Oddities of the Chimney Rock Gorge
Oddities of the Chimney Rock Gorge
Apparitions, caves, volcanoes, bottomless pools—all are found in this scenic wonderland.
Chimney Rock is Rutherford’s most widely known “thing” – animal, mineral or vegetable. That is largely because of the persistent advertising given it over the years, and because so many people have visited it, photographed it, and spread its fame around the world.
It lies in Hickory Nut Gorge (not Gap) and the gorge itself is an attraction even without its several oddities. Here the mountain wall seems to part grudgingly, yielding a deep and narrow entry into the Blue Ridge country beyond. The sides of the gorge in some places rise perpendicularly, and through the crevasse flow Rocky Broad River and combined US routes 65-74.
It is North Carolina’s most spectacular gate to its western mountains, and one of the most famous in history. For a long time it was believed DeSoto’s expedition used this pass, but subsequent investigations indicate the Spaniards entered North Carolina via the Toxaway country. It was through this pass that the state in 1927 routed the first all-paved coast to Tennessee paved highway.
Earliest stage coaches followed the route, as did wagoners on their way to the lowlands with produce. At Bat Cave, the highways fork – US 74 continues across Hickory Nut Gap to Asheville, US 64 turns left and goes through Reedy Patch Gap to Hendersonville. The antiquity of the gap as a thoroughfare stretches back into Cherokee mythology, in a story of a magician’s trip through it to get sacred tobacco.
Strewn along the river bed are huge boulders dislodged from the mountain above. In this gorge, and almost filling it, are the shops, motels, and cafes of the village of Chimney Rock. It exists to serve the crowds which come (mostly on Sundays) to visit the Chimney, to serve the tourists going to and from vacationland; and to tourists who stop here and nearby Lake Lure or Bat Cave for their vacations.
High above gorge and village is the Chimney itself, a monolith 300 feet tall, jutting out from the )rocky precipice of Chimney Rock Mountain (elevation 2,500 feet). The stubby granite finger, always with a large flag on top, is the terminus of a 3-mile toll road and offers a superb view of Lake Lure and surrounding country. The road ends at a parking lot, and here one may enter an elevator cut into the solid rock and which goes 258 feet to the base of Chimney Rock. It is just a few steps to the top.
Or one may hike from the parking lot, which everyone had to do before the elevator was installed in 1949. The walk requires around 15 minutes.
Also from this parking lot starts one of the most picturesque hiking trails of our mountains – a 1 1/2 mile circular route to Hickory Nut Falls and return. To make the waterfall, Falls Creek slips about 400 feet down the mountain in a silvery thread. The trail often is hacked out of the sheer side of the rocky mountain, but it is safe enough and recommended to those who want a real mountain hike in comfort and convenience. (A new trail now leads to the base of the Falls.)
The Chimney and 800 surrounding acres was purchased in 1904 by Dr. Lucius B. Morse and his two brothers. The toll road was opened in 1916. Since then over 1,000,000 people have visited it.
The twin resort of Lake Lure is mostly comprised of cottages, though there are also motels, two hotels and other facilities. The lake is popular with fishermen, boat fans, skiiers and swimmers who use the municipal beach. It has a golf course and boat ramp. West of Chimney Rock is the little resort settlement of Bat Cave.
In the area also are summer camps, the very excellent Chalet Club (private), a home-grown hospital, and hundreds of cottages, hidden on the mountain sides, on the lake shore and in the coves.
The Hickory Nut Country is in a thermal belt, which gives it a surprisingly mild year around climate. This was an unexpected bonus when Dr. Morse in 1922 organized the company to further develop an Alpine-type resort. Rutherford County leaders were enlisted, mass meetings were held, and most of the capital for the company was raised among Rutherford people. in 1925 a dam was thrown across the gorge, creating 1,500-acre Lake Lure with a 27-mile shore. A hotel was built on its shores, a golf course constructed, and hundreds of homesites were sold. Another hotel was built on Chimney Rock. Soon, cottages began to appear around the water’s edge. But the depression came; the building boom slowed down and stopped; travel fell off, and many of the corporation’s plans had to be abandoned. Few investors profited.
The original prospectus listed five sites for towns, 18 for hotels, and pictured it as the “largest resort estate development in North Carolina.” It envisioned 5 golf courses, two bathing beaches, amusement piers, fleets of motor boats, stables of saddle horses, polo, fishing, athletic fields, aviation, etc. One permanent result of Morse’s dream was addition of $10 million to the tax books. It is, of course, much more now.
