Hello once again, Don Milne here, your ROADTRIP-'62 ™ traveler. On this, the first of our ROADTRIP-'62 ™ routes, we are traveling US-23. We’re at Asheville, North Carolina this morning, thirteen days out from our northern beginning point at Mackinaw City, Michigan. Today we’ll stay in the mountains of North Carolina again, heading south on the roads of 1962. I'll be driving on this virtual roadtrip, but if you see anything you like, I encourage you to get out on the road and enjoy it in person. This virtual roadtrip may be fun, but there's nothing like the real thing! At any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Time to buckle up now and get on the road again!
Before we leave, it’s worth a drive past the City Hall. It’s another beautiful art deco building, designed by the same North Carolinian architect as the S&W Cafeteria we passed yesterday, Douglas Ellington. Together they make downtown unique. As I’m going to spend about half the day at one place later today, I won’t have time to stop at two other interesting places in downtown Asheville. One, the Grove Arcade building, is a fun collection of shops and eateries in another beautiful piece of architecture. The Grove Arcade opened in 1929 and housed a fine collection of local shops and services, with offices on the upper floors. The Federal Government took over the building at the start of World War II because it was large and located in a safe, remote place in the North Carolina mountains. With less than a month’s notice, the 74 shops and 127 offices were evicted. The government was still using the building in 1962 for the National Climatic Data Center. But by the mid-1980s, Asheville citizens became interested in returning the Grove to its original purpose and a new Federal Building was completed in 1995. This cleared the way and in 2002 the Grove Arcade, now on the National Register of Historic Places, re-opened as the premier public market it remains today.
The other place I would have liked to stop at is the Colburn Earth Science Museum. You may, if you wish to spend less time at our second stop of the day. Though the Colburn has been housed since 1992 in the multi-museum complex of the Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center in downtown Asheville, it was founded in July of 1960. Then we would have seen a collection of minerals arranged by volunteers of the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society in a part of the North Carolina State Mineral Research Laboratory, whereas today we see professionally designed, mounted, and lighted collections. The museum is the legacy of engineer and bank president Burnham Standish Colburn, who retired to Asheville because of the North Carolina mineral fields. This area contains the greatest variety of minerals in the country. Other specimens from his collection can be seen at museums all around the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution. However, the best of Colburn's specimens, along with others from members of the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society, are right here.
As we head out of Asheville, US-25 leaves our route and US-70 joins us through Dillsboro, North Carolina. US-70 was another cross-continent route, running from Los Angeles, California to Atlantic, North Carolina in 1962, though it is shorter today. We will be spending some time before we leave town at what can only be described as the greatest of America’s castles: George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore. Besides the house itself, a true estate was constructed, including farms, a brick factory, and an entire community for employees at Biltmore Village. Within the village is what was the family chapel; the Cathedral of All Souls. George Vanderbilt even paid the salaries for the clergy and the choir. All Souls is a cruciform-shaped church, inspired by abbey churches in Northern England, with the semi-circular apse inspired by churches in Southern France. The church also contains a magnificent collection of stained glass windows, among the oldest and perhaps the most beautiful in the region.
On to the mansion itself, where you drive in about 3 miles before reaching the building, still the United State's largest privately owned home. All the land we are driving through, and originally many square miles more, is part of the Vanderbilt estate. It once reached south almost 20 miles to the Cradle of Forestry In American National Historic Site on US-276, encompassing over 100,000 acres. The mansion was built between 1889 and 1895, opening to friends that year. The architect, Richard Morris Hunt, modeled the house on three 16th-century French châteaux. Everything about this French Renaissance style home is impressive, from original art by masters such as Renoir, 16th-century tapestries, the 65 fireplaces, to an indoor pool and bowling alley. We’re going to take the self-guided home tour, which can take a couple of hours. There are over 4 acres of floor space covering 4 floors and a basement, though we can only see a fraction of that. It includes the adjacent gardens designed by America's foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed such spaces as New York’s Central Park.
There are 250 rooms in the castle, with one of my favorites being the library that houses 23,000 volumes. George Washington Vanderbilt III had a life-long love affair with reading and books. At about age twelve, he began recording each book he read, listing the title and author. George kept this list of “Books I have Read” from age 12 until his death in 1914 at 51 years old. The last entry was #3159, bringing him to an average of eighty-one books a year. This is a staggering total, and even though I like to read a lot, I don’t manage more than a couple dozen a year. George also funded literary projects around the country, including the building and collection of one of the first public lending libraries in the country, which eventually became part of the New York Public Library. We get to wander over several stories of the home; another impressive room of which is the Banquet Hall with its 70-foot ceiling.
