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The Flat Rock post office


By Missy Schenck


Imagine a world in which there is no television, radio, telephone or computers. Then you will begin to understand the importance of the postal service and its beginnings in Henderson County in the late 1820s. No matter whether the mail came by fancy coach or mule-back, it was an event — an occasion — it was the only means of communication.


In 1830, most letters were opened immediately on receipt and read aloud to those gathered at the post office; it was the communities’ in-depth coverage of around-the-world news to be digested by those assembled. Oftentimes, a newspaper would be included, and the postmaster would deliver it openly to all to be discussed and argued about until the next mail arrival. Letters were passed from hand to hand and house to house and eventually our ancestors were about as well informed as we are today.


The Davis Family


John Davis (1780-1859) was born in Virginia to parents who had emigrated from Wales to America. He served in the U.S. Army in the War of 1812 under General Andrew Jackson. Following the war, Davis, known by his friends as Colonel, established a trading post in the village of Merrittsville, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Greenville, S.C. Here he met his wife, Serepta Merritt Davis, (1802-1889) whose family from whom the village of Merrittsville took as its name.


Soon after marrying Serepta, Davis brought his wife up the mountain and bought a boundary of land in Flat Rock where he built an inn, grist mill, and lumber yard along the Buncombe Turnpike, the main road into the mountains. A post office was established in the community in 1829 and John Davis was appointed the first postmaster. Henderson County, at the time, had not been created and there was no thought of Hendersonville. The postal route which ran from Asheville to Greenville, passing along the State Road, was an event of importance and the post office the center of the settlement. Before long, Flat Rock became a well-known stopping place for stagecoaches operating between North and South Carolina. By 1830 many families from the Lowcountry of S.C. began to build summer houses in Flat Rock and Col. Davis sold his land to Charlestonian, Judge Mitchel King, for his family home, Argyle.


Davis then went a few mi

les south of Flat Rock and bought more than 1,000 acres along the Buncombe Turnpike in North and South Carolina and by the Green River. He and his wife built a large plantation inn, Oakland, in a grove of oak trees a short way off the public road and above the “winding stairs,” a steep and sinuous slope on the S.C./N.C. line. The family opened the inn to the traveling public and it served as a stagecoach stop. Col. Davis died in 1859 just prior to the War Between the States and the family lost their slaves with Emancipation. Oakland fell into a neglected state with thousands of acres of farmland, idle and unplowed. The aging Miss Serepta, now virtually penniless, was struggling to survive.


Sometime close to 1867, an entourage of former slaves arrived on the Davis property, Oakland, just inside the N.C. state line. It proved to be a heaven-sent opportunity for them with an offer of housing and land from Mrs. Davis in exchange for labor. To this weary group of freedmen, this must have seemed the Promised Land. Eventually, the new residents purchased 180 acres of land from the Davis family for a dollar an acre and the Kingdom of Happy Land was born. (For more information of The Kingdom of the Happy Land, see African-American history of Henderson County, Part One — Charleston Mercury — January 2021)


The Reverend Peter Stradley


When one understands the difficulties of travel — mostly on foot or by horseback — it is easy to see the need for the number of post offices that once existed. Between 1825 and 1830, six post offices were established in what is now Henderson County. With a postman’s salary amounting to between 20 and 30 dollars a year, the position was more often a sideline, and generally one for an innkeeper as was the case at Col. John Davis’s Inn in Flat Rock. After Davis moved to the Green River community, William Murray, caretaker at Argyle, was appointed the second postmaster at Flat Rock; followed by Peter Summey as the third. George Summey was postmaster from 1838 to 1840 and then John Mills was the postmaster.


Whiskey was sold at the inns and there were patrons who objected to going into such places to get their mail. Requests to move the post office to a different location were finally effective and in 1845 the Rev. Peter Stradley was appointed to the position of Flat Rock’s postmaster. It was during his tenure that the first designated post office location was built in Flat Rock.


