Look down at the ground and note the granite outcroppings the next time you visit the Flat Rock Playhouse in the village of Flat Rock. Picnic tables sit on “the rock.”
The village of Flat Rock was named for “the rock.”
Houses, grass, roads and buildings now cover most of the large “flat rock” for which the village takes its name. But the large granite rock can still be seen in places.
“I have people ask me constantly where the rock is,” said the late author and Flat Rock historian Louise Howe Bailey.
Pieces of it may be seen in the low granite wall of drystone construction along the west side of the Greenville Highway. alongside the Flat Rock Playhouse property. Louise Bailey remembers when they widened the road, saying that they had a “devil of a time” jackhammering all the granite under the roadbed. Much of that blasted stone was used in the wall and the rest of it hauled away for other purposes.
The granite rock is everywhere. The rock can be seen in front of the Blue Ridge Fire Department’s substation near the Village Hall.
The state blasted the rock to build old U.S. 25.
“Every time they dig at Bonclarken they hit granite,” said Charles Kuykendall, descendant of one of the earliest settlers in Flat Rock, Abraham Kuykendall. “That’s why the crawl space under my house is as shallow as it is.”
Longtime county residents held church picnics on the rock. Schoolchildren who attended the former Flat Rock High School and Flat Rock Junior High remember the rock well. Field days and picnics were held there. The rock could be seen near the old ball field, where houses are built today. The Singleton Centre is located at the old school.
The traditional community of Flat Rock is bounded on the north by the city of Hendersonville, to the south by Zirconia, on the east by East Flat Rock, and to the west by Valley Hill and Crab Creek.
The Continental Divide passes through the southern section of Flat Rock and the headwaters of Mud Creek are in Flat Rock.
The northern section is within the inter-mountain plateau or valley. The southern and western sections have some small mountains where the community borders Zirconia and Crab Creek.
“The flat rock was on one of the Cherokee trading paths,” said Freeman Owl of Cherokee during an interview in the mid-1990s. “It was used as a meeting place, where different tribes would come together to settle disputes and trade.”
Owl said the Cherokee in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee would trade with the Cherokee in the lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia and also with the Catawba Indians at the “flat rock.”
“The trading would take several days, so entire families would come,” he said.
Legends and stories in early histories of the county state the flat rock was used for ceremonies and that women and children accompanied Indian hunting parties. But, according to Owl and Cherokee customs and history, women and families did not accompany hunting parties and there is no tradition or history among the Cherokee of the flat rock being used for any type of sacred ceremony.
By 1700, the Cherokee began a deerskin trade with colonial settlers, using the Saluda Indian Path to Charleston, S.C., according to Cherokee history and other historical texts. British and colonial settlers traded with the Indians at the annual trading gatherings at the “flat rock.”
The flat rock first appeared in public records in January 1794 in a term of the Old Buncombe County Court. It was “ordered that William Fletcher, John Bradley Sr., Elijah Williamson, Harmon Reed, Nicholas Woodfin, David McCarson, Samuel Forgy, John Newport, William Boyd, Abraham Kuykendall, John Craig, Abraham Reed, Benjamin Yardley and John Bradley Jr. be a jury to view, mark and lay off a road, the nearest and best way from the ford of Cane Creek, to the ‘Flat Rock’ near the Blue Ridge (Continental Divide) leading along the ridge that strikes Mud Creek a small distance above William Fletcher’s and report to the April session, 1794.”
This road followed the old Saluda Indian Path from the Saluda Gap, in the Saluda Mountain Range in South Carolina until it reached Flat Rock. The gap is NOT near the town of Saluda, N.C., as stated in several early histories of Henderson County. The gap is in today’s Greenville, S.C., Watershed, near where old U.S. 25 crosses the North and South Carolina state line.
Saluda Gap, the Saluda Mountain Range, the Saluda River and the town of Saluda in South Carolina were named long before the town of Saluda, N.C., was named in the late 1800s. Saluda is a Cherokee word meaning hilly country or rolling hills, Owl said.
This early road that followed the old Saluda Indian Path became known as the Old Buncombe Turnpike or Old State Road. It followed the ancient Indian path near old U.S. 25 through the Green River community and Zirconia to the “flat rock.” A branch of this early Indian path then continued to Naples and the ford of Cane Creek near Fletcher. The main Saluda Indian Path continued along the “ridge” (Continental Divide) into Virginia.
