In 1907, Joseph Oscar Bell built the Green River Manufacturing Co., the county’s first factory using water power to convert an imported material, cotton, into a cash product. Partners in the enterprise were S.B. Tanner and J.A. Durham of Charlotte.
Bell developed and built a mill town near the mill and named the new mill town Tuxedo.
He built a small lake to use for water power for his manufacturing company. This was not today’s Lake Summit.
Bell requested a post office for the mill village, which he wanted to name Lakewood. But Bell was informed that the name Lakewood was already taken by a post office in the state, according to the N.C. Gazetteer and other historical records.
The post office was named Lakewood from 1908 to 1910.
“He is reputed to have finally said, ‘Name the damn place Tuxedo. There won’t be another Tuxedo.’ And there wasn’t,” said James T. Fain Jr. in his book “A Partial History of Henderson County.”
Anecdotal accounts state that Bell’s wife, Lillas Durham Bell, suggested the name Tuxedo from a park by that name in New York.
Some accounts say the name Tuxedo comes from an Indian phrase, “p’tauk suttough,” which means “place of the bears.” These accounts do not specify from which Indian language these words derive. No historical records could be found to back up this account. They are not Cherokee words.
The Cherokee lived and hunted in Henderson County. Cherokee museum curators and Cherokee language experts say the Cherokee word for bear is “yonah,” and there is no word or combination of words in the Cherokee language that in any way resembles the word “tuxedo.”
In 1910, the Lakewood Post Office officially became the Tuxedo Post Office. The post office was located adjacent to the community store, across from the mill. About 1991, the Tuxedo Post Office moved to Green’s Six Oaks Mall (Roscoe’s) at the intersection of Green River Road and the four-lane U.S. 25. This post office was scheduled for closure in 2006 and has since closed. Mail to Tuxedo is now delivered from the Zirconia Post Office.
It was in 1920 that the Blue Ridge Power and Light Co. began building the dam on the Green River in the Zirconia community that eventually formed Lake Summit that extends to the community of Tuxedo. The operations center was established at Pot Shoals located in the Macedonia community of Henderson County.
In 1927, the Blue Ridge Power and Light Co. sold the company to the Duke Power Co. The Duke Power Company continued ownership of Lake Summit.
This lake is considered by most residents as located within the Tuxedo community.
Geography and Location
Prior to 1907 and the building of the mill village, this community was part of the Green River community. Some sections were later a part of the Zirconia community when zircons were discovered in the area, the post office re-named Zirconia, and a train depot was built.
The Tuxedo community is bordered to the north by the community of Zirconia. Zirconia and the Green River community border Tuxedo on the west. To the south, the community is bordered by the state of South Carolina and a section of the Green River community. On the east is South Carolina, and the communities of Mountain Page and Macedonia. The South Carolina sections are within the Greenville, S.C., Watershed.
The Green River flows through the community and Lake Summit is located within the community.
The Freeman family and the Levi Jones family owned land in what is now considered Tuxedo prior to the Civil War. Some of the property of Levi Jones extended into what is considered today the Zirconia community.
“The best zircon localities in North Carolina are on the Old Meredith Freeman estate, and the Jones estate, Green River, Henderson County. It was leased for 25 years by Gen. Thomas L. Clingman, who, as early as 1869, mined 1,000 pounds of zircon, and during that whole period never lost faith in the incandescent properties of zirconia; but when these were finally proved and acknowledged, through some legal difficulties General Clingman had forfeited his leases, and hence failed to reap his reward.” – Book “History of Gems in N.C.”
A gas lamp was invented, when mixed with zircons “heats white hot and glows like an electric light.”
By the time inventor Thomas Edison was using zircons in his new invention, Hamilton G. Ewart and Marion C. Toms had purchased rights to the Freeman mine from Clingman.
“Zircon is a fairly common compound of a comparatively rare metal. It is practically the only ore of the metal zirconium. It is found mainly in crystals and as gravel. One of the best-known deposits of zircon is that at Zirconia in Henderson County, North Carolina, U.S.A., where there is a vein of kaolinized zircon-bearing pegmatite 100 feet wide, extending over a length of 15 miles. The zircon crystals are up to two inches or so in length, and have been obtained in large quantities from this vein.” http://nevada-outback-gems.com/mineral_information/Zircon_mineral_info.htm
From state geology department: “Three of these localities are, the Freeman mine, 0.5 mile west of Tuxedo on SR 1118 (HENDE-001); the Jones mine, 0.5 mile east of Tuxedo on SR 1856 (HENDE-002); and the Pace mine, 1.8 miles southwest of Tuxedo (HENDE-003).”
It was in the 1880s that the zircon crystals began to be mined in large quantities in the traditional Green River community.
In 1883, W.E. Hidden, a mineralogist working with inventor Thomas Edison, leased the Freeman zircon mine in today’s Tuxedo community. Hidden and Edison also bought the Levi Jones mines in today’s Zirconia community. Some of Jones’ mines were located where Lake Summit was built. Edison later made a visit to the county to view the zircon mines.
