Editor’s note: Roving local historian/photographer Bob Collins is on a mission to document the fast-disappearing remains of the area’s fascinating past. His book Hidden Historic Treasures: Henderson County, N.C., was produced, as he puts it, “to put the old structures that have been overgrown and forgotten for all these years together with the people who once inhabited them” while paying tribute to his deceased wife (and editor), Jackie Collins/Bodnar. Here are some excerpts:
“This story began over 200 years ago here in Henderson County, and I suspect it will never be finished. I stumbled onto it through an encounter with Doug Shipman, who was born and bred in N.C. He told me of an old cemetery deep in the woods. My first attempt at finding it was fruitless. … There were no visible paths or any other signs that gave evidence of our objective. We had to hack our way through numerous briar patches and gullies. I say ‘we’ because I had my dog, Portia, with me. She trailed along reluctantly and at one point resisted and wanted to turn back, and I opted to listen to her because I thought we were lost. But I later realized she was warning me that I was close to my goal. She just had no liking for a cemetery.
“Being determined, I went back to see Doug. He jumped into my pickup and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We parked on the same gravel road and again entered the woods. Doug took the lead through the sticker bushes, and again Portia was trailing behind. We wandered aimlessly about, and I thought Doug was also lost. Finally we came to a knoll, and there was the hidden treasure: about 15 very old tombstones.
“I then realized Portia wasn’t with me. She had stopped short of entering this hallowed ground, just as she did when we unknowingly came close on our first try. I revisited the site three times after this, and each time Portia stayed on the perimeter. I wondered what she knew that I didn’t. …”
“The tombstones date back to the Revolutionary War. … The inscriptions are almost gone. … Some of the stones may have been removed by vandals; consequently we may never know how many are buried there.
“There are several schools of thought on how to treat such hallowed ground. Some believe that old cemeteries should be restored and kept up. Others believe that the dead should be left in peace. Of course, there is the developer’s theory, which is to plow over the graves and, if caught, move the bodies elsewhere and continue with the development…”
“I first saw Alma’s house on a cold winter North Carolina night eight years ago. You could see the inside light shining through the walls. At the time, I thought the people living there were tough as nails, never suspecting it was just one elderly lady.
“The house has been in her family for 140-some years. It was a kin to her that carved those logs by hand. Like the house, those people were tough as nails — and like the house, they will soon be forgotten. …”
“Long John Mountain looms quietly above Lake Rugby, stretching from Broyles Road to downtown Hendersonville. … The first colonial settler here, he must have been quite a sight to see. Most people of that era were of small stature, but Long John McCarson was allegedly 6 feet tall and lanky; he would walk with long, determined strides, his red hair reflecting the bright sunlight…
“If you sit very quietly on the trail, you may catch a glimpse of a tall, lanky man, his red hair flying in the wind. This explorer has experienced this, but only after a low growl from his dog and a strange swirl of wind that came out of nowhere.
“Never abandon a belief in the magic, mystery and unseen footprints of previous lives around you: They may have left an imprint as a reminder to care deeply and tread softly within the hidden spaces of Mother Earth. It is all that is left; it is our responsibility to do no harm for the next generation.”
— Bob Collins lives in Hendersonville. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.