It was on this ancient Indian path that early pioneer settler and land holder, John Earle, built a home in the 1790s. It was this road that Charlestonians traveled when they began coming to the area in the late 1820s.
Early land owners
Possibly the first settler in the traditional community of Flat Rock was John Earle. On Aug. 23, 1784, John Earle enters land on the south fork of Green River where “Dellingham’s path crosses to Sauldy.” This reference is to the Saluda Indian Path (along old U.S. 25).
On Aug. 25 of the same year Matthew Maybin, Revolutionary War veteran, enters the first of hundreds of acres of land that he will claim, this one is on both sides of Green River near Earle’s upper line.
Land speculators Andrew Miller and David Miller enter a grant for land on Aug. 8, 1787, along the main fork of “Muddy Creek” that includes “a small mountain above the ‘Seloudy’ Path.”
Abraham Kuykendall is first mentioned in a land deed in the area on June 10, 1788. Allen Twitty entered land on Mud Creek “above an Indian camp and runs down both sides of the creek.” This land was transferred to Abraham Kuykendall.
On Feb. 5, 1791, Abraham Kuykendall entered 900 acres on the main fork of and both sides of Mud Creek. He purchased hundreds more acres in the next few years, including land on Little Mud Creek and “Batwoods Creek.” His land in Flat Rock totaled more than 2,000 acres.
Click on the “Historic Cemeteries” icon and then Flat Rock for more information on Abraham Kuykendall.
Land speculators, Andrew Miller and David Miller, purchase more land on Dec. 12, 1791. This land was on the “head branches of Little Mud Creek above John Earle’s shoals and David Miller’s line, borders ‘Glesey’ (Glassy) Mountain.”
On Nov. 18, 1794, David Miller, Andrew Miller, James Greenlee and Abraham Kuykendall enter land on Little Mud Creek near Matthew Maybin’s land “near Butt Mountain and ‘Short arsed’ Mountain and runs on the waters of Green River, includes the wagon road to Mud Creek.”
A map recently discovered in Georgia shows the old Walton County claimed by Georgia (1790-1810) consisting of land in most of Transylvania County to the Flat Rock community of today’s Henderson County. Abraham Kuykendall’s land is clearly seen on the map.
In 1823, early settler John Davis bought what is today known as the Argyle property in Flat Rock. He built a home on the property.
A post office was established in the community in 1829 and John Davis was appointed the first postmaster. He also owned property near the state line in the Green River community. In 1830, Davis sold his property to Mitchell King of Charleston, S.C., and moved to his property in the Green River community.
The land deed dated Oct. 12, 1830, states that Davis sold King 1,390 acres “including the dwelling house in which I now reside, the offices, saw mills and all other dwellings and improvements.”
It was in 1830 that William Murray, who owned an inn and tavern in the Fletcher area, wrote to Mitchell King about the transfer of property from John Davis – “your property from Davis whenever it suits him to leave.” Murray moved to the King property as possibly the caretaker. By 1831 King had also purchased land from early pioneer settler John Cagle and later William Justice.
When Davis moved to the Green River community, Murray was appointed the second postmaster at Flat Rock. For more information on John Davis visit:
Peter Summey was the third postmaster. In 1836 the post office was located in the “public house or tavern.” George Summey was postmaster from 1838 to 1840 and then John Mills was the postmaster.
In 1845 the Rev. Peter Stradley was appointed postmaster. It was during his tenure that the “old post office” was built.
Today, much of Flat Rock is served by the Flat Rock Post Office. Some sections of the community receive mail from the Hendersonville Post Office. The Flat Rock Post Office also has a rural route that extends into the communities of East Flat Rock, Upward and Tracy Grove.
Grist mills and saw mills
Early pioneer settler John Earle built a grist mill in the community on his land. This land is located today near the Highland Lake. Prior to obtaining land in today’s Henderson County, Earle lived in the Landrum, S.C., area, near the Revolutionary War’s Earle’s Fort. He arrived in the area via another old Indian path, today called the Howard Gap Road.
In 1815, Earle’s widow, Eleanor Earle, conveyed to Robert McAfee 200 acres on the “shoal where John Earle had a mill.”