Stradley, an Englishman who had served with the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo, had come to Flat Rock some 10 years earlier. He was a Baptist minister, blacksmith, storekeeper and postmaster, a position he held until the end of the War Between the States when he was relieved of his duties because he was a Confederate postmaster. For several years members of his family succeeded him as postmaster including his daughter, Salome, the first woman postmaster of Flat Rock.


The Rev. Stradley acquired property along Greenville Highway where he built his house, a blacksmith shop, and the structure that served as Flat Rock’s post office until 1965. The central location of the building along the Saluda Path at the intersection of present-day Little River Road made it a gathering place, not just to retrieve mail, but to hear the news.


Mr. C. G. Memminger’s memories of the scenes around the post office were many, and he dwelt at length on persons and events connected with its locale. He told his listeners:


The Post Office was the seat of many interesting affairs. Peter Stradley, an Englishman by birth, and of fine character, was the first Post Master I can remember. The Post Office was at its present site but in a different building. Mr. Stradley was a blacksmith and had his shop beside the Post Office, in which worked his son-in-law, Jackson Barnett, a wheelwright, cabinet maker, etc., and all the Barnetts, very capable and intelligent.”


“The mail came from Greenville by Col. Valentine Ripley’s four horse stage, at first bi-weekly and then daily with great interest awaiting its coming. With the mailman winding his horn as he came down Butt Mountain and the High Road, the settlement was warned of his coming.”


“After the surrender at Appomattox, many of the Union troops came through (Flat Rock) … and pillaged some of the houses, and took whatever they wanted. All the men of the community were organized and kept watch at the Post Office.”

The Old Post Office


The post office moved into the building erected by Peter Stradley around 1844. When John P. Patton was appointed postmaster in 1877, he moved the post office to his store a short distance north at 2622 Greenville Highway. It returned to this building in 1879, when Matthew Farmer became postmaster, and remained there until 1922. From 1922 until 1953, the post office was again located in the Patton Store building. The post office was located in its original home until February 1965, when the current post office building (2685 Greenville Highway) was dedicated. Lenoir Ray served as the Flat Rock postmaster for 18 years, including the final years in this building, and retired the week before the current post office dedication. His book, Postmarks, tells the Henderson County history of the postal service and much more.


According to the National Register of Historic Places, “The old Flat Rock Post Office is a two-story front-gable frame building that rests on a stone pier foundation and is covered with weatherboards. The façade, which is clad with flush boards on the first story and beaded boards on the second, is composed of a central double-leaf entrance flanked by oversized four-light windows. The entry doors have a single arched light over two vertical panels. Central double-leaf entry doors on the second story porch are flanked by single six-over-six double-hung windows. A single-leaf entrance on the first story of the south elevation is sheltered by an attached shed-roof porch supported on square wood posts. The rear elevation is composed with six-over-six double-hung sash windows on both stories and central double-leaf entry doors on the first story.”


Historic Flat Rock, Inc. was founded as a non-profit in 1968 and quickly partnered with St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church to restore the old parsonage where the first headquarters and office for HFR was housed. Quickly, HFR ran out of space and began looking for a new place to accommodate its growing archives, books and records. In 1979 Historic Flat Rock, Inc. purchased the old post office and after extensive renovations, moved into the upstairs. The lower level was home to the Ladies Aid Society of Flat Rock’s Book Exchange until 2016 when HFR decided to create a cultural center and museum fulfilling its mission “to discover and collect materials of historic, artistic, or literary value, provide for preservation for such material and its accessibility as far as may be feasible for all who wish to examine it and to operate a cultural center.”


The HFR Cultural Center and Museum is an exciting place to be these days. Minor renovations and exhibit upgrades are just some of the fun things going on there. Admission is free and the museum will open again in the spring for the summer season. At almost 180 years old, the building itself is one of the oldest structures in Flat Rock. No longer a post office, but most definitely a gathering place, The Old Post Office now HFR’s Cultural Center and Museum, remains a place to share the news and history of Flat Rock.

Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina where her family runs a summer camp. She currently serves as president of Historic Flat Rock, Inc. and hopes the HFR Cultural Center and Museum will be an addition to your next visit to The Little Charleston of the Mountains.

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