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Saluda: where summertime and the living are easy

By Missy Schenck

Watercolor map by Elizabeth Porcher Jones.

Every year about this time the snowbirds begin their migration to Western North Carolina. As many as 42,000 Floridians trade their beachside condos and villas for mountain cabins and cottages in the small towns of the Western N.C., more than doubling the population of these quiet and quaint communities.

Saluda, N.C., is one of the many small areas impacted by seasonal residents. Some of them are long-time generational families with a history in Saluda, but there are a number of new settlers who now call Saluda home.

Located in Polk and Henderson counties, Saluda’s unique history begins with the picturesque historic downtown area perched at the top of the Norfolk Southern Railway’s Saluda Grade, the steepest main line standard gauge railway line in the United States. Page four of Saluda, NC. 100 Years 1881-1981 by Anne Osborne and Charlene Pace tells this tale: “July 4, 1878, was more than just an Independence Day in the village of Pace’s Gap on Saluda Mountain. At 11:00 a.m. the first passenger train of the Spartanburg and Asheville Railroad panted up the Saluda Grade.”

As the train made its way up the grade businesses moved in, summerhouses were built, and tourists filled local boardinghouses. The ease of travel throughout the Southeast, particularly the railways connecting Charleston, Columbia and Spartanburg accelerated the town’s development. It was the start of a new era and Saluda quickly earned the reputation as a mountain resort town offering health benefits and cool mountain air.

Image provided by Elizabeth Jones.

The Pace family was one of the earliest families to settle around the Saluda Mountain area — thus the initial name of Pace’s Gap. They owned most of the land on the group of mountains called Saluda Mountain. While they were moving in east of Saluda, the Thompson family was moving in from the west. When the railroad men came to town, there were Paces and Thompsons there to greet them. The majority of the deeds for the Saluda Township in the years 1875-1885 have the name of Pace or Thompson as the grantor.

By February of 1881, Pace’s Gap had become so prosperous that it was chartered as the town of Saluda, N.C. The town spread over seven hills and covered one square mile with the railroad exactly in the center. From the beginning, the railroad was the heart of the community and people ran their lives according to the train schedules.

Saluda was the end of the line until the railway to Hendersonville and Asheville was completed in 1879. Passengers going on to Flat Rock and Hendersonville would travel west from Saluda by stagecoach or other modes of transportation. Many remained in Saluda as they discovered the natural beauty of the area and so began the legacy of the inns, boardinghouses, and hotels that provided fine accommodations for railroad workers and travelers. By 1896, Saluda had grown into a thriving community including a post office, three general stores, a drug store, a doctor, a private boarding school and several inns, hotels and boardinghouses.

Ultimately, eight trains passed through Saluda daily; six of them the “Carolina Special,” a luxury Pullman and coach train, running from Charleston to Cincinnati with whistle stops in Columbia, Spartanburg, Landrum and Tryon. All trains, passenger and freight, made an essential stop at the switching station in Melrose to attach the “Helper” train for the final push up the Saluda Grade. The “Helper” was a necessity and became as familiar as the train whistle to the people of Saluda.

Saluda Legacies

In the early part of the 20th century, the death rate in babies was high. Mountain children were able to escape the heat of summer and fare much better. The high concentration of pure and therapeutic ozone made Saluda an ideal place for healthy living. In 1914, Dr. Lesesne Smith, a Spartanburg pediatrician, established The Infant and Children’s Sanitarium (ICS) for the treatment of children who needed to get away from the heat and suffered from respiratory problems. After the first summer with 18 babies, the sanitarium grew to 12 cottages where mothers and babies could stay together. Again we turn to Saluda, NC. 100 Years 1881-1981, p. 19, to learn “When it became apparent that the care and the climate in Saluda were cutting the infant death rate to a new minimum, pediatricians began coming from all over the South to study methods and conditions.” To meet the need of postgraduate work for these doctors, Dr. Smith and Dr. F. R. Richardson founded the nationally known Southern Pediatric Seminar in 1921. Each summer for 38 years, pediatricians and their families swarmed Saluda for two to three weeks in July, keeping the local boardinghouses and hotels busy. Dr. Smith died in 1949 and the seminar continued until 1958. Dr. Smith’s death and the closing of the seminar were a great loss to Saluda and the world of medicine.

