Today’s town of Laurel Park was once simply a part of the larger Big Willow community until 1888 when William A. Smith and Columbus Mills Pace began buying land in the Echo Mountain area from local residents.
Today the town of Laurel Park is bordered to the north and west by the Horse Shoe community. The Big Willow community borders Laurel Park to the west and south, and Valley Hill borders Laurel Park to the south. The city of Hendersonville borders Laurel Park on the east.
The town is famous for Jump-off Rock at the top of the mountain. There is an old legend told by Appalachian Mountain storytellers that a young Cherokee Indian maiden received word that her young Indian chief had been killed in battle, so she climbed to the edge of the rock and jumped off. The old legend says on moonlit nights one can see the ghost of the maiden on Jump-off Rock. This is an Appalachian Mountain story told by local people, not a Cherokee legend. There is no historical fact within it and it is not a legend told by the Cherokee. The first appearance of this story was in the book “From the Banks of the Oklawaha” written by Frank FitzSimons, one of the county’s greatest storytellers. There are similar legends at large rocks on top of mountains in almost every county in Western North Carolina.
One of the early settlers in the area prior to 1860 was Josiah Davis (1820-1885). The family lived in the area of what is today Jump-off Rock. The Davis family used dynamite and an oxen-pulled sled to begin building the road known today as Davis Mountain Road.
Based on early land deeds what is today called Jump-Off Mountain was once known as Davis Mountain. Jump-Off Rock was located on Davis Mountain. When the rock became a popular tourist attraction, the name of the mountain became known as Jump-off Mountain.
In the early 1900s, a son of Josiah Davis, James Madison Davis, started a carriage road to Jump-off Rock. This road was completed between 1907 and 1914.It was a toll road with the gate house at the Davis family home. This was the only access road to Jump-off Rock until Laurel Park Estates (a corporation) built the Laurel Park Highway in 1924.
In 1924, Will Davis sold his share of the family property to Laurel Park Estates with a provision that eight acres of land would permanently belong to the people. In 1925, W.D. and Nina McAdoo of Pinellas County, Fla., purchased Jump-Off Rock from the Davis family and donated the property to the Laurel Park corporation.
Other early settlers of what is today Laurel Park were the Allen, Cox, Evans, Johnson, Mace, McCarson, Orr and Shipman families.
Marion Columbus Toms and his son, Charles French Toms, owned land on Jump-off Mountain in the late 1800s. They had a peach orchard on this land and later an apple orchard.
The railroad line connecting the main line in Hendersonville to Brevard was completed in 1894. A railroad depot was built near what later became Laurel Park. This was the Davis Station at the foot of the mountain within today’s town of Laurel Park.
Jones Gap Baptist Church began as Mount Crystal Church within what is today the town of Laurel Park in 1892. The Mount Crystal Church was located on today’s Jump-off Mountain.
The early members were McCarson, Mace, Johnson, Allen, Orr, Cox and Staton. The first church was located on McCarson, Shipman and Evans land. When developers began buying the early settlers land to develop Laurel Park, the church moved. In 1912, the Toms family donated money to move the church to land on Hebron Mountain. Today all that remains at the site of the early Mount Crystal Church (Jones Gap Baptist Church) is the cemetery.
The First Congregational United Church of Christ and the Agudas Israel Congregation are today located in the town of Laurel Park. The Agudas Israel synagogue was formerly located at the corner of King Street and Fourth Avenue East until about 2001 when the new synagogue was constructed in Laurel Park.
Smith, Pace and Waldrop
William A. Smith, Columbus Mills Pace and James M. Waldrop began development of what is today Laurel Park in 1886 when they began buying the land of the Appalachian Mountain people in this area of the Big Willow community.
William Alexander Smith was born in 1858 in Cartersville, Ga., the son of James Smith and Martha Alexander Smith. In 1870, at the age of 17, he was living in Tennessee. He was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1876 and opened a law office in Hendersonville. He married Ann Haseltine Jordan. He served as mayor of Hendersonville in 1880 and again in 1882. He formed a real estate company in Hendersonville in 1886. Smith sold his investment in Laurel Park in 1922 and died the same year.
