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Flat Rock’s Kenmure:  Glenroy and the King Family

October 1, 2020

 

Riding down the driveway of our family home, Rutledge Cottage, I am drawn to the neighboring estate, Glenroy — considered at one time to be the most beautiful home in Western North Carolina and now a private country club and gated community called Kenmure. Kenmure and Rutledge Cottage are steeped in Flat Rock history originating in the King family. Once part of the same estate, their stories are intertwined and infused with generations of family events and meaning.

 

 

In 1836, Dr. Mitchell Campbell King, the son of Susanna Campbell and Judge Mitchell King, a founder of the Flat Rock summer colony and builder of Argyle, purchased 293 acres from his father for 25 cents an acre to build his family estate, Glenroy. He hired Mr. Freeman, a Scottish architect and shipbuilder from Charleston, to design the house constructed of lumber harvested on the place and cured for three to four years. Situated on an elevated site with commanding views, the core of Glenroy is a two-story double-pile Greek Revival structure. Built by local mountain craftsmen, there were 23 buildings on the estate, including Dr. King’s office — a handsome old rock building behind the main house. Surrounded by beautiful mountain vistas, Glenroy’s original mile-long entrance curved through pleasant meadows, across a brook and by formal boxwood gardens enhanced by venerable pines and hemlocks.

 

Dr. King and his wife built a smaller cottage on the property to occupy during the years of Glenroy’s construction. Designed in a German country style and completed in 1840, the Kings lived in “The Cottage” until Glenroy was finished around 1850. The Cottage and adjacent kitchen house were then placed on logs and pulled by oxen a mile down the hill to their present site.

 

In 1857, The Cottage land was separated from Glenroy and purchased for $4,000 by Frederick Rutledge of Hampton Plantation for his daughter, Elizabeth Pinckney Rutledge. She called The Cottage “Forest Hill” and, along with her sister Sarah, she enjoyed this dwelling for more than 50 years. In 1908, Elizabeth Rutledge gave the house to her niece, Alice Rutledge Felder. I.K. Heyward purchased it and 50 acres known as the Forest Hill Tract in 1917 and renamed it Heyward House. Today, it is known as Rutledge Cottage for the two Rutledge sisters and has been owned by the Schenck family for more than 55 years.

 

Born in Charleston in 1815, Mitchell Campbell King studied medicine at the Charleston Medical College and at Gottingen University in Germany where he became close friends with fellow student Otto Von Bismark. The two corresponded for years and letters and photographs of Bismark, highly prized by Dr. King’s descendants, are now kept in The Library of Congress.

 

Dr. King married Elizabeth Laura Middleton of Charleston and they had 11 children. He grew up spending summers in Flat Rock and eventually moved there year round to begin a medical practice lasting more than sixty years. A well-loved physician, King traveled throughout the mountains to care for the sick and attend to the poor from whom no compensation was ever expected. While studying in Europe, King discovered that elevation and clean mountain air were a wondrous cure-all for the sick. During an epidemic in Florida he convinced area town fathers to send their sick to the mountains where they did, indeed, recover:  Floridians continue to flock to the mountains today.

Following King’s death, Glenroy was transferred to his sister, Susan Campbell King, according to the terms of an 1882 agreement. Miss King almost immediately sold the house to Dr. King’s daughter, Henrietta King Bryan.

 

Kenmure and the McCabe family

 

In 1920, Gordon McCabe II, a cotton broker of 50 South Battery in Charleston, purchased the Glenroy estate from Henrietta King Bryan and changed the name to Kenmure, after the Scottish home of the Gordon clan. McCabe acquired the house and the original 293 acres along with additional lands totaling 1,007 acres.

 

The first alterations to the house were completed in the 1920s, including the addition of Adamesque mantels throughout the house and the attached one-story wraparound porch. The porch is carried on fluted columns and has a dentil cornice. The McCabes built a porte-cochère on the southeast side of the house. They also built a complex of barns for their family cattle operation. “My favorite part about Kenmure was the magnificent lake my grandfather built in the 1920s,” says Mary McCabe Dudley. “The water was like velvet and swimming across it was a daily ritual. There was a designated time each day when the lake was available for friends in Flat Rock to swim. It was a big part of growing up there.”

 

Heyward House, now Rutledge Cottage, was where Mary McCabe Dudley spent early summer years with her parents, Lydia and Gordan McCabe, Jr. and her sister, Katherine. “Mostly, we called Heyward House ‘The Cottage.’ I remember a window pane Anna Heyward had written on with her diamond ring. I tried to do it with my ring, but it did not work,” she tells me. My husband, Sandy Schenck, distinctly recalls the old lead windowpane etchings and his fascination with them. “They were throughout the house. One particular one held a mystery message, ‘RATS,’ etched on it. It’s still a mystery!”

 

“Off to the side of The Cottage was a well- traveled carriage trail that connected it to Kenmure, my grandparents’ home. It was our footpath to the lake and the big house. In the woods next to the trail were a barn and a cluster of ancient hemlock trees. We called this tranquil space in the woods, “Shady Place.” It was where my mother, sister and I would have afternoon tea parties or escape to read and be quiet in the woods. It was our sanctuary,” states Mary. Those very same trees were the catalyst for the Schenck family purchase of the land in the early 1960s. Laurie Schenck knew the minute she saw them, it was where she wanted to live. Mary’s recollection of the trees confirms their magic and the kindred spirits who connected with them.  

