodes.
Almost every town you visit in this area will have some sort of gem mine, mineral museum, or crystal shop and I never get tired of playing with these things.
There is also a small complex a block or so from the center “on the other side of that traffic light” that has the Gardener’s Cottage gardening and antique shop, the Wildflour Bakery & Cafe, and Mewdlic‘s Tea & Spice shop- another weakness of mine.
Cinnamon Fig Tea and Coconut Winter Tea? I’m listening.
I spotted a several small gardens and shared patios in this pretty town, and many of the shops have secret walkways or hidden entrances that makes it feel magickal.
The Saluda Outfitters & Green River Eddy’s Tap Room caught my attention, but was visibly crowded, so that is also on my list for next time.
There were bicycles and runners all over the place, and the Green River Gorge outdoor adventure center was buzzing with activity.
Around 2 pm, one of the cyclists at the street stoplight told me he and his friends had been cycling since 6 that morning. We had all set out for the same small town, coming from different cities, at the same time. The thought stayed with me well past the moment when we were signaled to cross.
Pearson’s Falls is one of the area’s top natural attractions, just off the Pacolet Scenic Byway. I was not able to hike to the falls because there was a long line of cars waiting to turn onto the road to the parking lot, and the guard told me the parking lot was full of people waiting just to get in line to get into the park, and no one had been leaving to let more people in. Another time.
However, the serene ten-mile stretch to and from Pearson’s Falls is lined with trees, full of mountain views, and has a few small waterfalls that will leave you awestruck.
If you are leaving Saluda and heading onward to Hendersonville, be sure to take the Byway through Flat Rock Village and visit the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.
Flat Rock Village is a small complex of businesses at the intersection of Blue Ridge Road and Greenville Highway.
The Flat Rock Village Bakery, Wrinkled Egg Gift Shop , Honey and Salt Cafe (get there before 2 pm or weep!), and the Hubba Hubba Smokehouse are all here with various patios and a shared central courtyard.
Parking can be a bit hard to come by here and I would also like to explore this area more on another day when there are fewer people packed into what felt like one big farmhouse.
North Carolina is in Phase 2 of reopening and everyone I encountered was dutifully masked and sanitizing their hands upon entry, respectfully distancing, and staff was limiting admission indoors. The introvert in me just isn’t into big lines.
I have learned how to keep to myself and dodge crowds while traveling, after unmentionable years of experience. Being a more than slight germophobe and a super-efficient planner with flexible activity times certainly helps.
Nearby in Flat Rock is the Saint Paul Mountain Vineyard, Firefly Craft Gallery, the Southern Cup Fine Teas shop, the Bonclarken Lake & Conference Center, Monsouri Mansion & Pub, the Flat Rock Playhouse, and the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.
Carl Sandburg was an all-American, Pulitzer-prize winning writer, “poet of the people,” and musician. He moved his family to North Carolina from the Midwest and made a home here in Flat Rock between Saluda and Hendersonville back in the 1940s.
The estate was previously known as Connemara, named after one of my favourite national parks of Ireland. Sandburg spent over two decades in this home and wrote around two thirds of his work while settled in here, until his death in 1968.
Within a year it was listed as a historic place, and within five years the National Park Service had opened it to the public. Even the goats were registered as a historic animal herd.
Admission to the site is free but currently the visitors center, bathrooms, structures, and house itself is closed due to COVID-19 concerns.
The surrounding trails on the property are well-worn by visitors and locals all the same, some of them leading up to the home and to the Sandburg goat barn, past waterfalls and overlooking the lake.
Check out this link to read Sandburg’s work.
“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.” ― C
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