Columbus Mills Pace served 57 years as clerk of court for Henderson County, from 1868 to 1925. He was the longest serving clerk of court in the history of North Carolina. He was born in the Upward community, a son of Leander Jackson Pace and Louvina Morris Pace. He married Leona Allen. He died in 1925. (Please note that the title “judge” before his name seen in many texts was a familial or endearing or respectful title only. Pace was not a “judge” nor was he ever a lawyer. He was the clerk of court.)
James Manning Waldrop was born in 1852 in Polk County and later operated a store on Main Street in Hendersonville with his brothers. He was postmaster for the Hendersonville Post Office from 1876 to 1883. He later joined William A. Smith in the real estate and insurance business and also joined Smith in developing the area of Laurel Park in 1903. Waldrop’s wife was Florence Davis whose family had owned land in the Big Willow community. Her father, James Merritt Davis, was the first postmaster for the Bowman’s Bluff Post Office and her mother was a descendant of Joseph Henry who owned extensive acreage in the Big Willow community. James M. Waldrop died in 1907.
By 1904 the men were granted a franchise by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners. By this time the men had began development of the land called Laurel Park Estates. Most of the advertising was conducted in Florida. The area was developed as a tourist and summer destination, primarily for people from Florida.
Rainbow Lake and Rhododendron Lake
Smith built Rainbow Lake, along with a dance pavilion at the lake, and cleared a large space for picnicking. This was located on today’s Crystal Springs Drive. The Laurel Park Casino was located at Rainbow Lake. He built an observation tower on the side of the mountain, several hundred feet above Crystal Springs, and constructed a Swiss log railroad so visitors could reach the tower.
In 1903 the first Western North Carolina Fair was held at Rainbow Lake and in 1906 Gov. Glenn was guest speaker. The fair was held in Laurel Park until the Depression which the fair was moved to the East Flat Rock community at the site of today’s East Henderson High School.
Smith also built a steam-operated streetcar line in 1905, the Laurel Park Railroad Company, called “The Dummy Line.” The streetcar line ran from Main Street in Hendersonville down Fifth Avenue to Rainbow Lake. The passenger cars were called dummies because the trip back from Fifth Avenue to Main Street was in reverse. The last run was in September 1912.
In 1909 Smith began building another lake that was known as Rhododendron Lake.
From the French Broad Hustler, March 1909
“Laurel Park, said to be the most beautiful natural park in this country, is to have its charms still further enhanced by the building of a lake within its borders, opening up a system of still greater scenic beauty than is already possessed. Mr. W. A. Smith has had the preliminary survey made and it is his present intention to start work within the next few weeks.”
From the French Broad Hustler, October 1909
“Rhododendron Lake is rapidly filling with water, its great earthen dam offering secure protection to the lower lands below it. From one end of Rhododendron Lake opens up the canal which will connect it with its little sister, Rainbow Lake, so familiar to the thousands who have visited Laurel Park. This winding lane of water, nearly a mile in length, is cut along and through the mountain side. Above the canal will run the street car line, below it stretches level fields and winding roads.”
Rhododendron Lake was located on today’s Lake Drive and is better known to local residents simply as Laurel Park Lake.
Gondolas, canoes and rowboats glided back and forth on a canal that connected the two lakes. The canal was lit at night with colored lights.
Laurel Park Villa was built on Rhododendron (Laurel Park Lake) and it was the first place in town to show silent movies. In the 1920s nationally known big bands played at the Laurel Park Villa, including Cab Callaway and Tommy Dorsey. Ella Fitzgerald also performed at the villa.
The lake at Laurel Park was a major swimming site for Henderson County residents and summer visitors through the 1950s and 1960s. The American Red Cross conducted swim lessons at the lake for local residents. During the 1960s it was the location of teen dances with a covered picnic area and dance area. There were sliding boards into the lake and diving boards on a wooden dock in the lake. The beach area had playground equipment. For a small admission fee, local families brought picnic lunches and spent the day at the Laurel Park beach.
In the early 1980s the earthen dam was found to be unsound. The dam was purged, reducing the size of the lake from nine acres to one.
The Laurel Park Civic Association launched an effort in the late 1980s for the town to purchase the former site of the lake and villa. In 2007 the town purchased 11 acres.
