By Gina Malone
A downtown sign proclaims, “Cresting at the top of the steepest railroad grade in the country, Saluda calms the restless, inspires the creative and incites the adventurist.” And indeed in this little town of 700 at the edge of Polk County, delights await day trippers—whether the aim is down-time on a downtown bench, shopping for exceptional art or ziplining through the treetops.
To gain a sense of how the railroad shaped the town, visit the Saluda Historic Depot Museum. Videos, displays and a Z-scale diorama tell stories of the days since the first engine came chugging up Saluda Grade on July 4, 1878. Dave O’Brien, a museum volunteer, puts it well when it comes to Saluda’s good-old-days charm. “Time didn’t pass us by,” he says. “We asked it to go around.”
On Saturday, May 20, the 14th Annual Saluda Arts Festival—with more than 80 regional artists, live demonstrations, music and food—will be held downtown.
If shopping is on your list, Saluda has it all, with two of its stores boasting origins in the late 1800s.
“Random Arts,” says owner Jane Powell, “has been home to those seeking to embrace their creative journey for over 22 years in Saluda. My favorite saying for our business has been this: Assorted Goods for Creative Mindfulness.” The store offers eclectic clothing, gifts and art supplies. An artist herself, Powell hosts regular workshops taught by artists from around the world in the rambling-old-farmhouse-turned-funky-and-colorful-shop.
Heartwood Gallery has been a downtown mainstay since 1985. “Like good wines reflect the flavor of the region in which they are produced, small independent businesses reflect the flavor of the communities in which they thrive,” says owner Shelley DeKay. “I love doing business in Saluda for just that reason.” Her gallery features fine hand-selected American crafts. Besides “one of the best collections of pottery in the region,” she says, “you’ll find handcrafted ceramics, wood, jewelry, fiber, glass, paintings, garden art and more.”
Kathleen’s Gallery celebrates “all things local,” with unusual art that shows off the region’s talent. Jeff Ely purchased the gallery three years ago and sells items such as eclectic birdhouses decorated with found pieces and colorful glass wind chimes.
Lisa Duck describes her Duck Alley as a “fun shop.” Housed in a structure built to match the nearby train depot, the store offers jewelry, candles, soaps, gems and outdoor garden décor. “We try to do interesting, affordable and thoughtful,” she says. And there’s ice cream too—worth noting as summer approaches.
Kniticality is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the visit for fiber artists. Owner Amy Johnson stocks affordable and luxury items. Stitch gatherings and monthly potlucks are held in workrooms with a cozy fireplace and a picture-window view of the mountains. “We are keen on keeping things welcoming and friendly and on keeping this a positive learning space,” Johnson says.
Connie Scicluna managed Sassafras, a women’s clothing boutique, before becoming its new proprietor in February. “I carry moderately priced comfortable clothing for all occasions,” she says.
Those who visit Saluda for outdoor pursuits won’t be disappointed. Green River Adventures offers whitewater trips, kayak instruction, waterfall rappelling and stand-up paddle boarding. Owners Tim and Sara Bell, adventurers at heart, moved to Saluda for the kayaking.
In 2013, the couple added The Gorge Zipline to Saluda’s outdoor offerings. The steepest canopy tour in the country, it consists of 11 ziplines that take thrill-seekers 1,100 vertical feet through a narrow corridor of treetops in three to four hours.
The town’s newest business venture, Saluda Outfitters, outfits for everything outdoors. Housed in a restored log cabin just south of downtown, the store offers brand-name clothing and gear, as well as a resting place before and after a day’s adventures with its coffee shop. H2o Dreams, a paddling school, will have space upstairs. A stage area and front and back porches will offer space for live music. Local beers and wines will be served. “Living here,” owner Ryan Griffin says, “there’s so much to do outdoors.”
When stomachs growl, Saluda offers options from casual to fine dining. The Purple Onion boasts Mediterranean-style cuisine with an emphasis on local and organic. “It’s awesome to be part of a community of flourishing businesses,” says owner Susan Casey, “many owned by women who are committed to working together to create a vibrant and culturally rich destination while still preserving the unique beauty of the area.”
Find Duck Alley and Sassafras on Facebook. For information, visit these sites: saluda.com, saludahistoricdepot.com, randomartsnow.com, heartwoodsaluda.com, kathleensgallery.net, kniticality.com, greenriveradventures.com and thegorgezipline.com.