Madison County receives thousands of
visitors each year. Many come to enjoy outdoor adventures such as camping,
hiking, rock climbing, skiing, or whitewater rafting.
Others come to share in the traditional mountain folk culture which is kept
alive in the art,
dance, and music
of the county.
Still others come to participate in cultural events sponsored by Mars
Hill College, such as the Southern
Appalachian Repertory Theater. All of them enjoy the rugged natural beauty of the county and the
hospitality of its citizens.
more information, contact the Madison
Chamber of Commerce at 828-689-9351. (See
and The Ultimate Guide
to Asheville and Hendersonville)
- Gannon's French Broad Outpost
461 Old River Road, PO Box 208
Del Rio, TN 37727
615-487-3120 - Sean Gannon
- Rustic vacation experience.
Camping, overnight, horseback, package, cabins, fishing, hiking, water
entertainment, mountain bike trails.
- Hot Springs Campground & Spa
One Bridge Street, PO Box 428
Hot Springs, NC 28743
622-7676 - Glenn Hicks
- Riverside. Full RV hookup, tent camping, hot showers.
Store - carrying convenience foods, socks, camping and hiking
Mountain Laurel Campground
Route 3, Smith Creek Road
Mars Hill, NC 28754
689-3602 - Sally & Edwin Lasley
50-site campground, 3500' altitude near Appalachian Trail.
Hot showers in modern bathhouse. Near Wolf Laurel.
[To check directions refer to the
- US Forest Service - Pisgah National Forest
Hot Springs 622-3202
Rocky Bluff Campground.
Driving Tour Loop #1
Begin at the courthouse in downtown Marshall.
From the courthouse proceed NW
on Business Route 25-70 1.4 miles to US 25-70 NW
- On the left you
will pass Momma's Country Kitchen that boasts a solid marble
soda fountain. At 6.5 miles from Marshall, on the left, is the
fine Baker/Gahagan house, built in 1907. Mrs. Baker, a Gahagan,
whose Madison County ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War,
is living in the house in which she was born. 1.1 miles further
on is a typical tobacco barn.
- At Walnut sign turn left. To Barnard &
Big Pine Valley: From US 25-70 turn towards Walnut, go 1/4 mile
and turn next to Walnut Cash and Carry. Follow the road 2 miles to
Barnard Bridge over the French Broad River. On the left is Barnard
Park picnic area and launching spot for whitewater rafting. Across
bridge turn right to Big Pine Valley. It is 8 miles to Big Pine
Community. The views become increasingly beautiful as you continue
- The junction of Route 208 is marked by the
Old Mill Wheel Cafe on the Laurel River. Children love to watch
the working mill wheel and to feed the owner's stock offish in the
mill pond. The tourist cabins behind the cafe will evoke memories
of pre-motel traveling.
- Turn left and follow US 25-70 NW: You will
begin the ascent through the mountain covered by Pisgah National
Forest. 2.1 miles from the turn, at the mountain's summit, is . an
overhead bridge by which the Appalachian Trail crosses the road.
The descent to Hot Springs is a series of switchbacks that call
for a driver with strong arms who can avoid the temptations the
- The mountain ends abruptly at the French
Broad River (5.2 miles from the junction of route 208 and US
25-70) and the prospect ahead of the flat plain on which lies Hot
Springs. Just before the bridge over the river is an historical
marker, "Paint Rock, early landmark. Site of blockhouse to
protect settlers from Indians 1793. Figures on rock resemble
-paintings.' Is 6 miles northwest."
- To Paint Creek: At the Paint Rock
historical marker, turn right and immediately turn right again
onto Paint Rock Road. Follow the river road 4 miles to the Pisgah
National Forest Recreation Site (Murray Branch) a picnic area
equipped with barbecue pits, sheltered tables and public
bathrooms. If you continue another 2 miles, the road will turn up
Paint Creek. There are several picnic and swimming areas along
Retrace your steps and cross the river.
The historical marker just after the bridge reads, "Hot
Springs, heath resort since 1800. Name changed from Warm Springs
1886. Internment camp for Germans in World War I was here."
Hot Springs (population 478) is a town with many beautiful old
houses (stop at the railroad caboose parked on Main Street and
pick up a brochure) that reflects its history as a mecca for
wealthy Southerners attracted by the hot natural springs and the
cooler air of the mountains. As early as the 1830s, Hot Springs
functioned as a health resort with a fine hotel.
