Begin in downtown Old Fort at the Historic Old Fort Train Station and Museum located in the middle of town-square at the intersection of Highway 70 and Catawba Avenue. The railroad museum includes a three dimensional map of the Swannanoa Gap loops and the seven, hand-dug tunnels spanning nine miles of track.
A block away, visit the Old Fort Model Train Shop to pick up replica models of the Western North Carolina Railroad or Southern Railroad. Shop owner, Mike…., is a member of the Southern Railroad Association and has lots of stories to share with you.
Next, drive to Andrews Geyser down Old Highway 70 to Mill Creek and drive through some of the original tunnels constructed between 1870 and 1880. From Andrews Geyser Park, you have an ideal view of the track from two directions. The gravity fed geyser was built in 1879 and positioned next to Mill Creek. It was a popular tourist attraction, particularly eye-catching for railroad passengers ascending the nine miles of track and tunnels that peaked at the top of Swannanoa Gap.
In 1880, the Western North Carolina Railroad built Old Fort’s first depot, Henry’s Station two miles east of the Round Knob Hotel. Between 1876 and 1879, passengers traveling to Asheville transferred here to a stagecoach or wagon to continue their journey. In 1880, the Swannanoa Gap track was completed and passengers traveled directly to Asheville.
In 1903, the Round Knob Hotel burned. It was built too close to the tracks with sparks generating the fire. The Sprague family decided not to rebuild. However, the geyser was relocated, restored and named for Alexander Boyd Andrews, Vice President of the Western North Carolina Railroad. Today, the geyser is part of a public park maintained by the town of Old Fort bordering Mill Creek. Picnic tables are on site in addition to a N.C. Civil War Trail marker. One of the last skirmishes of the Civil War took place at the base of Swannanoa Gap.
Helga Wilde Bessent, in her 2000 article published in the Duke University library’s 2000 “Tobaco Project,” writes, “In Old Fort, 25 miles east of Asheville, another angel from W.O. Wolfe’s porch guards the resting place of Hattie McCanless who died in 1901. This beautiful angel, which riveted my attention as I drove up the curvy mountain path, is said to be the angel W.O. lost in a 1901 poker game.”
Hattie’s husband, S.A. McCanless, was a photographer with a shop on Patton Avenue in Asheville. After hours, he often held a poker game and W.O. Wolfe was a regular at those games. Gambling didn’t sit well with his wife Hattie and for some time, S.A. McCanless swore it off. But, one night in 1901, he engaged in a hand of poker with W.O. Wolfe and won big. Unable to pay his debt to McCanless, Wolfe gave him the one of the famous Carerra marble angels. A little later, the angel he won that night came in handy when Hattie suffered a fatal infection from a ruptured appendix.
According to Daintry Allison, neice of S.A. McCanless, she heard a conversation between him and his second wife one night when she was complaining that he didn’t love her as much as he did his first wife, Hattie. He decided to tell her the truth about the tombstone before her jealousy consumed her. At the age of 88, Daintry Allison told this story, in full, to Bob Terrell with the Asheville Citizen-Times who confirmed the story and existence of this “lost” angel with an expert at the Pack Memorial Library.
It’s not the famous angel described in Thomas Wolfe’s famous novel, but it is one of the Carrera marble angels imported from Italy by Wolfe’s father. The angel stands today in the Old Fort Cemetery, several blocks away from the Arrowhead Square downtown.
In April of 1865, Stoneman’s Raiders marched towards McDowell County from Morganton in an effort to destroy the railroad. At the same time, a young teacher, Emma Rankin lived with and taught the Carson’s two young girls in the home built in 1793 by Colonel John Carson. Emma writes, “ The letter was sent by special messenger this morning that Stoneman’s Raiders appeared in Salisbury...” and goes on to say they were on their way to Asheville. She describes how the family buried food, money and valuables in preparation of the Union soldiers’ arrival. Her stories are in local libraries and at the Historic Carson House museum where a N.C. Civil War Trail marker recounts those days. Hannah Greenlee, a slave during this time, made a “crazy” quilt on exhibit in the Carson House. It is a gift from the Greenlee family and is included in the National Endowment of the Humanities’ “Picturing America” educational program. This old and colorful pattern comes from the Ghana region of Africa. The Historic Carson House is open May through October, Wednesday through Saturday between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Located at 1805 Highway 70 West in Marion. www.historiccarsonhouse.com 828-724-4948
Real kids need the real world! Take them through Curtis Creek Recreation Area’s thousands of acres in the Pisgah National Forest to see wild turkey, mountain trout and beautiful wildflowers like Turk’s Cap. Pick up a birding trail guide to see how many species the children find or walk the 1.4 mile loop to Hickory Branch Trail Falls. While you’re in the area, drop in on Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort. It’s a N.C. Birding Trail site on the banks of Mill Creek in Old Fort where you may see a Blue Heron or brook trout. Inside the museum you’ll find displays of old-time musical instruments, including those carved by nationally recognized wood carver, Edsel Martin, an herbal display and other pioneer-era artifacts. Show them life in the country when you visit Peaceful Valley Farm. This restored McEntire family century farm includes a barn, grain silo, school-house, pottery barn, and farm animals. They also provide demonstrations of various arts, crafts and food preservation techniques. Where do fish come from? Armstrong Creek Fish Hatchery will capture your children’s attention as they visit the indoor egg and fingerling raising area or outdoor raceways. Hatcheries keep our local trout streams stocked! The Hatchery is located off N.C. Highway 226-A in a scenic area bordering U.S. Forest Service lands.
