13 Ways to Study Historic Places


Built in 1906 by Richard Sharp Smith, the head architect of Biltmore House in Asheville, the two-story neo-classical style County Courthouse is in the heart of downtown historic Marshall. The cupola which tops the building is a four stage polygonal structure. The domed roof contains clocks on its alternate faces and is capped by a lantern which provides the pedestal on which the statue of Lady Justice stands. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a beautiful view if you go across the French Broad River and look back to the Courthouse.


Founded in 1901, the News Record and Sentinel has been the local paper for Madison County news. In 2004, the office decided to relocate to a unique “building.” An old railroad car would be the perfect setting as the paper’s home base is in Marshall, NC, which has a railroad track running between the Main Street and the French Broad River. The use of the Railroad car is an homage the ties that Marshall has historically with the railroad–the economic lifeblood of the town before major roads were a common mode of transportation.


The town of Marshall is uniquely sited between the French Broad River and steep cliffs. Main Street is lined with buildings that  used to hold businesses that tell the story of life in the mid 1900s–from drugstores to grocery stores to car dealerships–before Highway 25/70 was moved to what is commonly called “the bypass.” The County Courthouse, designed by lead architect of the Biltmore House Richard Sharp Smith, is the gem in the center and is over 100 years old. A historical house that sits on the cliff above was also designed by Smith. Both of those buildings as well as the current SECU Bank are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. There are also several churches, one survived the Great Flood of 1916 and another was actually moved from Blannahassett Island in the 1920s.


The small private university which occupies the center of the town of Mars Hill bears the distinction of the oldest educational institution in western North Carolina still on its original site. Walking around the campus quad, the age of the buildings testifies to this title in the dates show on the plaques. The college itself was founded in 1856 as French Broad Institute even before the town of Mars Hill. The eighteen of the twenty buildings which make up the largest educational historic district in the state are on the university quad.  The oldest of these is Montague Building constructed in 1856.


Richard Sharp Smith who was the lead architect for the Biltmore House in Asheville designed a few building in Madison County and one of them sits on the quad of the Mars Hill University campus. McConnell Hall was originally built as a gymnasium in 1924 in classical revival style. A swimming pool was added into the basement in the late 1920s. The classical front portico highlights the original wood entry doors and double-hung windows. The rear wing of the building is more industrial in character with steel windows and exposed rafters. In the 1960s, the building was renovated and now houses a student activity center and a dance studio for the Bailey Mountain Cloggers.


One architectural feature that brings together many of the aspects of the Mars Hill University culture are the carvings on the wooden doors of Broyhill Chapel on the campus. The college was founded as a Baptist institution and retained its religious links until recently. And, so it was natural that the then-President Fred Bentley would join hundreds of other volunteers in the construction of the chapel. Bentley spent hours hand carving scenes from the Old Testament of The Bible on one door and scenes from the New Testament on the other. Visible today are those examples of the coming together of all of the foundations of the community (volunteerism, religion and artistic talent) that would shape what Mars Hill University and the people of the community stand for.


Mars Hill has a hidden gem of historical significance on its outskirts. Of the 2000 Rosenwald Schools constructed in the state of North Carolina (4000 in the south) to enable black children to get an education during segregation, the Long Ridge section of Mars Hill was chosen for a site. More than 2000 children attended the school. The school was built in 1930 and given the name Anderson School for the slave who was used as collateral for a debt when constructing Mars Hill College. The school closed in 1964 and efforts to renovate the building are ongoing.


Much of the history of the town of Mars Hill is linked to the history of Mars Hill University. By taking a Walking Tour of the Main Street, you will see evidence of that connection and other insights into the town’s past. Some of the historic homes once served as boarding houses for the students at the college. Others were homes of the doctors or other professional in the town. Still other buildings have stories about the economic and religious life of past residents. And, a historic marker provide a glimpse into the musical heritage.


The land on which the current Hot Springs Resort and Spa sits has a long history of resorts that attracted the rich and famous to enjoy both the reputedly healing waters and the luxurious surroundings. the first of the more noted resorts was the Patton Hotel in the early 1800s which had 13 large columns representing the original 13 colonies. In the late 1800s the Mountain Park Hotel was built with a bath house, swimming pool and the first golf course in North Carolina. The site is indicated with a historic marker but the office of the current resort has books detailing its history. And, you can walk around the grounds viewing some of the remnants of its predecessors.


Before public education was common in the rural area, the town of Hot Springs was fortunate enough to acquire a resident who had a history of establishing reputable educational institutions. Rev. Luke Dorland started Dorland Institute with just a few students in 1886. The school grew over the years and merged with another school in the area to become the Dorland-Bell School. The school was in operation until 1942 when it again merged–this time with Asheville Farm School. The new institution was called Warren Wilson Junior Vocational College which eventually became Warren Wilson College.


Rev. Luke Dorland who had established the Dorland-Bell School which served to educate a large percentage of the young people of the town of Hot Springs was a beloved member of the community. Before he passed away, he and his wife conducted Bible studies in their home. To honor his memory, his widow Juliette set out to raise funds to build a church. With $4000 donated by their friends, the Dorland Memorial Presbyterian Church was built in 1900.  The architect was Richard Sharp Smith, the lead architect of the Biltmore House in Asheville. The stained glass windows have inscriptions to the Dorlands and the cornerstone is from one of the former Dorland-Bell buildings. The Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


The original Red Bridge was built in 1910 over Spring Creek replacing an old swing bridge. It is an example of “Pratt-through-truss” steel structure.  Perhaps, because of this, it remains as one of the few bridges in western North Carolina to have survived the flood of 1916. A steel reinforced concrete bridge across the French Broad River at the nearby town of Marshall was completely wrecked. And, there are similar countless stories of destruction. The townspeople restored the bridge in the early 2000s to create a walking bridge.


Hot Springs is situated at a spot where the Appalachian Trail crosses the French Broad River and that alone is reason to visit. However, there are several places of interest which are described in a Self-Guided Tour of the town. There are houses which have a link to the former Dorland-Bell School or to the former resort owners or other prominent residents of years past as well as homes of architectural interest. Historic markers recount Hot Springs traditional music history and its Cherokee Indian past. And, of course, there are buildings which tell the town’s economic history.


In the community of Trust at the junction of NC highways 209 and 63, you will be delighted with the sight of  a small chapel.  And, your delight will increase knowing that it’s always open to the public. St. Jude’s Chapel of Hope was built in 1991 by Beverly Barutio and her husband to thank the saint whom she credits with her miraculous recovery from cancer. Made of cedar, the chapel features stained-glass windows; four small, polished pews; a prayer bench and shrine to St. Jude; and even a bell in the belfry, the chapel measures a diminutive 12 x 14. It serves as a place for quiet meditation both inside the chapel or on the grounds.