From 1882, when the railroad was built, to
the 1920s, when the automobile killed the golden goose, was Hot
Springs' gala period as one of the leading resorts for the rich in
eastern America. There was a grand hotel with an orchestra playing
nightly, the first golf course in North Carolina (3 holes). People
came for the summer and many built the private homes one can see
During the first World War, the hotel was
converted by the United States State Department into quarters for
the officers of a German ship impounded by the U.S. The bored
crew, housed in specially constructed barracks, indulged their
nostalgia for Germany by building a perfect replica of a Bavarian
Village. The day after the Armistice in 1918, the State Department
issued a directive to save the village, but it was too late. The
townspeople had blown it up the night before! Eighteen of those
prisoners died of typhoid fever during their incarceration.
Hot Springs is today a way station for
hikers of the Appalachian Trail, which runs along Main Street
(There are six access points for the trail in Madison County: Hot
Springs, Alien Gap, Sam's Gap, Devil's Fork Gap, Max Patch and
Mill Ridge.) There is overnight lodging at a retreat or the bed
and breakfast inns in town. The Hot Springs have been reopened and
are drawing an increasing number of people to bathe in the natural
hot mineral waters. Camping is available across from the Hot
Springs on the French Broad River.
To exit from town, proceed to the fork at
the end of Main Street and go straight onto Route 203 towards
Spring Creek. There is no easy way out of Hot Springs, surrounded
by obstacles like the proverbial sleeping princess. Route 203 is a
winding, mountain ous, but good road that makes up in scenery for
- At 3.6 miles from the river on the left is
Rocky Bluff Recreation Area, an extensive and beautiful public
park run by the Forest Service. It has picnic tables, barbecue
pits, public bathrooms, campsites and well-marked hiking trails of
varyin g distances.
- Enter Pisgah National Forest.
- At .3 miles from Rocky Bluff Park is a
scenic overlook, Van Cliff, with a view of sparkling Spring Creek
at the bottom of a deep gorge. The 5-mile descent from Van Cliff
through Pisgah Forest to the sign for Bluff and the juncture of
County Road 1173 :Is winding, steep and beautiful. Continuing on
Route 203, at 7.6 miles from the river is the turn-off to Max
Patch, a grassy bald from whose summit one has a beautiful,
360-degree view of the mountains.
- To reach it -- turn right at the Meadow
Fork/Max Patch sign; proceed on a paved road 5.4 miles to 1181.
Turn right here and follow signs to the parking lot for Max Patch.
To reach the summit, one must hike. Please be warned that the road
is a good one, t hough one of dirt, but is not for those way of
mountain driving where there are no guardrails. 4.3 miles further
on to the left is a Christmas tree farm, a cash crop whose
cultivation is on the increase in Madison County.
- At the intersection of Route 203 (to the
right) and Highway 63 (to the left), 8 miles from the turn-off to
Max Patch is the Trust General Store. The Barutios, the
proprietors, live in a restored pre-Civil War house on Highway 63
behind the store. They call their house "Plum Nilly" --
"Plum out of Asheville and Nilly to Tennessee." You may
wish to stop at the tiny St. Jude's Chapel of Hope built by Mrs.
Barutio to thank the saint whom she credits with her miraculous
recovery from cancer. The chapel is always open for visitors.
- Turn left onto Highway 63 (behind the
store) and cross Doggett Mountain, another winding route with
breathtaking views. On a clear day, the crest of the mountain
affords a splendid view of Asheville. Mace a small jog up a dirt
road at Doggett's top to visit Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church,
typical of the little white wooden churches built all over the
county at the turn of the century.
- Once past the base of the mountain in the
Sandy Mush area, turn left onto County Road 1001 at the
intersection of the Madison County sign (you have been briefly in
Buncombe County), and county Road 1107. You will have 8 miles of
pretty, pastoral scenery to Marshall before navigating the steep
descent to the river and the town. Turn left at the fork in front
of the Rector Corner sign, from which you will have a marvelous
view of all of Marshall and the courthouse from the west side of
the French Broad River.