And if the home is not enough elegance, just look at these gardens! Included are an Italian Garden with three symmetrical pools and classical statuary, the All America Rose Garden featuring more than 250 varieties of roses, a Walled Garden, and the largest of the Biltmore gardens, the Azalea Garden. This 15-acre garden of both native and hybrid azaleas was largely the work of Chauncey Beadle, who worked here from 1890 to 1950. Beadle and others traveled the country gathering a huge collection of over 3,000 plants, which were donated to the estate in 1940. Next to these gardens is the Conservatory, which provides flowers and plants for Biltmore House and gardens. The Conservatory’s central feature is the Palm House where palms, ferns, and other foliage plants are growing on display. If you walk the entire gardens, all the way down to the Bass Pond, you’ll cover over 1.5 miles. We could spend another couple hours out in these gardens if we want!
There are other ways to spend time, and money too, at Biltmore. You can take a bus tour of the estate and visit areas not usually open to guests. There are carriage rides through the estate on either six or twelve-person carriages, horseback riding, river float trips, you can shoot sporting clays, hike or bike, and do at least one thing that could not be done in 1962. You can take a Segway tour along the French Broad River on a special all-terrain Segway, an electric, gyro-controlled, one-person vehicle. We won’t do any of these today because I don’t want to spend all day, but I could as this is a truly one-of-a-kind site in the United States. It will be long enough just to get off the estate, as driving out the remainder of the loop road, past the winery and inn, will be another 7 miles.
Finally leaving beautiful Biltmore behind, old US-23 would have gone through Luther, North Carolina in 1962, though a bypass was constructed the very next year. Canton, North Carolina has the historic Colonial Theatre, and the Shook Museum is in Clyde, North Carolina. The Colonial Theatre is an unusual movie theatre in that it was designed in colonial revival style, and in 1932, when many movie theatres were being designed in art deco style. It showed movies through the 1960s. As with several other older, historic theatres we have seen along US-23, it was acquired by the city and restored for use as a community center. We will drive past these structures on our way to lunch. Just as at Biltmore though, the grand scenery of mountain vistas unfolds along the way. In this area there are 19 mountain peaks of over 6,000 feet in elevation. At Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, US-19 leaves our route while US-19A travels with us to Dillsboro, North Carolina. We’ll make our lunch stop in Waynesville, North Carolina. The city was named after Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, who was also the namesake of the road back in Toledo, Ohio that the Toledo Zoo was located on.
Waynesville is just chock full of likely places we could have eaten lunch at in 1962. If you want to keep a little of the elegant feeling of Biltmore, I suggest the Old Stone Inn, where since 1946 you have been able to dine in a hunting lodge atmosphere. If you love your drive-ins, there is Ammons Drive-In, known for their BBQ, thick shakes and curb-service, or Jim’s Drive In, with curb-service from the front door of an unusual two-story building. Clyde’s Restaurant is somewhere in between, with home-style cooking and a retro 1950s sign, and I think I’ll try that.
After lunch, we have to stop at Mast General Store, located in a building that has been here since the 1930s. Mast was originally established in 1883 in Valle Crucis, North Carolina and only expanded to Waynesville in 1991. However, the combination of the old building and the old brand makes it a reasonable place for us to stop in 1962: after all, there was some kind of store in this building. It still boasts oak floors, a pressed tin ceiling, and even has some displays of 100-year-old merchandise to set the mood. Today they sell mostly clothing and outdoor gear, but in the past they were a true general store. At the front door, a cooler full of RC Cola, Cheerwine, and Nehi Peach Soda greets you. And they have a great selection of piece candies, including many of your favorite candies from the past! I think I’ll buy a map or two and some of their own Mast General Store brand local jelly: I do like unusual jellies. Elsewhere in town is the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts. I could not find the age of this museum, so we won’t be stopping there. It’s housed in the historic Shelton House, an excellent example of a typical Charleston-style farmhouse from 1876. The museum has a collection of art, handicrafts and furniture created by North Carolina artists. Leaving Waynesville, we cross US-276, which ended here until about 1959 but by 1962 it had been extended about three miles north of town.
At Balsam, North Carolina we cross Balsam Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway does the same. The parkway is one of the most beautiful roads in the country, running mostly on the ridges of the highest mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. Today it covers 469 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, but in 1962 it was still under construction in this area. Maybe we could have watched some earthmoving. We could have seen a completed piece back at Asheville as a section began 5 miles east of town. The parkway was begun in 1935 as a Depression-era public works project and took over a half-century to complete, with the final link of the Linn Cove Viaduct completed in September 1987. It’s construction techniques set the standards for parkway engineering and design for the rest of the country. In addition to the beauty of the roadway itself and the surrounding mountains, you can find historic sites, waterfall hikes, dining, camping and more along the route. At this point, we cross the parkway at 3316 feet above sea level, though it reaches above 6,000 feet not far from here.
