Growing up in Hendersonville, my friends and I would unkindly refer to our town as “God’s waiting room,” an allusion to its popularity among retirees. After high school, I went away to college, the big city and even Africa! In my absence, and to my great surprise, the town developed a spread of great restaurant choices, excellent bakeries and, lo and behold, a local brewery, Southern Appalachian Brewery, with live music several nights a week. Yes, they sometimes roll up the sidewalks at 9 p.m., but overall, things are much more vibrant. Sierra Nevada is moving in next door, the city just pulled off an impressive four-part summer concert series called Rhythm & Brews, and the natural beauty of this plateau never disappoints. Check it out for yourself.
Did you know?
Henderson County and Hendersonville are named after Judge Leonard Henderson, the N.C. Supreme Court chief justice from 1829 to 1833. Why him? Because the Legislature wanted to honor Judge Henderson after his death in 1833. Henderson County residents didn’t object because they wanted to please state lawmakers in exchange for county status and favorable treatment.
The Historic Henderson County Courthouse was designed by supervising Biltmore architect Richard Sharp Smith in 1905 for $38,000. The Lady Justice on top of the dome is believed to be one of only three in the U.S. that are not blindfolded.
Colonial Flat Rock was established in 1807 with large summer estates built by affluent Charlestonians and prominent plantation owners of the South’s low country, as well as English and French soujourners. It was called the “Little Charleston of the Mountains.”
Information provided by the Historic Hendersonville Trolley Tour, http://thetrolleycompany.com.
Where to go
South Main Street has some of the best food and entertainment Hendersonville has to offer. At this end of the historic street, you’ll find favorite coffeehouse Jongo Java, where high schoolers and retirees mingle over mocha and wi-fi; Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown, featuring a steady rotation of musical tributes and plays; and three strong dinner options: Never Blue, Square Root and West First. If you go down 1st Avenue, on the backside of the building is a new Edgar Allen Poe-themed beer and wine bar called Poe House.
http://jongojava.com, http://flatrockplayhouse.org, http://theneverblue.com, http://squarerootrestaurant.com, http://thepoehouse.com
The Historic Train Depot is located on 7th Avenue, what used to be considered the main street for its proximity to the railroad, which volleyed goods and people to and from Charleston, S.C., and Cincinatti, Ohio, up till the 1960s. It now houses Apple Valley Model Railroad Club’s scale model, which runs 100 feet along the length of the Depot and has more than 250 switches and turns. The station is open to the public Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Though much of 7th Avenue is still beset by abandoned, dilapidated buildings, there’s a lot to love in this section of town. The longtime M&M Meat Freezer Locker and butcher shop is there, as is a produce market, florist, bakery, auto detailer, 50-year-old barber shop and soul-food restaurant. You won’t find a lot of tourists here, but if you want to see where the heart and soul of Hendersonville began, this is the spot.
Old and new produce stands can be found on many a main road. The Curb Market is a local landmark that’s been around for nearly 90 years. Old-timers and crafty locals sell their jams, pickled veggies, baked goods, dried flowers and lots more at this indoors farmers market. J&D Produce has a great selection of fruits and veggies, and City Market has the best selection of locally grown organic produce.
Curb Market, 221 N. Church St., Hendersonville, http://curbmarket.com; J & D Produce, 221 S. Church St., Hendersonville; City Market, 1705 Asheville Highway, Hendersonville, http://citymarkethvl.com
Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock makes for the perfect daytrip (though it was temporarily closed due to the federal shutdown at press time). You never feel rushed or crowded on the sprawling property. And it offers great insight into a time in American history when poets and authors had social and political clout. Sandburg’s library and goat barn are particular favorites, but hike to the top of the Big Glassy trail for a real treat. Afterward, head up the street to Hubba Hubba Smokehouse for pulled-pork perfection.
81 Carl Sandburg Lane, Flat Rock, http://nps.gov/carl; Hubba Hubba, 2724 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, http://hubbahubbasmokehouse.com
Most unique or noteworthy
U-pick Apple Orchards galore! Henderson County is the largest grower of apples in the state. Highway 64 East toward Edneyville is the Silk Road for area orchards. Every autumn, I swing by J.H. Stepp Hillcrest Orchard. This farm has been family-owned and -operated for more than 40 years and has some of the best views around.
221 Stepp Orchard Drive, Hendersonville, http://steppapples.com
Mexican tiendas have popped up all over the city in recent years, indicating a significant demographic shift. Henderson County’s Hispanic population rose from 5 percent to about 10 percent between 2000 and 2010. Of course, there’s plenty of great Mexican restaurants, too, but why not stop by El Ranchito Carniceria y Panaderia for a Mexican cola, sugary concha, fresh corn tortillas and other provisions? Language barriers are sometimes a small obstacle, but check out a tienda for a real taste of Mexico.
1945 Spartanburg Highway, Hendersonville
Underground Baking Company and Flat Rock Village Bakery give Asheville bakeries some serious competition. These two bakeries use organic, N.C.-milled flours and emphasize small-batch attention and long fermentations. Flat Rock uses wood-fired ovens for its rustic pastries, breads and beloved pizza pies, while Underground features a steady rotation of specialty breads, Bavarian pretzels and a hybrid European American approach to pastries. (Full disclosure: I am an employee of Underground, but it makes objectively terrific bread!)
Underground Baking Company, 352 7th Ave. East, Hendersonville, http://undergroundbaking.com; FRVB, 2710 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, http://flatrockwoodfired.com/bakery
When public arts meets public ridicule
Hendersonville’s first commissioned piece of public art debuted on Main Street in September, and residents have not been shy about their opinions. The fountain was designed by Asheville artist Berry Bate, who beat out several other contenders with her submission. The piece includes a copper mountain range atop large rocks with snake-like vines and water streaming into a circular basin. The fountain wound up costing $100,000 over its initial $83,000 budget. To make matters worse, the fountain’s resemblance to a “large molar” has garnered several parody photos and inspired a grassroots campaign for its removal, according to the Hendersonville Times-News. But even Mayor Barbara Volk, who says she would’ve preferred a more abstract design, believes its a moot issue. “At this point the fountain is there. It is functioning. I can't see spending any additional money at this point.” When it comes to publicly funded art, everyone’s a critic.
In their words
“As I’ve become immersed in the local community, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the creativity and dynamism that exists here. While we are certainly known for our retiree-friendly environment, it became immediately apparent to me that was only one part of Hendersonville’s story. The recent completion of the third and final phase of our Main Street rehabilitation project, our well received Rhythm & Brews concert series, a host of entrepreneurs propelling fresh business concepts; these are all outward indicators of a growing energy in Hendersonville. Getting to be a part of this on the ground floor has been both personally and professionally rewarding.” — Downtown Director Lew Holloway