Lying at the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment, Black Mountain and Swannanoa are known as "the front porch of the mountains." These towns have long served as a resting place for travelers coming to the Appalachians, as well as a pathway to points further west, such as Asheville. The beautiful valley has plenty of draws, from hiking trails and camps to quaint restaurants and general stores.
Did you know?
The area was a longtime hunting ground for the Cherokee and Catawba peoples. Black Mountain was originally known by its Native American name, Grey Eagle, and grew as settlers streamed through the “gateway to the west.” Black Mountain was founded in 1893, named for the range of mountains just north of town. Its historic downtown grew as the area did.
While known for its fine-arts tradition, the area is also famous for more avant-garde work. From 1933 to 1957, Black Mountain College served as an incubator for some of the most innovative artists, thinkers and musicians of the 20th century with John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Bob Rauschenberg and others having all taught or studied there. The college influenced many of today’s alternative-learning institutions around the country.
Many local notables, such as former Governor Zebulon Vance and architect Rafael Guastavino (of Basilica of St. Lawrence fame) had estates near downtown. Guastavino even had his own winery active in the early 1900s.
After operating for decades as one of the area's biggest employers, the Beacon Manufacturing plant in Swannanoa closed in 2002. A year later, an arsonist set it on fire, causing one of the largest local blazes in modern history. Mountain Housing Opportunities may develop the 40-acre site into a mix of housing, retail and industrial uses.
Where to go
Located in the original City Hall in the heart of downtown, Swannanoa Valley Museum is one of the area's only places to learn about the history of settlement, culture, manufacturing and more. The museum is full of relics, from the time when Black Mountain was mostly cabins and wilderness to its more modern growth and manufacturing. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, April to October, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $2. 223 W. State St., http://swannanoavalleymuseum.org.
Like other restaurants dotting downtown Black Mountain, My Father's Pizza has a nice outdoor patio that contributes to the town’s laid-back but active street culture. In this case, it dishes out affordable pizzas, pasta, sandwiches and other Italian fare. 110 Cherry St., http://myfatherspizza.com.
A major venue not just for Black Mountain but the whole area, the White Horse Pub hosts musicians, poets, films and community events. There's plenty of beer, food and camaraderie, too. 105C Montreat Road, http://whitehorseblackmountain.com.
Featuring Buncombe County's only rollerskating rink, Tarwheels Skateway in Swannanoa offers fun for the whole family. 2134 U.S. 70, Swannanoa, http://tarwheelsskate.com.
Most unique or noteworthy
Black Mountain is no stranger to craft beers: Pisgah Brewing serves as both the town’s flagship brewery, famous for its pale ale, and a popular local venue for music and events. 150 Eastside Dr., http://pisgahbrewing.com.
HAPPENING – Every April the site of the former Black Mountain College, now a summer camp, goes back to its roots, hosting a showcase of innovative arts inspired by what an evening at the famous institution was like. http://Rehappening.com
In their words
"It's not just ‘character’ with Black Mountain — it's characters. We have so many, and we have for a long time. There's a feeling that everyone's family, whether you moved here a few years ago or your family's been here for over a century." — Patricia Robertson, Black Mountain resident
"The variety here is very eclectic. We have anything from ultra-conservatives to way out flaming liberals – whichever way you want to go, and we all get along just fine. There's a lot of respect for each other here.” – Buzz Yeatman, clerk at Town Hardware & General Store in Black Mountain