Zircons were used in the first electric lights.
Joseph Oscar Bell built the mill, bought the land around the mill, and established the mill village beginning in 1907.
There was also a company store located across from the mill.
Bell, in his 30 years of residence in the county, served as a postmaster, justice of the peace, road trustee, state senator 1932-33, civic leader and real estate broker.
“In 1920, Bell would join eight other investors in building Lake Summit as a power and real estate development, thus gaining his descendants permanent lake rights,” Fain wrote.
Blue Ridge Power and Light Co. became part of Duke Power Co.
From 1924 to 1933, there were financial difficulties and court proceedings involving the mill company, with several officers and directors, some court-appointed.
In 1932, in court proceedings listing assets, the company consisted of the mill building, thousands of spinning and twister spindles, 450 acres of real estate, 50 houses and 80 acres in an apple orchard.
Robert W. Boys became president of the corporation when Green River Mills Inc. was chartered in 1933. He served as president until 1949 and was an avid baseball fan. The Boys family owned the manufacturing company until sold to the J.P. Stevens Co.
“He promoted Green River teams in at least two textile leagues and built Boys Field in an area south of the mill office and west of U.S. 25,” wrote Fain.
This baseball field was destroyed when the state Department of Transportation built the four-lane U.S. 25 to Greenville, S.C.
“U.S. 25 destroyed this community,” said Zirconia resident Doug Coggins. “The state took away our ball field.”
It was in 1948 that the Vagabond Players owned by Robroy Farquhar opened the Lake Summit Playhouse in the Tuxedo community near Lake Summit. In 1952 the name was changed to the Vagabond School of Drama and the playhouse moved to the Flat Rock community.
In 1988, the J.P. Stevens Co. mill in Tuxedo was bought by West Point Pepperell. The plant closed in 1990 and Farley Textiles purchased the mill building for a cloth recycling plant.
This plant closed before 2000.
In 2000, Brittain & Sons Recycling bought the old mill building and ended cloth recycling. This company also closed.
Today, the mill has been torn down and residents are raising funds to build a community park, with baseball fields and other facilities, at the site of the old mill.
Virginia Freeman of Tuxedo has lived in the community most of her life. She ran a beauty shop in the village for 30 years as she and her husband, Robert “Rusty” Freeman, lived in Tuxedo while they raised their three children.
“It’s a very nice village,” she said. “Everybody is friendly and gets along good with everyone else. It’s a slower pace of life, but it has been a pretty good place to live and raise children.”
Two churches are located in the mill village of Tuxedo.
Tuxedo First Baptist Church was formed in 1910. The Green River Manufacturing Co. deeded the land to the church.
A small wood-frame church was constructed in 1920. Classrooms were later added to the back of the church and other buildings and additions were built through the 20th century.
The present church building was dedicated in 1970 and the original church was torn down.
Mountain View Missionary Baptist Church on Mountain View Road in Tuxedo was established in 1947. The hill overlooks the community and Lake Summit.
The land for the church was bought from Joe Bell.
A new building was constructed in 1967 and the original building torn down.
Fire Department and Library
The Green River Fire Department, a volunteer fire department, organized in 1958.
The fire department was the fourth volunteer fire department to organize in the county. The fire department serves the communities of Green River, Tuxedo and Zirconia.
The main building is located in the community of Tuxedo on old U.S. 25.
There is a branch of the Henderson County Public LIbrary located in Tuxedo. The Green River branch is located off Green River Road near Green’s Six Oak Mall (Roscoe’s).
Camp Mondamin located near Lake Summit in Tuxedo was founded in 1922 by Frank Bell Sr. There were no buildings except the simple dining room and a wood-stove kitchen. Campers and staff lived in tents. The eight-week fee was $150.
During the 1030s, Frank Bell Sr. taught school, was the Tuxedo postmaster, ran a country store, and traded in land.
Frank Bell Sr. directed Camp Mondamin through 1972, when Frank Bell Jr., became director.
Camp Greystone for girls opened in 1922 by Dr. Joseph R. Sevier, a Presbyterian minister who also was president of Fassifern School for Girls. The camp is located on Lake Summit
Life Magazine produced a feature story on the camp in 1941.
In 1945, Sevier’s daughter, Virginia, became director and continued the Christian camp with the support of her husband, Joe Hanna, a South Carolina businessman. In 1968, her daughter, Libby Hanna Miller, and her husband, Jim Miller, became the owners of the camp.
Today, Greystone is operated by Jim (Jimboy) Miller, the fourth generation of Sevier’s family, and his wife Margaret.
In 1945, Frank Bell Sr. opened Camp Green Cove for girls in Brevard. After four years in Brevard, Green Cove was established at its present location, about a mile from Camp Mondamin, in the Tuxedo community.
Camp Wendy Wood was established at Lake Summit by the Waggoner family in 1957. The camp closed in 1986.