Coming down from the gap we enter Nantahala National Forest, which we will stay in most of the way to Georgia. This forest was established in 1920 and is now is famous for whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and hiking on over 600 miles of trails. I could use a little music and a perfect tune from 1962 for driving around deep in the southern mountains is "Wolverton Mountain". It evokes mountain folk from times past with its simple melody and story. The song was composed by Merle Kilgore and Claude King and recorded by them. It proved so popular that it was recorded by three other artists that same year: Roy Drusky, Nat King Cole, and Dickey Lee. The original Claude King recording is the one I remember. It is said to have been based on a real character who lived on Wolverton Mountain in Arkansas. There is no such mountain found in North Carolina but a resort by that name exists in Virginia, near the North Carolina border. King had another hit in 1962 with an American Civil War song, "The Burning Of Atlanta” and coincidentally we’ll be heading to Atlanta, Georgia in a couple of days. Let’s listen as we drive old US-23 to Dillsboro. There we meet US-441, which travels with us through Baldwin, Georgia. It also runs north to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Also in Dillsboro, we find the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. If you want a train ride on this trip, here’s your only chance. The line actually provided no passenger service between 1948 and 1988, so in 1962 we could only watch the freight move. But the excursion they began in 1988 gives a good flavor or train travel in the early 1960s, when you could still travel between most cities by train. On the way up to Bryson, North Carolina the train passes through the 836-foot Cowee Tunnel and up the Tuckasegee River, where we can watch the river rafters and tubers float by. The beautiful scenery includes the same mountain and valley type views we have seen by car, but everything looks different from the track. And we can relax to the clickety-clack of the train on the rails for the 53-mile ride to Andrews, North Carolina. It wasn’t easy to cut this branch line through the Balsam Mountains, as the grade was steep and curvy. At the top, the rail is 3,100 feet up, which was once the highest railroad elevation in the Eastern United States. After a quick rest stop, we come right back to Dillsboro. I’m going to grab a grape Nehi soda at Bradley’s General Store across from the depot, and then hit the road again. Bradley’s has been here since 1888, so we could surely have bought a Nehi there in 1962, and it still looks like an old-time store.
The last leg of today’s journey is south to Franklin, North Carolina, home of ruby, sapphire and other gem mining. US-23 now is on a divided highway along with US-441, most of which is built right over the old road, so we’ll be driving a divided highway except for a couple of small deviations to old US-23. Along road between Dillsboro and Franklin you’ll notice lots of gem mines: we’ll deal with that tomorrow. By the time we get to Franklin, the Scottish Tartans Museum is probably closed, so I’ll think about seeing that tomorrow also. We’re looking for a motel first, and somehow Franklin has a surplus of older motels. I’m sticking with a nice one I’ve stayed at previously, the Colonial Inn. I suppose I should ask how old it is, as I could be off by a few years.
Franklin is an unusually-shaped town: it appears to have been originally laid out as a circle, like Circleville, Ohio. It now has a few odd extensions, so you can only tell its origins by looking at a map. In Franklin we cross US-64, which ends out west at the Four Corners area where Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico meet. Running east from Franklin, it is a mountainous 2-lane road not suitable for large trucks, as it passes three large waterfalls on its way to Highlands, North Carolina. We need to stay in town though, and find dinner. We’re presented with a great variety of older, locally-owned restaurants, but I haven’t found the age of most. I’ll just have to wing it until I ask, so let’s try the Sunset Restaurant now and maybe Wilson’s Restaurant for a real southern breakfast with some biscuits tomorrow. Then tonight we can watch some TV at the motel and wake up refreshed in the morning.
Speaking of TV, rural North Carolina’s best known show, The Andy Griffith Show., was on the air in 1962 and you can still watch reruns today. In fact, you can watch it on the internet any night of the week! As a kid, I used to love to whistle along to the theme song. It was one of only a handful of whistled songs I had heard: it was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer. For those of you too young to know the show, it showed the folks of the fictional and slow-paced Mayberry, North Carolina. It seemed almost as if the town was isolated from the real world, as everything was very laid back and politics never seemed to intrude. The town of Mayberry was based on Andy Griffith's real hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, which now has an annual "Mayberry Days" celebration. But even though it was supposed to be in this state, it was filmed entirely in California, largely at Desilu Studios. Just about everyone on the show won multiple Emmys for they performances and Ron Howard went on to become a very successful director. In the 8 years it ran, the only sponsor was General Foods, with all the vehicles provided by the Ford Motor Company. Let’s settle in and watch. Tomorrow we'll continue through the real North Carolina on ROADTRIP-'62 ™ .
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.