Mount Pisgah Mystery

Most people who visit western North Carolina plan on seeing the Biltmore House , the mansion that George Vanderbilt had built here in the mountains. Actually, there was another, lesser known Vanderbilt house here. There is a huge difference between the two, but both houses reflected the lifestyle of this very rich man.

This is Buck Springs Lodge, the Vanderbilt’s hunting camp house:

It was built in 1895, a few years after Biltmore House was completed.  By that time Vanderbilt had acquired all the land between the house and Mount Pisgah, which was about 17 miles away!  There was no road between Biltmore House and the mountain, only a rough hourse trail (which is now the Shut-in Trail, and is popular with hikers).  So the Vanderbilts build a road in order to get supplies up to the building site.

This was no rustic camp house.  In contrast to the homes of the people living in the area, the lodge had hot and cold running water, and electricity provided by a generator.  There was a large staff of servants and cooks, and while guests were taken hunting and hiking, they also dressed for dinner and enjoyed the lifestyle to which they were accustomed.

George Vanderbilt died in 1914 and 2 years later much of the land was sold by his widow to the Federal government for the creation of Pisgah National Forest.  She did keep Buck Springs Lodge and about 450 acres around it, and as she aged she spent more and more time there.  When she died in the late 50s, the house and land were sold to the government, and the lodge was torn down by the Park Service.

After Mount Pisgah became National Forest, the area became popular with campers and even day-trippers from Asheville.  In this early 1920s postcard, you see a scene titled “Camping near the foot of Mt. Pisgah, in “The Land of the Sky”.

I think it is interesting that one woman is wearing a white lingerie dress, while the others are more practically attired in knickers and sweaters.  I wonder how she kept that thing clean in the woods, cooking over a fire?  And note the little boy in his sailor suit!

People who wanted to camp and hike in the national forest west of Asheville often took the train to the city, and then hired a taxi to take them up the rough and winding roads to find a camping spot! At the base of the mountain they encountered the souvenir stand of Paul and Leota Pless, a local family who sold crafts made in the mountains to the tourists. According to an article in the Smoky Mountain News, written by Becky Johnson,  they offered items carved from Rhododendren wood that were then inscribed with “Mount Pisgah.”

Like this:

The above photos were sent to me by Mervin Meyers, who has been trying to find out more about his pipe.  I think it is safe to assume that the pipe was a product of the Pless’s store, but I’m not sure if that can be definitely proved.  But at any rate it is a fascinating part of western North Carolina history, and I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has information about this artifact.

And just one more postcard:

This postcard is not dated, but it’s sometime in the early 1920s.  Note that the women in front are wearing knickers, but that at least one woman is wearing a skirt.  That had to be an improvement on the way this would have looked just 15 years prior, with the women wearing corsets and skirts to the ankles!  I promise to rescan this one a litle larger and clearer.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, North Carolina

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