Bill and Judy Carson, with sister Kit Trubey, retired from their busy professional lives to save a historic orchard from development, the Orchard at Altapass. Their new careers are dedicated to interpreting the history of the community and this 100 year-old orchard built by the Clinchfield Railroad. Of course, there are apples, lots of apples with many heirloom varieties. Today, the site is well known for its music, arts and crafts, storytelling hayrides and Bill’s ability to spin a great yarn! Music and dancing are free as are local artists’ demonstrations, the Monarch Butterfly program and the herbal trail. Enjoy everything apple from pies, cakes, homemade fudge, clothing and a large variety of local artisans’ works. All ages enjoy treasure hunts in our gold and gem mines. Recently, a guest at Lucky Strike Gold Mine found a diamond in their gold pan! Area mines include Emerald Village, Heather Grove and Linville Mountain Gem Shop. Everyone enjoys Old Fort and the Old Fort Train Station and Railroad Museum. You will find it by looking for the huge 14 ft. rose granite arrowhead outside the building. Admission to the museum is free. While visiting Old Fort, don’t miss the world famous Old Fort Mountain Music each Friday night... and it’s free too! Recently celebrating their 1,000th performance, these musicians are well known, well seasoned and enjoy entertaining you. Step back in time, dance a little and enjoy a 25-cent cup of coffee with homemade goodies. Downtown Old Fort is home to retail shops and restaurants.
Mackey Mountain isn’t very well known, unless you’re an experienced hiker and enjoy a challenge. This mountainous trailhead is located inside the Curtis Creek Recreation Area and it’s peak measures 3,400 feet above sea level. Park in the parking area for the recreation area and hike up the road approximately four more miles to the trailhead on the right. This is a 16 mile hike through heavily wooded area that is located in a bear sanctuary. Be sure to wear brightly colored clothing, particularly during the winter months of bear season. You may wander outside the sanctuary area.
Interested in getting great views of the Black Mountain Range? Then Woods Mountain is the trail for you. This thirteen-mile trail, heavily wooded area in the Pisgah National Forest has lots of strenuous sections to challenge your mind and body. You’ll also see Table Rock, Little Switzerland and the Armstrong Creek watershed area. A portion of the “Mountains to the Sea Trail” crosses over Woods Mountain along this trail. The trailhead begins near Buck Creek Gap overlook at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and N.C. Highway 80. You may exit the trail on U.S. Highway 221 North at the U.S. Forest Service rest area near Woodlawn.
Point Lookout Trail’s spectacular views of Royal Gorge offer bicyclists and hikers a remote trail inside the Pisgah National Forest. Minutes away from I-40 and the quaint, historic village of Old Fort. Park at the Old Fort Train Station and Museum in charming Historic Old Fort and ride your bike along Mill Creek to the trailhead.
While you’re at the depot, stop inside to visit the railroad museum and visitor center. Admission is free and you’ll find more interesting information on the area. Within a three-block area, you’ll also find Mountain Gateway Museum, several restaurants, an art gallery, model train shop and other retailers. If you’re visiting on a Friday, stay downtown for Old Fort Mountain Music. This musical tradition continues to draw in the crowds for a great night of bluegrass music, homemade cakes and pies and all for less than a dollar! Admission is free. Download the Point Lookout Trail map and directions here.
Two waterfalls in one town! Catawba Falls is the headwaters of the Catawba River located just outside the town limits of Old Fort. Catawba Falls is a 340-foot cascade of water with two tiers of falls. From downtown Old Fort, this is an easy bike ride or drive to Catawba River Road to access the parking area at the end of that road.
Take a drive/ride from the depot down Highway 70 East approximately 2 miles, turning left onto Curtis Creek Road. Drive/ride approximately 4 miles where the road ends as you enter the Pisgah National Forest and Curtis Creek Recreation Area. This is the first tract of public land purchased under the Weeks Law on March 1, 1911.
While you’re there, look to the right of the campground area for the trailhead to Huskins Branch Trail Falls. This is a moderate 4 mile loop beginning at the field’s edge of the camping area.