Locals say that Hot Springs is where Mayberry meets the Twilight Zone. General stores line downtown while mineral baths provide mystical healing properties just down the road. And neighboring town of Marshall is the kind of place where people shout out “happy birthday” to their neighbors as they walk down Main Street. The two towns, about 40 minutes northwest of Asheville, are home to hundreds of creative artists, outdoor enthusiasts and out-of-the-box entrepreneurs.
Did you know?
More than 2,000 German “enemy aliens” (aka civilian prisoners of war) spent the final months of World War I at the Hot Springs Hotel. Members of a German orchestra and the crew of the world’s largest ship, the Vaterland, served time in there. Most prisoners came by train and spent the last 19 months of the war at a makeshift internment camp. Barracks were set up on the hotel’s lawn.
The former Marshall High School has gone to the artists … so to speak. The building, located on Blannahassett Island just around the corner from Main Street, was scheduled for demolition until 3,000 signatures saved it from the wrecking ball. Today artists of all media spend their days crafting fine art in what is now known as Marshall High Studios.
The Appalachian Trail runs through downtown Hot Springs, giving hikers a chance to enjoy small-town charm without getting off the trail. Keep an eye out for AT markers as you walk through the town center. Then proudly boast to your friends that you hiked (part) of the Appalachian Trail.
Where to go
Hot Springs Resort and Spa warms the hearts and toes of visitors and locals alike. Private outdoor tubs dot Spring Creek and the French Broad River, giving the spa both a rustic and upscale feel. Natural hot mineral waters are known to ease stiff muscles, increase circulation and relieve fatigue, so you can do something good for your body while relaxing the mind. 315 Bridge St., Hot Springs. nchotsprings.com.
The Depot brings the community together on Friday nights. Southern social staples like old-time music, traditional dance, cake walks and a 50/50 drawing unite natives and visitors for a weekly celebration in a converted-railroad depot building. 282 S. Main St., Marshall. avl.mx/w3.
The Marshall Farmers Market offers a cornucopia of fresh produce, jams, eggs and local value-added products every Sunday, May through October. Craftspeople proudly display their art, and starter plants are available most times of the year. Enjoy your newfound bounty with a picnic along the shore of Blannahassett Island. avl.mx/010.
Madison County Arts Center hosts a myriad of musicians, from Grammy-nominated artists to hometown favorites, all on Main Street in Marshall. The center also offers arts-in-education programs, lectures, classes and other cultural attractions. madisoncountyarts.com.
Most unique or noteworthy
Pork & Pie restaurant in Marshall is a carnivore’s paradise. Patrons get a complimentary serving of pork rinds before digging into Creole favorites and specialty pizzas topped with everything from prosciutto to pickles. Don’t worry, vegetarians, there are plenty of meatless dishes too. 18 N. Main St., Marshall. 649-8208.
Gentry Hardware has a little bit of everything, from nails and screws to dolls and knickknacks. The Gentry family has owned the general store since 1946, and the fieldstone building features original architecture and wooden floors transported from the former Dorland-Bell girls’ dormitories. 124 Bridge St., Hot Springs. 622-3761.
Zuma Coffee could be considered the hub of the Marshall community. Hot beverages flow freely, art graces the walls, and bluegrass music lilts through the air. Get to know a local while sipping organic, fair-trade coffee and enjoying homemade desserts. 7 N. Main St., Marshall. zumacoffee.blogspot.com.
Issue: From four bars to none
Connectivity can be a problem in Hot Springs. Wayne Crosby, co-owner of Bluff Mountain Outfitters, enjoys the freedom from technology and often sees tourists distressed because they have no signal. He, like many locals, believes tourists should instead look up from their phones and enjoy the surrounding beauty the town has to offer. He says that several years ago, when a large cellphone tower was finally erected on the outskirts of town, he was one of the few “Luddites” to object. Now, cell service is a little better, but not a sure thing.
In their words
“Hot Springs truly is stuck in time. I’ve never found anything as Norman Rockwell as here.” — Bill Plachinski, resident of Hot Springs
“We’re small enough and surrounded by enough national forest that there’s not too much corporate money to be made.” — Wayne Crosby, co-owner of Bluff Mountain Outfitters in Hot Springs