Story by Gina Malone | Photos by Joye Ardyn Durham
There is no shortage of rocking chairs in Black Mountain, known as the “front porch of Western North Carolina.” Big sculptural rockers, landscape painted rockers, brightly colored sidewalk rockers. Visitors find so much to do in “the little town that rocks” that there is hardly time for sitting, but it’s nice to know they’re there if a day of hiking, exploring and shopping takes its toll.
“The pace is a little slower in this beautiful, quaint mountain town,” says Bob McMurray, executive director of the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce. “We have a wide variety of arts, crafts, furniture and specialty shops all within an easy walk, and free parking.”
Local art, of course, is on the must-see lists of many who visit Western North Carolina’s small towns, and Black Mountain has a longstanding tradition of being at the forefront of arts. The progressive Black Mountain College, though short-lived (1933-1957), had a lasting influence on modern and contemporary art, music, dance, design and poetry.
The Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League (SVFAL) celebrates 50 years of creativity this year, making it the region’s oldest art organization. Members display their work at the charming Red House Art Gallery and Studios. “At the Red House,” says SVFAL board member Cindy Chenard, “you can tour our working studios and enjoy our bi-monthly gallery exhibits where a wide variety of media is represented, from photographs and fiber to watercolors and encaustic wax work.”
Downtown galleries include Mountain Nest, filled with art and handcrafted items for the home; Seven Sisters Gallery, selling American handcrafts and art since 1981; and Black Mountain Center for the Arts where, from Thursday, June 15, through Saturday, June 17, the annual Art in Bloom festival will be held. The festival will include a gala opening party, gallery show, garden tours and plein air painting. The town’s 1874 train depot has also been renovated into a gallery, the Old Depot Gallery and Association, selling original and juried crafts of regional artists.
Next door to the Red House, find the stately Monte Vista Hotel, established in 1919 and in its present location since 1937. Its restaurant, The Palate, serves fine southern cuisine for dinner Thursdays through Sundays, with brunch available on Sunday as well. The hotel’s full bar, Fitz’s Taproom, serves local brews along with wine and cocktails and has patio seating. The lobby, lobby bar and dining room also feature exhibits of works by SVFAL artists, as do some of the other eating establishments in town.
With at least 30 restaurants, there is no shortage of cafés, coffee shops, bakeries and ice cream shops, including three microbreweries and a distillery. My Father’s Pizza & Pasta is a family-owned restaurant located on Cherry Street in the heart of downtown. Its dishes boast seasonal and local ingredients, and, if al fresco dining is your thing, the patio is open most of the year.
Black Mountain is framed beautifully by the Seven Sisters, the range of seven “sisterly” mountains ascending to the “fatherly” Graybeard Mountain. The lovely LakeTomahawk, with its scenic park, is the site of free concerts throughout the summer.
Besides its exhibits on the fascinating history of the town, the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center hosts cultural events as well as hikes and tours every month. The museum is located in the historic 1921 firehouse, designed by Richard Sharp Smith who was the supervising architect for the Biltmore Estate. Permanent and traveling exhibits are on display, including the current Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces. Rafael Guastavino, the Spanish architect who created decorative tile vaulting for Biltmore, had his estate in Black Mountain.
For structured fun, there are walking, history, ghost and food tours. Black Mountain Books specializes in books on nature and regional history, including Black Mountain College. So, if the rocking chairs are just too irresistible, grab a book and sit a spell.
To learn more, visit exploreblackmountain.com (where there are links to area businesses), svfalarts.org, blackmountainarts.org and swannanoavalleymuseum.org. The Visitor’s Center is located at 201 East State Street.