 

Mary’s great grandfather, Dr. William Gordon McCabe of Virginia, achieved fame as a scholar, author, editor, educator, poet and president of the Virginia Historical Society. His library of first-edition books was extensive and included personal letters from many authors. “On rainy days we would go up to my grandparents to play cards or spend time in the library. We would sit on the floor with one of my great grandfather’s books. We began by reading the author’s letter written to my great grandfather. We thought it was fascinating that he personally knew so many authors. My great grandfather founded a boys’ prep school in Virginia, The University School, where he remained as principal for four decades until he closed it in 1901. Most of his books and papers were given to The University of Virginia, a place he loved dearly. My great grandfather’s mother was Sophia Gordon Taylor, great-granddaughter of George Taylor, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.”

 

 

William Gordan McCabe, Jr., director of J.P. Stevens Textile Co. and Mary’s father, inherited the Kenmure property from his father and bought out his brother’s interest in the estate. He continued the maintenance of the land, gardens and cattle operation with the help of caretakers, Lindy and Ralph Camp, along with Reggie Fitzsimmons. Every day after work at the Stevens’ mill in Tuxedo, McCabe would go to Kenmure to get the hay in before it rained and to spray the poison ivy. He would check on the cattle and other farm animals, talk with the Camps and head home to Greenville, S.C. for the night. In the summer when the family was in residence at Kenmure, he grew bunched beans on the mountains and his wife, Lydia, had a revered dahlia garden. McCabe retired at the age of 65 from J.P. Stevens and went to work as one of the organizers of the New York Cotton Exchange.

 

Rutledge Cottage became the McCabe’s guesthouse once they moved over to Kenmure. “I loved Rutledge Cottage, said Mary. Both my sister and I had our weddings at Kenmure and our bridesmaids stayed at The Cottage. The entire estate was a special place where many friends and family gathered. My cousins would all come up from New Orleans and we had such fun.” In the early 1960s, Gordan McCabe, Jr. decided to sell The Cottage property and 22 acres. It was bought by Laurie and Alex Schenck — my in-laws.

 

“When our family first moved to Rutledge Cottage, Mr. McCabe would drive his World War Two Jeep up the driveway on Sunday mornings and deliver a newspaper to our house.” recalls Sandy Schenck. Mary added, “My father was the Flat Rock paperboy! He would go get newspapers, several varieties and deliver them to everyone’s houses. It was part of his morning routine. He would use that same Jeep and attach the trailer to it for hay rides and picnics. All the roads in Flat Rock were dirt then, so we spent part of our days riding all over the village on our horses, Ginger, Sunny, Chipper and pony, Chief. As teenagers, my parents allowed us to have dances in the basement of Kenmure. We invited the counselors from Mondamin to come over for them. If you came to one of the dances, my father let you write your name on the basement wall.”

 

“My closest friends growing up in Flat Rock were Lizzie Huger Sterling and the Whaley girls, Miss Em, Angie and Marty. The Whaleys always had a square dance every summer and Mrs. Whaley would call it with her distinctive voice. My husband, Joe, was a very tall, 6’5”, handsome man. When we became engaged, I wanted him to meet Mrs. Whaley, so we made a trip to Charleston to see her. When she opened her front door, she put her hands on her hips and sized up Joe starting with his toes and slowly making way to his head,” said Mary. Then Mrs. Whaley exclaimed, “My word, Mary, you have done well for yourself!”

 

 William Gordan McCabe, Jr., died in 1978. His wife, Lydia, knew she would not be able to keep up the land and cattle farm and the estate was sold to real estate developers, Vincent and Giuli Romeo. The main house was converted into a private clubhouse and the grounds divided into residential building sites. A golf course designed by Joseph E. Lee now encompasses the rolling hills of the front acreage and the field my husband once coveted as his favorite dove hunting grounds. By the early 1980s, the club and development were failing and William Robinson bought the property in 1985 and formed Kenmure Properties Ltd. to manage it.

 

Other renovations to the clubhouse included a 1987 two-story addition connecting it with a formerly detached kitchen dwelling and The Grill Room, a split-level alteration later built onto this addition. In 1995, the porte-cochère was removed and The Charleston Room, a substantial one-story wing with similar finishes as the main house, was added. A larger, new porte-cochère was erected on the northeast elevation. Today the 1,400 acres of Kenmure are embedded with new and existing homes all in keeping with the historic character and integrity of the estate.

From the minute Mary McCabe Dudley and I said hello, we knew the connection was strong. Both of us had walked this land, talked to its trees and felt the unique and historic presence of a place you carry within you and love. We laughed and cried as she shared wonderful stories of her Flat Rock times and blissful summer days with family and friends.

 

“The property sold very soon after my father died. When I came back for the auction of the furniture and farm equipment, I stayed at Rutledge Cottage with your family. My father was such a big part of Kenmure and I wanted to hold on to it. I always thought it would make a great school. As I sat at the breakfast table crying, your mother-in-law, Laurie, just held me. Rutledge Cottage was where my Flat Rock summers began and where I said farewell to this era of my life. Your anticipated phone call prompted many Flat Rock memories and I have you to thank for the most amazing dream last night. I was born part New Orleans and this is my Creole farewell — it’s taken a long time. In my dream, the new owners of Kenmure invited us back for a visit and my entire family was there. We were all swimming across the lake like we use to do every day in the summer. The calming quality of the water was surreal and in the midst of it, we all looked at each other and decided to hold hands. I’m not sure how we swam holding hands, but we did and everything was okay.”

 

Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a summer camp.

 

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