Present-day Thompson's on Saluda Main Street . Image by the author.

Main Street of times gone by, mural on the side of a downtown building. Image by the author.

Two highlights of Saluda’s Main Street are M. A. Pace Store and Thompson’s Store/Ward’s Grill. Both establishments opened in the late 1800s, and Pace’s store is the most intact structure in the historic district. Inside this old-fashioned hardware and general store is everything from overalls and hardware to jellies and garden items. Operated by members of the Pace family until 2010, it continues to function today with owners Leon Morgan and family. Thompson’s Store and Ward’s Grill has changed hands throughout the years, but the store’s name remains the same. A specialty grocery store and deli, Thompson’s is a favorite for all in Saluda.

The Summer People: descendants of Captain Allen Jones

For years, the term, the Summer People, referred to the people from the Lowcountry and Midlands of South Carolina and parts of Georgia who came every summer to stay in houses built on the hills above the town of Saluda. Many of them were related by blood or marriage and most of them bore proud South Carolina or Georgia names. Their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren still occupy some of the historic Victorian houses there.

Some of the earliest homes in Saluda were built on Shand Hill. This area has always been a separate little colony with a charm of its own. Other areas include Smith Hill, the location of the children’s hospital and Smith family homes and Columbia Heights, named for the many families from Columbia, S.C., who built summer homes there. It is where the descendants of Captain Allen Jones congregate each year and have since 1898.

Allen Jones was the son of Colonial Cadwallader Jones and Annie Iredell Jones. Born in 1846, he answered the call to arms as a boy and eventually served in a company led by his brother Cadwallader Jones, Jr. and a regiment led by his father, Colonial Jones. After the war, he returned to S.C. and in 1874 he married Miss Augusta H. Porcher of Winnsboro. Captain and Mrs. Jones moved to Columbia in 1887 where he became a prominent citizen active in community and civic affairs. They raised their eight children spending summers in Saluda and began a family tradition that continues today.

Theodore Jones, son of Captain Allen Jones captures well Columbia Heights’ beginnings in the July 1936 Saluda Magazine. “In 1895, Mr. J.S. Coles, Rev. W.E. Evans, Mr. Hampton Gibbs, and Professor Means Davis of Columbia came to Saluda and stayed at Melrose Inn while they inspected the property they had bought from Mr. W. G. Hinson. Mrs. Coles, one of the oldest living landowners of Columbia Heights, says that the woods were so thick that the men had to climb trees to see where their land lay. Prior to their coming, arrangements had been made with Mr. Crowley of Lexington, S.C., to ship lumber on the train and build the houses. The land sold for $140 per acre and the houses cost $450 completed, including the cost of lumber.”

At the intersection of Laurel Drive and Chisholm Street in Columbia Heights is Sacsme Hall built in 1895 by Helen Iredell Jones Coles and her husband. Across the street from the Coles’ property is a house built by Rev. W. E. Evans in 1895 and sold in 1898 to Captain Allen Jones, brother of Mrs. Coles. Captain Jones named his summer cottage, Reola, after a small settlement in Reola, Wales, and the root of his family heritage.

In 1896, Professor Davis sold his house to the east of Mrs. Coles to her sister, Annie Jones Robertson, giving ownership of three of the original Columbia Heights homes to the Jones family. Mrs. Robertson’s house was acquired by Joseph M. Bell, a son-in-law of Allen Jones in 1913. Perrin Place, located on Columbia Avenue, was bought by Jane DuBose “Bobie” Jones Perrin, daughter of Captain Allen Jones in 1940. All of these properties remain in the family today with both Sacsme Hall and Reola having continuous ownership since 1895 and 1898.

My friend, Elizabeth Porcher Jones, is a wealth of information about her family history and their Saluda connections. Her cousins, Shea Hipp Kuhn and her brother Charles R. Hipp III, now own Reola, the home their great-great-grandfather and Elizabeth’s great-grandfather, which Captain Allen Jones purchased in 1898. When Captain Jones died, Reola passed on to his wife, Augusta Henrietta Porcher Jones, who set up the ownership of Reola to pass through the women in the family. Technically, Shea now owns the house, but she will be the first to say her brother, Charles, owns it with her.