In 1845, Charles Baring built “Solitude” on a hill overlooking the lake. This was sold to George Trenholm, who succeeded Charles G. Memminger as Secretary of the Treasury for the Confederate States of America. Trenholm owned this summer estate only a short while and sold it to William Aiken, a former governor of South Carolina. Aiken’s daughter obtained the site in the late 1800s and re-named the mill Rhett Mill located on a mill pond. The site was purchased in 1910 for a club and re-named the Highland Lake Club, and the mill pond was expanded to build a lake, Highland Lake.
Abraham Kuykendall had a grist mill and a saw mill on his property. Edmond S. McGuffey, possibly a son-in-law, owned the mills not long after the death of Kuykendall.
A deed in Buncombe County dated 25 July 1814 by Abraham Kuykendall Jr. of Franklin County, Tenn., to Edmund McGuffie of Buncombe County, N.C., states that for the sum of 300 dollars a tract of land was purchased containing 292 acres on the waters of Mud Creek. It mentions the east side of the road, “the saw mill” and includes “the grist mill” and the “improvements thereof.”
John Davis established a saw mill in the 1820s on the 1,390 acres that he sold to Mitchell King. Lincoln Fullam may have been one of the early operators of this saw mill.
Peter Summey operated a grist mill for 16 years, beginning about 1830 on Earle’s Creek. In 1846 he sold the mill to Jacob Ramseur and it was conveyed to Alexander Ramseur. In 1847, Andrew Johnstone and Mitchell King bought the mill from Ramseur. Henry T. Farmer began a furniture “factory” at the site of the early mill, using the water wheel to operate the saws and lathes. In the late 1800s the Smyth family purchased the property. By this time the mill was again a grist mill.
In the early 1900s William C. Jordan operated the grist mill and the mill became known as Jordan’s Mill. Today this property is the site of the Mill House Lodge.
Inns and taverns
Abraham Kuykendall built an inn and tavern along the old Saluda Path (later Old Buncombe Turnpike) in the 1790s.
John Davis opened an inn on his land in the 1820s in Flat Rock. In 1831, William Murray was operating the “tavern or public house” that originally belonged to Davis. Davis had originally sold the land where the tavern or public house was located to Benjamin Richardson. Richardson sold this tract of land to King. In 1835, King sold part of the “hotel tract” to George Summey.
The Summey family operated a “tavern or public house” in the community for several years. Summey operated the tavern until it burned sometime during the Civil War.
In 1852, Henry T. Farmer opened the Farmer’s Inn along the Old Buncombe Turnpike (old Saluda Path). Plans for the inn started in 1847.
This was NOT the first stagecoach stop along the Old Buncombe Turnpike, as several histories and web sites indicate. The first stagecoach stop on the old road was at John Davis’ Oakland, an inn and stagecoach stop in the Green River community, near the state line, at the top of the “winding stairs” from Greenville County, S.C.
In 1864, during the Civil War, Company E of the 64th N.C. Confederate Regiment was sent to Flat Rock to help maintain order. Deserters from both the Confederate and Union armies were hiding out in the mountains, stealing and committing other acts of violence. After Andrew Johnstone was murdered by a group of these bushwhackers, the company was sent to Flat Rock to protect the homes, valuables and families of the summer residents from South Carolina who were living in Flat Rock during the war. The company’s encampment was at the Farmer’s Hotel.
Owners in the early 1900s re-named the inn the Woodfield Inn. The current owners have re-named it the Mansouri Mansion.
The first church in the traditional community of Flat Rock, Mud Creek Baptist Church, was founded between 1803 and 1804. Abraham Kuykendall gave the land for the construction of the church in the community.
Charles Baring, who built a summer estate in the area about 1827, built a private chapel. In 1836 the church was deeded to the Episcopal diocese. This church, St. John in the Wilderness, was only open in the summer until the late 1950s.
For more information on Mud Creek Baptist Church and St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church and their historic cemeteries, click on the “Historic Cemeteries” icon on this web site, then Flat Rock.
There was a one-room school in the community for local residents. There are references to a Flat Rock school in 1887 and 1888. According to the late educator Ernest Justus, the school was located between today’s Flat Rock and East Flat Rock on Blue Ridge Road. About 1901 the school was moved to the Flat Rock site. It was still a one-room school. In 1904 the school was held in the old Peace’s store. There were six teachers at the school in 1915.
