Falling for Henderson County

Why do an estimated half-million people visit Henderson County each year?

“Probably the most important thing is the climate. Then there’s the scenery, and I think the friendliness of the people has a lot to do with it,” says Louise Bailey, a lifelong county resident and local historian. “There’s always a pretty drive, no matter which direction you go.”

Gabby Snyder — an administrative assistant for Henderson County Travel and Tourism — sees about 70,000 of those folks coming through the Visitors Center in downtown Hendersonville each year.

“A lot of people who come into town see it is a small city, and they really don’t [realize] how many attractions we have,” she explains.

The area’s gentle climate and scenic beauty have made it a popular vacation destination for more than a century. Attractions for today’s travelers include cultural and outdoor activities, plus a historic downtown with a variety of shops, restaurants and numerous antique stores.

Not to be forgotten is the historic village of Flat Rock, with the Carl Sandburg Home and the Flat Rock Playhouse (the state theater of North Carolina).

What follows is a sampling of Henderson County attractions at a glance. The Visitors Center (201 South Main St.) is loaded with brochures and maps that offer detailed information on everything mentioned here. The Center is open seven days a week, through Christmas. Call (828) 693-9708 or visit the Travel and Tourism Office Web sites at www.historichendersonville.com and www.historicflatrocknc.com.

Historic downtown Hendersonville

The trees and planters lining serpentine Main Street help convey the hometown charm of downtown Hendersonville, which was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

The past decade saw the commercial heart of downtown become a haven for boutique-style shopping: You’ll find antiques, clothing, arts, crafts, books, jewelry, musical instruments, home furnishings and even supplies for home-brewing. Eateries abound as well — from down-home style cooking to fine dining and ethnic flavors.

The Hendersonville Arts Center (at the corner of Main Street and Sixth Avenue) offers rotating exhibit in its galleries, plus workshops, art camp and art classes. And within a short walking distance, there’s the historic Henderson County Courthouse, the new Henderson County Courthouse, Hendersonville City Hall, the Mineral and Lapidary Museum, and the old depot — complete with a model railroad running on 500 feet of track.

The Henderson County Farmers Curb Market (221 N. Church St.) has operated continually since 1924. The market offers fresh produce, crafts, baked goods, jellies, plants, flowers and toys. All sellers are required to be Henderson County residents and to make or grow all items sold. Call 692-8012 for details about the market.

Apple harvest

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then you’re sure to stay healthy down Hendersonville way in September and October. The area is one of the nation’s larger apple producers and the largest in North Carolina. Roadside stands offer both apples and cider, and some orchards let you pick your own apples — as well as offering tours of apple country. Call the County Extension Office at 697-4891 for more information.

Johnson Farm

Handmade from bricks fired on-site from river mud, this late-19th/early-20th century farm and tourist retreat was once the home of a wealthy tobacco farmer. And while the home, smokehouse and granary were built in the late 1800s, many outbuildings were added over the years — including a blacksmith shop, barn and boarding house. Now a museum, the farm — located on N.C. 19, across from Rugby Middle School — is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Call (828) 891-6585 for more info.

Holmes Educational State Forest

Ever wondered what trees would say if they could talk? Here’s your chance to find out. Each tree on the Holmes Talking Tree Trail features a recorded message about itself, its site and the forest’s history. The venue’s Forestry Center hosts audiovisual exhibits, and a natural amphitheater is available — not to mention picnic sites with tables and grills. For hardier sorts, walk-in tent sites are available by reservation. The Holmes Educational State Forest is located 8.5 miles from downtown Hendersonville, on Crab Creek Road. Call (828) 692-0100 for more info.

DuPont State Forest

Encompassing 7,600 acres in Henderson and Transylvania Counties, the DuPont State Forest sits on a plateau of the Little River valley, with waterfalls and rolling land bordered by moderately steep hills and mountains. Presently, it’s open to the public for hiking and fishing (with a North Carolina fishing license). Future plans for the forest include horseback riding, biking and hunting. Call 251-6509 for more info.

Carl Sandburg Home

This place has such a lived-in look and feel, Sandburg’s presence is literally palpable. The American poet and historian spent the last 22 years of his life at his estate, Connemara, in Flat Rock — now a National Historic Site. The home, built in 1838, houses Sandburg’s extensive collection of books, notes and papers. The 260-acre farm includes numerous hiking trails and a functional barn (where Mrs. Sandburg once raised her prize-winning goats). The Carl Sandburg Home is located at 1928 Little River Road in Flat Rock. Call (828) 693-4178 for tour info.

Flat Rock Playhouse

The State Theatre of North Carolina, the Flat Rock Playhouse (situated off Highway 25, near the historic Carl Sandburg Home) is considered one of the leading seasonal theaters in the country. The playhouse has presented more than 300 productions in its 50-plus-year history. Grease is the word this month (through Oct. 24), taking audiences back to the era of drive-in movies, slumber parties and burger joints. For ticket prices, reservations and a complete schedule, call 693-0731.

Western North Carolina Air Museum

The Western North Carolina Air Museum is the first air museum in the state of North Carolina (known, in case you haven’t checked your license tag lately, as the “first in flight” state). The museum — located at the Hendersonville Airport (1340 Gilbert St.) — features award-winning restored and replica antique and vintage airplanes. Call the Visitors Center at 693-9708 for more info.

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