The town of Laurel Park, the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and other organizations began an effort to restore the stream and stop the erosion. The final solution included restoration and permanent conservation as part of a mitigation banking project with French Broad Mitigation Partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As part of the project, a conservation easement by CMLC was placed on 30 feet on each side of the stream — a total of almost three acres. This first phase of creating a “new” Rhododendron Lake Park included the removal of the kudzu and other nonnative, invasive plants and the planting of native vegetation that included about 160 trees and 220 shrubs. Other phases include dredging silt from the lake bottom and installing a bottom discharge to “facilitate a lower temperature of water reentering the stream. The latter might make the lake a candidate for native brook trout reintroduction.”
Construction of walking trails is planned.
Incorporation, Highway and Fleetwood
The actual incorporation of Laurel Park Estates as a business enterprise took place on July 25, 1924.
The incorporators were L. Roy Sargent, Allen Yates Arledge, H. Walter Fuller and Robert R. Reynolds. All but Arledge were Florida residents.
The Laurel Park Highway was built in the 1920s when Perry Stoltz of Florida bought land at the top of Jump-Off Mountain to build the Fleetwood Hotel. This was planned as a 15-story hotel similar to his Fleetwood Hotel in Miami Beach.
A new concrete highway (Laurel Park Highway) was built to the hotel site. The highway had lights so construction materials could be hauled up the mountain day and night.
Ground was broken on Sept. 8, 1925, for the hotel.
Promotions included heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey coming to Laurel Park to train for the 1926 fight with Gene Tunney. Dempsey brought his wife, Estelle Taylor, a movie actress, to Hendersonville. The couple stayed at the Kentucky Home Hotel. In addition to training at the lake and Indian Cave (Big Willow community), he also trained at the construction site of the Fleetwood Hotel.
Before the hotel was completed a hurricane hit Florida in September 1928, causing devastating destruction to property owned by some of the investors in Laurel Park Estates, including Stoltz. Over speculation and lack of investment capital had already caused problems prior to the hurricane.
Then the stock market crashed and the nation plunged into the Great Depression.
The 13th floor of the Fleetwood Hotel was the last floor completed, and the hotel was razed in 1939 by a salvage company.
Camps and Lodges
In 1910 the first summer camp opened in Henderson County at Laurel Park. It was a camp for boys. It later moves to Osceola Lake in Valley Hill.
By 1920, there were two summer camps in Laurel Park.
From the “Pictorial Atlas of North Carolina” published in 1920 concerning Henderson County:
“Educational and recreational facilities are offered by a number of camps during the summer season. A few of the better established camps include one at Highland Lake, two at Laurel Park, Camp Minnehaha, and a Camp Fire Girls camp at Bat Cave.”
Echo Inn was built about 1896 as a private summer home by a couple from Florida. Later purchasers from Florida opened a “tea room” at the home in the 1920s. After the stock market crash it was operated as a camp for teen girls for four years with a swimming pool, tennis courts and hiking trails.
In the mid 1930s, the Royall family bought the property and ran it as a restaurant and inn until the 1970s. They made additions and built other buildings on the property. Since the 1970s other owners made additions and improvements.
Poplar Lodge was built about 1923, according to a newspaper article published in the Hendersonville Times-News in 1974. It was used as guest house with a dance hall and night club until the 1960s. Recently, the lodge was dated to 1919 but no information was located to document this date. Later, the Poplar Lodge was an inn and restaurant. It is currently closed.
Town, golf course, industry, parks
Laurel Park incorporated as a town in 1933. At the time of its incorporation, it was the third town in Henderson County. Hendersonville and East Flat Rock were the other two towns.
A golf course began in the 1920s near the Laurel Park Inn, but was not completed due to the stock market crash. The city of Hendersonville took out bonds and completed the golf course as part of the work relief programs during the Depression. Later it was organized as the Hendersonville Country Club. Today the country club is located in the southeast corner of Laurel Park as a private country club with restricted membership.
The Belding Heminway (Belding-Corticelli) plant bought land in 1950 in Henderson County in what is today’s town of Laurel Park. The company began production in Henderson County in 1951. The company made Monocord thread, a synthetic thread. Today, this is the site of Coats North America, a thread company.
Laurel Green Park is located in the town at the intersection of White Pine Drive and Fifth Avenue West. Jump Off Rock Park is located at the end of the Laurel Park Highway at the top of the mountain.
The town is served by the Valley Hill Fire and Rescue and the Hendersonville Post Office.