HISTORY OF CHIMNEY ROCK VILLAGE
Chimney Rock Village has been the center of a visitor mecca for over 400 years. According to documents from the Madrid library Hernando Desoto led his conquistadors through Hickory Nut Gorge on the way to the Mississippi River. Since then hunters and trappers used the Gorge as a passage to and from Asheville and Revolutionary War patriots known as the Overmountain Victory Men passed through on their way to defeat the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
The earliest settlers near Chimney Rock were around 1805, about the time area newspapers were reporting mirages or apparitions that had been seen against the cliffs of Chimney Rock Mountain. In 1830 Colonel Leventhorpe came to the Gorge in search of gold which had supposedly been buried here by a party of Englishmen when they were ambushed by Indians.
Although there was reportedly a map of the location of the gold, the Colonel did not find it and as late as 1928 people were still hunting for it.
From about 1875 the Freeman family owned the actual rock column known as Chimney Rock and constructed the first bridge between the cliff and the top of Chimney Rock. For 25 cents they would take you up the mountain by horseback. Around 1902 Dr. Lucius B. Morse came to the area and with his two brothers bought the Chimney. Since then the Morse family has developed the property into present day Chimney Rock Park, encompassing over 1000 acres.
In the early 1800’s a house being used as a residence was turned into the Logan Inn and was used as the second stop on the stage run out of Asheville. By 1891 the Esmeralda Inn was under construction by Colonel Tom Turner. It was spared by the great flood of 1916 only to burn to the ground several months later.
The Inn was rebuilt in 1917 and served as a restaurant and Inn through the flood of 1996 only to burn to the ground again just months later. The Inn was rebuilt for a third time, and today retains much of its old-world charm..
By the early 1900’s the film industry had discovered Chimney Rock. ‘The Goddess’ was filmed in 1915 by famous director Thomas Ince. Also filmed here during that period was ‘In the Heart of the Blue Ridge’ and ‘The Battle Cry’. The Esmeralda Inn played a central role during this period as host to such luminaries as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, and Clark Gable. The script for the movie 'Ben Hur’ was finished by Lew Wallace in room 9 of the Inn.
Chimney Rock and Hickory Nut Gorge experienced a renewal in cinematic activity during the 80’s and 90’s as Hollywood returned to film portions of ‘Firestarter’, ‘Dirty Dancing’, and ‘The Last of The Mohicans’. Local film entrepreneur Earl Owensby produced ‘A Breed Apart’ with Kathleen Turner (before she ‘romanced the stone’) and ‘The Dogs From Hell’ here.
Many of Chimney Rock Village’s present-day shops, motels, and restaurants were built between 1920 and 1940. This gives the Village a quaint 1920’s look of an old timey main street where many of the shop owners live either above their stores or behind them.
The Village incorporated in 1991 and is run by a 5-member council which includes the Mayor. Meetings are held at 7:30pm on the third Tuesday of every month at the Volunteer Fire Department.
In the mid 1990’s Chimney Rock Village became one of 4 western NC towns to participate in a Main Street revitalization project through the Handmade In America organization. The project has been very successful in helping the Village plan and complete many improvements including the beginning of a Riverwalk and several parks as well as additional parking areas for tourists.