December 7, 2023 in North Carolina

From Frontier Trading Post to Tourist Destination: How Blowing Rock, NC Evolved Over Time

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Early History

The history of Blowing Rock dates back to the pre-colonial era when Native American tribes inhabited the area. The earliest known occupants were the Cherokee, who considered the unique rock formations and peaks of the Blue Ridge sacred sites.

Blowing Rock gets its name from an immense cliff of the same name where the wind blows vertically, causing light objects to flow upwards into the sky instead of downwards. This phenomenon amazed the Cherokee and they believed this was the breath of the Great Spirit Manido, the Supreme Being.

The Cherokee villages of Estatoe, Tutelo and Keyauwee existed near what is now Blowing Rock for centuries. However, they were forced out of their native homelands when European immigrants began arriving in the 18th century. Though the Cherokee had largely migrated west by the 1800s, their legacy remains ingrained in the history and lore of Blowing Rock.

Founding of Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock was officially founded as a town in 1889. Prior to becoming an official town, the area was sparsely settled by pioneer families in the mid-1800s. The lush mountain landscape attracted these early settlers, many of whom were drawn by the natural rock formations and panoramic views.

One of the first permanent settlers in the Blowing Rock area was Wallace Green, who built a cabin near the Blowing Rock formation in 1832. Other pioneer families followed, settling in the valleys and hillsides nearby over the next few decades. Family names like Hayes, Coffey, Bolick, Estes and Horton become associated with the early history of Blowing Rock.

As more settlers arrived, an inn was established in 1855 by Jesse and Lucy Green, taking advantage of Blowing Rock’s scenic location to attract boarders and tourists. This opened the door for Blowing Rock to become a vacation destination. The postal service officially gave Blowing Rock its name when a post office was erected in 1878.

On February 14, 1889 the North Carolina state legislature granted a municipal charter officially establishing Blowing Rock as a town. The town was incorporated with 300 residents and was governed by an elected mayor and four-member council. This marked the official founding of Blowing Rock as a recognized town.

Tourism Begins

During the 1880s, the first tourist attractions in Blowing Rock began with the opening of the Watauga Hotel in 1884 and Green Park Hotel in 1887. Both of these grand Victorian-style hotels catered to wealthy patrons escaping the summer heat and seeking the cool mountain air of Blowing Rock.

The town’s picturesque setting and mild summer climate soon attracted more visitors and by the turn of the century several more hotels and boarding houses opened to meet the growing demand. Notable establishments from this era included the Blowing Rock Hotel, Mayview Manor, and Chetola Resort.

The early tourism boom also saw the development of outdoor attractions such as the Glen Burney Trail and Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, which provided activities for guests beyond the hotels’ broad verandas. Guided horseback rides into the surrounding Pisgah National Forest were a popular pastime.

With its cool breezes, grand hotels, and beautiful mountain scenery, Blowing Rock quickly gained fame as a premier summer resort town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The foundations of its tourism industry and reputation as a mountain getaway were established during this key period of development.

The Blowing Rock

The most famous natural attraction in Blowing Rock is the rock formation known as “The Blowing Rock”. Located at an elevation of 4,000 feet on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this breathtakingly beautiful cliff overlooks the sheer gorge known as Johns River Valley.

According to legend, a Chickasaw chieftan witnessed his beloved daughter being blown off the cliff by a gust of wind and shot an arrow into the valley below, causing an updraft that blew her safely back onto the clifftop into his arms. While the story is likely apocryphal, the powerful winds that sweep up the gorge from the valley below seem to make this feat possible.

Visitors to the Blowing Rock can walk out onto the cliff on a man-made platform for magnificent views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The famous “Blowing Rock” itself is a craggy rock outcropping perched right on the edge of the cliff. From this precarious position, light objects thrown over the cliff edge will blow back upwards due to the rising air currents. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that has intrigued visitors for generations.

The Blowing Rock remains an iconic natural landmark and has been drawing appreciative sightseers since the 19th century. It continues to be a “must-see” for visitors exploring the natural beauty of the North Carolina mountains.

Notable Residents

Over the years, Blowing Rock has been home to many famous figures. As a quaint mountain town known for its scenic beauty and cool summer climate, it has attracted notable authors, musicians, artists, business leaders, and more.

Some of the most famous residents of Blowing Rock’s past include:

  • Robert Morgan – an award-winning poet and novelist who lived in Blowing Rock in the 1970s. Many of his acclaimed works feature Blowing Rock as a setting, including his book of poetry Groundwork and his novel Gap Creek.
  • Elliott Daingerfield – an American artist who painted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He maintained an art gallery and studio in Blowing Rock where he worked on many of his most famous landscape paintings.
  • William Sidney Porter (O. Henry) – the renowned short story author who spent time in Blowing Rock in the early 1900s. The picturesque mountain scenery inspired some of his most famous tales.
  • Francis Speight – a distinguished American portrait and landscape painter who had close ties to Blowing Rock. He maintained a summer home and gallery in Blowing Rock for over 50 years.

Some other notable figures with connections to Blowing Rock include the pianist Peter Nero, mathematician Robert Edwards, football star Lawrence Taylor, novelist Nicholas Sparks, and businessman A.E. Finley, founder of Finley Golf Course.

From creatives and intellectuals to sports stars and entrepreneurs, many famous Americans have been drawn to the charm and natural beauty of Blowing Rock throughout its history as a mountain resort town. The fresh high-altitude air and inspiring landscape has fueled creativity and achievement among this list of notable residents.

Economic History

Blowing Rock’s early economy was driven by agriculture and livestock farming. The fertile mountain valleys were ideal for growing crops like corn, wheat, oats, and potatoes. Cattle and sheep grazing was also common, providing meat, wool, and dairy products.

