History sometimes tells tales that rational folks might find hard to believe. The stories paint vivid mental images of wild-eyed settlers with unbalanced tendencies who have not an inkling for the future ramifications of their decisions.
To modern ears, the tales – even those that brought Highlands, North Carolina into existence – sound strange, colorful and sometimes surprisingly innovative. We at The Park on Main® find the stories of Highlands’ history particularly fascinating but, on another level, not surprising at all. Without a doubt, Highlands – with all of its nuances and predilections – was shaped by its history.
According to several sources, two explorers from Kansas reportedly drew two lines on a map in 1875 to delineate the place where the next commercial and population boom would take place. Samuel Truman Kelsey and Clinton Carter Hutchinson drew lines between Chicago and Savannah and between New Orleans and New York.
They reasoned that where those lines intersected would become the next great trading center and a crossroads for commerce. They named the area Highlands for its elevation: It is 4,118 feet above sea level, one of the highest incorporated municipalities east of the Mississippi River.
While their reasoning was sound for the time, they missed it by nearly 130 miles. Atlanta nabbed the prize. Highlands would have to develop differently. The settlers’ vision changed.
To harness Highlands’ potential, the settlers built a health and summer resort on the highest crest of the western North Carolina plateau in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
History: Highlands Grows Slowly, Leisurely
Following the Civil War, both northern and southern pioneers found Highlands an attractive destination for its natural, rustic beauty and its high elevation. Nearly 300 people from eastern states had settled in Highlands by 1883. During that time, it had eight country stores, a post office, a hotel and boarding house, a library, four churches and a school.
Highlands underwent very little change the following 40 years. But the town underwent a radical transformation in the late 1920s with the damming of the Cullasja River, which formed Lake Sequoyah, to create a hydroelectric power plant.
Crews carved a road to Franklin out of the Cullasaja Gorge’s rock walls and reinforced dirt roads leading into Highlands with crushed stone. By 1931 Highlands’ population rose to 500 with nearly another 3,000 spending the summer in the town. In the early 1930s Highlands had a chamber of commerce and 25 businesses.
Also in the 1930s, Atlanta’s Bobby Jones and some of his wealthy and influential golfing friends decided to form the Highlands Country Club, which today is a highly successful residential country club. The city’s destiny as an attractive and scenic tourist spot was beginning to settle.
Forty years later and Highlands is on the verge of another growth spurt. Developers seeking to build homes and shopping centers compelled city leaders to begin drawing specific land use plans and zoning laws to protect Highlands’ natural beauty. The legalese helped to preserve the Highlands heritage and charm; the city today maintains a population of slightly more than 1,000 residents and another more than 3,000 summer visitors.
Mixing It Up at The Park on Main® In Highlands
While Highlands is known for its spectacular color and rugged terrain, its demographic development seemed to follow a similar course. Historical records tell of industrious tradesmen arriving from the North, Scotch-Irish laborers and craftsmen arriving from the nearby mountains and valleys, and wealthy aristocratic planters and professionals coming from the South.
That cultural blend has largely remained intact over the years and thrives, creating a rich cultural mix today of famous artists, musicians, actors, authors, scholars and scientists.
Historians suggest that Highlands’ unique mix makes it less provincial in nature and more cosmopolitan, which against the city’s splendid backdrop makes for the ideal setting for both visitors and those looking for a new place to make home.
The Weather’s Fine at The Park on Main®
Despite Highlands’ location in the South, its weather pattern follows more closely those to the north: It definitely has four seasons. The area is considered to have a subtropical highland climate, which means it generally has cold winters – with average winter snowfall of 13 inches, because of its elevation – and cool summers. It has an average annual rainfall of nearly 90 inches. In 2013, 106 inches of rain fell on Highlands. The average summer high temperature in July is 78.
Did you find this history lesson compelling and useful? Are you looking for a weekend excursion or planning a vacation in one of the nicest places in the United States? We at The Park on Main® hope you can discover the Highlands history for yourself. Come visit us or make reservations today. Let us know how we can be of service to you by following us on our social media channels.
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