The dam was built in 1925, and operated by the Carolina Mountain Company, and it still produces electric power. Now the southern and eastern shores of the lake are lined with summer cottages. On one side the village of Lake Lure is spread out along the highway. The center is a grassy common where there are a couple of hotels and other enterprises, a boat dock and beach with bathhouse.
The town of Lake Lure has the entire shore line perimeter under lease and thus is able to control both access to it and its use. A small town fee is imposed for fishing in the lake. Boats and supplies are available, and there is a public launching ramp.
In the deeper waters are rainbow trout, usually caught with deep-running spinners and spoons. Largemouth bass are most common, however, with 12pounders on record. Panfish include bluegills, robin and crappie.
The lake attracts also boat fans, water ski fans, and swimmers. In recent years, the upper end of the lake, where the river enters, has been silting up, and the wide bay once coming up to the village common is now much constricted.
Travelers along US 74 can look across Lake Lure and see a stone ridge rearing over the water on the other side. This is Old Bald, later to be named Shaking Bald, Quaking Bald, and known today as Rumbling Bald. It is one of several phenomena which set Rutherford County high on the list of counties with oddities of nature.
Rumbling Bald got its name because of roaring and crashing sounds which, on rare occasions, seem to originate in or on it. The most spectacular occurrence was on February 10, 1874. It was variously described as an explosion, an earthquake and a volcanic eruption. For six months the disturbance continued – over 100 of them, according to some accounts. The mountain’s behavior attracted national attention and brought investigators to the spot. Residents of the gorge were thrown into a panic, and many thought the end of the world had surely come.
Across the eastern end of the mountain is a deep fissure about half a mile long and six feet wide in some places. The pile of rocks contains also several caves. It is believed by some observers that rocks, dislodged in and on the mountain, fell in the caves, causing the quakes and rumbling noises. Springs along the base of the ledge are said to weaken the rocks. So far as we could determine, no rumblings on the Bald have been heard in many years.
About 1941 some explorers went into the mountain and reported several long and deep caverns. None, however, appeared to be of much age, and the presence of numerous rattlesnakes discouraged further investigation. For a more complete story on the 1874 “quake,” see STATE, Oct. 14, 1961.
Oddities of the region including the “bottomless” pools and Bat Cave.
This is strictly a second-hand report, for we have never been to Bat Cave – the cave, that is. It is on the side of Chimney Rock Mountain, and got its name because bats infest it. But it is difficult to reach, and in summer the rocky ledges are said to be crawling with rattlesnakes.
Norman Greig says my description of Bat Cave is malignant. Scientists, he says, have discovered two rare bats in the caves (there are two, not one), and speleologists have been fascinated by the so-called “Bottomless Pits” between the two entrances. Norman says he will take me to the caves at any time – a steep walk of maybe 1/2 mile.
The Bottomless Pools are unusually large potholes created by erosion of Pool Creek, where the swift waters have found soft spots in the granite, chiefly along faults of joints in the rock. In some cases, two fractures intersect, and water deflected from its forward path forms a whirlpool. Stones swept around by the current cut deep circular walls. This is a popular picnic place.
The Chimney Rock section is the site of two legends – one Indian and one white. The white legend has some substantiation, making it all the more puzzling. Twice, according to witnesses, strange and gigantic apparitions appeared on the face of the mountain. The first time was on July 31, 1806, when Patsy Reaves and her children saw “a very numerous crowd of beings resembling the human species … they were of every size … they were all clad with brilliant white raiment; and they appeared to rise off the side of the mountain, south of the rock.” The spectres moved toward the north and collected about Chimney Rock.
So much for Patsy, who might have been daft; and so much for her children. But, according to reports, Robert Siercy was sent for and he beheld the same spectacle.
What made this report (published in The Raleigh Register and State Gazette September 2, 1806) so interesting was the fact that five years later, two troops of ghostly cavalry seemed to appear at the same place and engaged in battle. According to Zeigler & Crosscup (Heart of the Alleghanies), five people are said to have witnessed this battle, heard the clash of swords, groans of the wounded, shouts of victory.
The other legend, recounted by Charles Lanman in his Letters from the Alleghanies, identifies Hickory Nut Gorge as the battlefield between a cunning medicine man and the magic “Little People.” The Cherokees were dying for lack of tobacco, which could be had only in the lowlands. The Little People guarding the only pass through the mountains would not let the warriors through, but the medicine man volunteered to risk the trip. After various adventures, including changing himself into a mole and burrowing underneath his enemies, he changed himself into a whirlwind. In sweeping through the gorge, the magician tore down the cliffs and the falling boulders – still seen to this day – crushed the Little People. Then the magician returned to the Cherokees with the precious tobacco and the sick Indians were made well. The legend appears in Mooney, but the location is not identified.