In the late 1800s, logging became a major industry due to the abundance of timber in the surrounding mountains. Large logging companies set up operations in Blowing Rock to harvest timber which fed the furniture and wood products industries.

Tourism began to take hold in the late 1800s and grew substantially in the early 1900s. Wealthy visitors from the southeast would come to Blowing Rock to enjoy the cool mountain air during hot summer months. Grand estates and hotels were built to cater to these tourists, transforming the economy.

Textile and clothing production also contributed to the local economy in the early 1900s. The Blowing Rock Spinning Company produced yarn, while several clothing factories opened to take advantage of the textile supply. They produced shirts, pants and other garments.

While tourism, development, retail and service industries dominate the modern economy, Blowing Rock still has some legacy industries like furniture production that maintain its heritage as a mountain manufacturing hub.

Architectural History

Blowing Rock features many historically significant homes and buildings showcasing unique architectural styles.

The Green Park Inn was originally built in 1891 and is an excellent example of late Victorian architecture. This grand historic hotel has welcomed many notable guests over the decades, including presidents, celebrities and authors.

Another significant structure is Bass Lake Lodge, constructed in 1932 by noted architect Walter Tower. His rustic mountain lodge design using native stones and heavy timber beams blends beautifully into the surrounding landscape.

Examples of the arts and crafts style popular in the early 1900s can be seen at the 1921 Price House and the 1915 Hazel Marie cottage. Characteristics include exposed wood beams, wide porches and stonework.

The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, housed in the historic 1891 Hayes House, contains exhibits on local history and hosts cultural events. This building exemplifies the ornate Queen Anne architectural style with its turrets, patterned shingles and elaborate trim.

Modernism began influencing Blowing Rock architecture in the mid-20th century, as seen in structures like the 1964 Broyhill Inn and the 1959 Skyline Village shopping plaza. These incorporate simplified forms, lots of glass, and open floorplans.

From grand historic hotels to rustic lodges to sleek modern buildings, the architecture of Blowing Rock reflects the growth and changing tastes of this mountain village over time while maintaining its scenic natural charm.

Cultural History

Blowing Rock has long been known as a cultural hub in the North Carolina mountains. The arts scene began flourishing in the late 1800s as the town started attracting wealthy visitors who built summer homes there. The fresh mountain air and beautiful scenery inspired many creatives over the years.

In the 1890s, a group of painters settled in Blowing Rock to capture the lovely landscape in their artwork. These included Elliott Daingerfield, Albert Herter, and Dwight William Tryon, who were instrumental in establishing Blowing Rock as an artists’ colony. Their paintings featured local landmarks like the Blowing Rock cliffs and mountain vistas.

Today, Blowing Rock’s cultural legacy continues at sites like the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum. The museum displays a mix of fine art, folk art, and historical artifacts that tell the story of the High Country. Visitors can also enjoy local history exhibits at the 1891 Broyhill Inn and Conference Center, now a beautifully restored Victorian manor house.

For performing arts, the Blowing Rock Stage Company puts on live theater productions throughout the year. And each July, the town celebrates art, food, and music at the wildly popular Blowing Rock Festival of the Arts. Local craftspeople demonstrate their skills while attendees browse and buy regional artwork.

Blowing Rock is also known for its charming summer concert series, held at various locations around town. Musicians play everything from bluegrass and folk to orchestral tunes with the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.

The cultural life of this special small town continues to enrich residents and visitors alike through diverse creative expressions. From visual arts to the performing arts, Blowing Rock has long fostered an environment where creativity thrives.

Recent Decades

Blowing Rock entered a period of growth and change starting in the mid-20th century. As the town became more accessible via improved roads, tourism continued to expand. New motels, restaurants, and shops opened up to serve the influx of visitors.

In the 1960s, the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed through Blowing Rock, bringing even more travelers. The parkway has become one of the most-visited national park sites in the U.S. The views it provides of the surrounding mountains and valleys draws many people.

Starting in the 1970s and 80s, Blowing Rock began to upscale from a quaint mountain town to a more polished destination. High-end shops, galleries, restaurants, and hotels opened to cater to affluent visitors.

The growth of the Appalachian State University campus in nearby Boone also impacted Blowing Rock. As the student population expanded, many would visit Blowing Rock for getaways and to explore the mountains.

In recent years, Blowing Rock has continued to balance preserving its quaint historic charm while accommodating tourism and modern amenities. The downtown area still retains much of its original look and feel, even as new businesses open.

While Blowing Rock has changed substantially over the decades, it still retains much of the natural beauty and small-town character that has drawn visitors for over a century.

Blowing Rock Today

Blowing Rock is now known as a premier mountain resort and tourist destination in North Carolina. With its picturesque mountain setting, charming downtown area, luxury accommodations, outdoor recreation opportunities, unique attractions, shopping, dining, and seasonal events, Blowing Rock draws over 1 million visitors annually.

Some of Blowing Rock’s key attractions include the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses Cone Estate, Tweetsie Railroad theme park, ski resorts, golf courses, spas, hiking trails, fishing, gem mining, gardens, and more. The quaint downtown stretches along Main Street and features local shops, galleries, restaurants, and historical architecture.

Special events held in Blowing Rock include concerts, festivals, holiday celebrations, outdoor performances at the amphitheater, sporting events, and food/wine experiences. The town embraces its small-town charm while also catering to vacationers with amenities ranging from cozy cabins to upscale hotels as well as fine dining to casual fare.

With its fresh mountain air, natural beauty, and array of activities and accommodations, Blowing Rock provides the quintessential escape for visitors while maintaining its distinctive heritage and character as a High Country mountain town. It continues to rank as one of the top destinations in the North Carolina mountains.

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