A community named Zirconia did not exist until 1890 when the Green River Post Office was re-named Zirconia. For the first 100 years in the settlement of the area the community was a section of the Green River community.
The mining of zircons was big business in the community and the post office was re-named to reflect the mining of the zircons.
This is a mountainous community extending from U.S. 176 (Spartanburg Highway) and into the area of Mount Olivet to the Pinnacle Mountain.
Three of the highest peaks in the community are Snaggy Mountain, ranked No. 26 in the county; Ann Mountain, ranked 33; and Rich Mountain, ranked 36. All three of these mountains separate the communities of Zirconia and Crab Creek.
The community is bordered on the north by Flat Rock and East Flat Rock, to the east by the community of Macedonia, on the south by Tuxedo and Green River, and on the west by the Crab Creek community.
There were land speculators as early as the mid-1780s purchasing land in what is today the Zirconia community.
The earliest settlers who purchased land in the community were Matthew Maybin and William Capps. Maybin actually lived in the Green River community, but his land purchases, as early as the 1780s, included land in today’s Zirconia community.
It was in 1799 that William Capps made his first land purchase in today’s Zirconia community. Capps and his family moved to the area between 1800 and 1810. In the early 1800s Capps made more purchases for land in the area. For more information on Capps and his Revolutionary War service, visit the “Historical Cemeteries” section of this web site, click on Zirconia, and then click on the “Fortune-Kuykendall Cemetery.”
Families with the surnames of Jones, Kuykendall, Heatherly, Ward, Lindsey, Anderson, Corn, Hart, Gordon, Osteen, Ballard, Tankersley, Coggins, Anders, King, and others also lived in the community.
In 1875, Philip J. Hart re-opened the Green River Post Office in what is today the Zirconia community. This early post office was located near where the railroad tracks were being constructed and along the old road from Greenville County, S.C. (old U.S. 25, Buncombe Turnpike).
In 1879 the name of the post office was changed to Coleman. Coleman was an official with the railroad. By 1882 the name was changed back to Green River.
It was in 1890 that the name of the post office was changed to Zirconia. For many years the post office remained near the railroads. Recently, a new post office building was constructed for the Zirconia Post Office at a different location on old U.S. 25 (U.S. 225). This post office now serves the communities of Zirconia, Tuxedo and Green River.
The first church established in the community was Crossroads Baptist Church in 1845. At the time of the church’s establishment the community was known as Green River.
According to the book “Brief Baptist Biographies 1707-1982” by Robert P. Hamby, the Crossroads Baptist Church in Henderson County was constituted in 1845. In 1846 the church was a member of the Salem Baptist Association.
Other early records in Henderson County mention the church as an established church in 1857. Definitely, the church was organized prior to 1857. It is not known why the church sign at the entrance of the church states the organization as 1860.
Early church leaders in 1882 included M. Heatherly, W.S. Case, H.C. Ward, and Levi Jones.
The original church was located where Lake Summit is located today. When the lake was built in the early 1900s the church was re-located to its present site in the Zirconia community.
Mount Olivet Baptist Church on Mount Olivet Road was organized in the late 1800s by a delegation from Mud Creek Baptist Church. Some records indicate that it was organized after 1870, other records state in the 1880s.
Three buildings were destroyed by fire. The first church burned in 1895. There was a fire in 1945 and another fire in 1960.
Zirconia Missionary Baptist Church was organized in 1953.
Zion Hill Baptist Church is also located in the community. This church was also organized in the 20th century.
One-room schoolhouses in the 1800s were normally located near the community churches. There are references to early schools located near Crossroads Baptist Church and at Mount Olivet.
By the 1920s students were attending school at the Tuxedo School.
Today, students either attend Hillandale or Upward elementary schools, Flat Rock Middle School and East Henderson High School.
By the 1880s zircon crystals begin to be mined in large quantities in the community.
W.E. Hidden, a mineralogist, leased the Freeman zircon mine in today’s Tuxedo community. Hidden and inventor Thomas Edison bought the Levi Jones mine in the Zirconia community. Edison later made a visit to the county to view the zircon mines.
Levi Jones discovered zircon on his property, some of which is now under Lake Summit.
Zircons were used in the first electric lights.
“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 Edison was using zircons in his new invention, Hamilton G. Ewart and Maron 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 1910 that a train depot opened along the railroad tracks in the Zirconia community. The depot was located near the post office.
The depot was named Tuxedo, even though it was not located in Tuxedo, but within the Zirconia community. The depot was primarily opened to serve the needs of the Green River Manufacturing Co. in Tuxedo.
Also in 1910, the Wayside Inn opened on Butt Mountain in Zirconia, near East Flat Rock. This name for the mountain is seen in early deeds in the 1780s.
The inn had an 85-foot observation tower on the top of the mountain.
The inn had electric lights. Electricity came to this area early to serve the textile mill in nearby East Flat Rock. Anecdotal stories state that Roper brought in a dynamo to generate electricity and installed an electric pump.
On Aug. 1, 1910, Hendersonville Daily Herald: “C.E. Roper announces the formal opening of this new and strictly modern hotel, The Wayside Inn. Wayside Inn has accommodations for over 300 guests, has electric lights, baths and every convenience. The service will be the best. The magnificent view of the mountains, crest covered to their very summits, is to be had at the Wayside Inn. On the property is also the famous Roper Tower commanding the finest view of the Blue Ridge Mountains to be had anywhere.”
On Aug. 3, 1910, pranksters called the Daily Herald in Hendersonville with a news story. The paper ran the following Headline: “Wayside Inn Now Smoking Ruins-C. E. Roper’s handsome new hotel at East Flat Rock was today destroyed by fire the origin of which is unknown…” The next day the newspaper was forced to print a retraction and admit the story had been a hoax.
The inn actually did later burn within a year or two of its opening.