The school at Flat Rock through the 1920s was a consolidated school with elementary and high school students. A brick building was constructed in 1923 and opened in 1924.
In 1934, the school at Flat Rock became a high school only. High school students from Flat Rock, Valley Hill (Crab Creek), Tuxedo (Zirconia and Green River) and East Flat Rock began attending high school at Flat Rock. The schools in those communities became elementary schools.
Elementary school students in Flat Rock began attending the East Flat Rock School.
In 1960 East Henderson High School opened in the East Flat Rock community. The former high school at Flat Rock became a junior high school for students in the communities mentioned above.
An arsonist set fire to the building, Flat Rock Junior High School, in 1971. Some structures of the school were saved. Flat Rock Middle School was built on the border of Flat Rock and East Flat Rock in 1972.
For several years Blue Ridge Technical Institute (Blue Ridge Community College) used the remaining classroom structure at the Flat Rock School.
Apartments for Charleston Garden are currently located in the school’s gymnasium. Businesses with the Singleton Centre are located in the remaining classroom structure and the school’s cafeteria and library.
In 1915 a private school for boys opened on the Highland Lake property. In 1919, the Carolina Military and Naval Academy opened at Highland Lake. The school closed in 1924. The property owners then operated Camp Highland Lake at the property until the late 1940s. There were two other short-lived camps at the property.
In late 1955, the Catholic diocese bought the Highland Lake property to be used as a diocesan retreat center and summer camp, Our Lady of the Hills Camp. The camp opened in 1956. It was the first racially integrated camp in the region. In 1978, the Diocese of Charlotte Youth Ministry office relocated to the camp. In 1985 the property was sold and the Highland Lake Inn and Conference Center was established at the former camp location.
Summer Residents and Estates
Henderson County became a mecca for summer tourists beginning in 1827 when the first people from the low country of South Carolina began buying land from earlier settlers and county residents and building summer estates in the community of Flat Rock.
Charles and Susan Baring arrived in the Flat Rock community in 1827 and built “the Mountain Lodge.”
Mitchell King of Charleston, S.C., first visited the area in 1829 and built the Argyle home in 1830 to 1831. Judge Mitchell King conveyed 60 acres for the construction of the town of Hendersonville.
Christopher G. Memminger built his Rock Hill estate, the present site of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, in 1838. In 1888 the property was purchased by the William Gregg Jr. family. In 1900, the property was purchased by the Smyth family who built Balfour Mills. In 1945, poet and author Carl Sandburg purchased the Rock Hill estate of Confederate leader and Secretary of the Treasury for the Confederate States of America Christopher G. Memminger.
For more information on Smyth and Balfour Mills visit:
For more information on some of the summer residents of Flat Rock visit:
For more detailed information on the summer estates in Flat Rock, the architecture, ownership history and people, the book “Hendersonville & Flat Rock An Intimate Tour” by Terry Ruscin is recommended. The foreword for the book was written by Louise Howe Bailey.
Many of the summer residents from the low country of South Carolina and Georgia brought some slaves with them during the summers. A listing of the numbers of slaves in Henderson County held by the summer residents in Henderson County can be seen at http://hendersonheritage.com/slave-owners-1800-1820-1850-1860/
The summer residents of Flat Rock wanted a train depot closer to their summer homes than the depot in Hendersonville. In 1889 the Flat Rock depot was built in today’s community of East Flat Rock.
In 1921 and 1922 the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church purchased acreage in the Flat Rock community and built the Bonclarken Assembly Grounds. Dr. Arthur Rose Guerard has purchased the property and built the Heidelberg House in 1886. The house was enlarged in 1903 and later opened as a tuberculosis sanatorium. After a few years he turned the former home and sanatorium into the Heidelberg Hotel. The site is now home to the Bonclarken Conference Center and summer camps of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
In 1940 and 1941, the Vagabond Players led by Robroy Farquhar performed in the summers at the site of the old grist mill at Highland Lake. After World War II, the group opened a playhouse on Lake Summit in Tuxedo. In 1952, the Vagabond Players purchased the Lowndes home in Flat Rock and incorporated as the Vagabond School of Drama. The Flat Rock Playhouse was designated as the State Theater of North Carolina in 1961.
It was in 1993 that the Village of Flat Rock incorporated a large part of the traditional Flat Rock community. Sections of the traditional community of Flat Rock are not within the incorporated village.