The Jones siblings, early 1900s. Image provided by Elizabeth Jones.

Elizabeth’s father, Allen Jones, Jr., reminisces about the early years of Saluda in excerpts of this enchanting piece he wrote, “No automobiles, no movies, no places to go except to meet the two trains — noon and late afternoon, where you met your friends. Your pleasures were being with your girl, sitting on the porch in the evening, taking walks, and dancing. Generally speaking, the boys had little money to spend. All you had was you and your ability to interest her — attention without intention.

“Another activity was hiking, sometimes walking 25 miles or more a day. There was no barber in Saluda so some of the boys walked the 12 miles to Hendersonville, got a haircut, and walked back to Saluda in the afternoon. Ambitious folks would hike the railroad down to Melrose in time to catch a ride back up on the train.

“Dancing was our happiest diversion. On Saturday nights, the Charles Hotel had dances and fortunate was the young gentleman who was asked to run a dance, for he was given a whistle which he could blow to stop the music when he had broken in on the right girl and wanted to sit out the intermission with her.”

Reola is where Elizabeth, Shea and cousin André Rembert gather with generations of cousins to relax in the peace and quiet of the mountains and get together with family. Tennis, croquette, backyard bonfires, board games, bridge, square dances, Pearson’s Falls, puzzles, Lake Summit and many hikes fill the countless summer days of Saluda for these cousins and have for decades. All of them agree that some of their most precious memories are of Saluda.

For Shea Kuhn, Saluda holds special recollections of her grandmother, Louisa Taber Rivers Hagood. As a small child her mother would take her to Saluda to spend several weeks with her grandmother at Reola. The same was true for Shea’s mother, Lisa Rivers Hipp Gantt, who as a child would board the Carolina Special in Charleston bound for Saluda to spend time with her grandmother, Augusta Porcher “Gussie” Jones Taber each summer. It’s a tradition Shea carried on with her own children and hopes will continue with theirs.

“Church was always part of our Saluda summers,” said Shea. “It was what we did in Saluda and it was never up for debate. For our family, Sunday mornings meant going to the beautiful Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration and then back home for Bloody Marys on the porch. My grandmother always wore hats. It was her trademark and we loved wearing hats with her. Some of my other childhood Saluda days included walking down Chisolm Hill to the general store in town for a treat and playing at the playground across the street from it. The independence was exciting, especially when I was allowed to take my younger brother, Charles, with me. My husband and I allowed our own children to have this same experience.

“Everyone in Saluda is friendly,” said Elizabeth. “I love the proximity to town and the convenience of close-by neighbors and family. Porches made for sitting and sipping, call to friends out for a walk when a light is visible. Many meals, cocktails, board games, puzzles, and storytelling happen on these wonderful porches. It’s a natural summer place to congregate.”

André Dubose Rembert, the youngest cousin of his generation, and the newest owner of Perrin Place, set a goal to own a house in Saluda one day. Only three years into his law practice in Charleston and bit sooner than expected, Perrin Place, a family house in the Columbia Heights area of Saluda came up for sale. André knew this was the opportunity he should take and bought the family place in 2018 from his cousins. Bit by bit he is restoring the house where he has already initiated gatherings of family and friends.

André’s great-grandfather, George R. Rembert, the husband of Annie Iredell Jones Rembert, died at the age of 52, leaving five children behind. David Hopkins Rembert, André’s grandfather and the youngest of the five children, spent a lot of time with his mother’s father, Captain Allen Jones, at Reola. As a child André alternated summer visits between the family homes of Reola and Perrin Place, where his love of this cherished mountain community was fostered.

For decades, families have been coming to Saluda for the summer. Long gone are the magical sounds of the train, but the nostalgia of its history remains. Each spring as the old houses come alive, the crowd gathers and the big porches fill with old friends, something warm and beautiful evolves and the summer people fall into the way of life that is Saluda. Both André and Shea hope their homes will live on in their families, and Elizabeth is optimistic one is in her future. All feel blessed to be have been shaped by their Saluda experiences and made better in many ways by the values and lessons passed down from their ancestors.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Porcher Jones, who granted me access to the Jones family archives and records, and to Historic Saluda Committee for Images of America — Saluda. I also relied on The History of Transportation in Western North Carolina by Terry Ruscin.

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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