- The Madison County Courthouse, built by the
prominent architect Richard Sharp Smith in 1906, is listed on the
National Historic Register. Just before crossing over the river on
the right is a large red brick building, once the home of the
Capitol Manufacturing Company. Built around 1903 the cotton mill
contributed greatly to the economic growth of the town. Child
labor laws in 1925 closed the plant. The 7-foot-wide and
14-foot-high mural painted on the face of the building depicts
various scenes of a 1900 workplace.
Driving Tour Loop #2
Before beginning your tour from the Madison
County office of the Chamber of Commerce at the junction of route 213
and North Main Street, visit Mars Hill College -- home of renowned
Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) in June, July and
August; t he Rural Life Museum; and Founders' Hall (built between 1888
and 1830), an old log field schoolhouse dating from the 1850s. The
campus of Mars Hill College, a small 1100-student liberal arts college
founded by local Southern Baptist farmers in 1856, dominates the small
(population n 1611) mountain village of Mars Hill. Its main street
runs along a ridge, either side of which affords views of near and
A slave named Joe was held in the Buncombe
County jail as collateral for the Loan that made the college possible
-- and subject of a video-movie called "Bonded." In one of
history's wonderful twist of fate, Joe's granddaughter was a member of
the first integrated freshman class at Mars Hill College (1361), and
broke the color barrier in private higher education in North Carolina.
Commence the loop by following North Main
Street east for 2.3 miles to a dead end on U.S. 23. Turn left and
north onto US 23 towards Tennessee and Sam's Gap. The route closely
parallels California Creek, so named in 18~0 at the time of the Gold
Rush when a young newcomer named Barry Holdcombe bra gged to his
bride, "We're going to California."
- Deacon's Bench -- you will pass this
deconsecrated Baptist Church built in 1317 on the site of two
previous log churches. In one reincarnation a restaurant, a gift
shop and now a wedding chapel.
- Murray Mountain, elevation 3420 feet, is
the first mountain you will ascend, following in reverse one of
the routes taken by the earliest settlers who came through the
mountain pass from Tennessee (now Sam's Gap) by wagon and on
horseback in the first years of the 13th century. The mountain is
named for the county's first settler; Sam's Gap commemorates the
Sam's family who fled Flag Pond, Tennessee, during the Civil War,
survivors of an assault of marauding bushwhackers. (Madison
County, too, suffered from these gangs of toughs who terrorized
the settlers.) The Sam's family remain residents of the county.
- Landscape features to look for are log
bridges. Distinctive in the county are fragile-looking log or
plank bridges that span the creeks to provide access from the
roads to dwelling places. Some will support autos, some will not.
Tobacco fields, dotting the county, are
often tucked into the turnings of roads. Sun-cured burley tobacco
culture began in the early 1330s, supplanting flue cured tobacco
that was grown all through the 1800s and into the 20th century.
Planted in June after the frost, it is harvested in August and
early September, kept in tobacco barns recognizable for their
construction the interstices between the logs or boards are
deliberate in order to permit the flow of air and enough dampness
to keep the tobacco moist. Tobacco is marketed the week before
The mountainsides are covered in enormous
stands of rhododendron that grow in the shade of the tall trees.
Called "laurel" by Madison County natives, who have
traditionally preferred to call things by other than their proper
names (tea laurel is called "iv y," for instance), it
blooms in late June-July, but only where the sun has been able to
penetrate. This profusion of "laurel" has given name to
al the areas drained by the Laurel River; Big Laurel, Upper
Laurel, Rich Laurel, Wolf Laurel, Shelton Laurel, etc.
- You will pass the turn-off for Blue
Mountain Lodge and Golf Club, also known as Wolf Laurel, a ski
resort, golf course, and residential development on a
privately-owned mountain, whose access is controlled by a
- Turn left, just past Little Creek Cafe,
from US 23 onto scenic County Road 1318 (the sign reads
"Welcome Foster Creek Church, Foster Creek Road"), which
parallels, now crossing, now recrossing, Big Laurel Creek, past
Spillcorn, a name typical of the quaint place names that
proliferate in the county. The explanation is a simple one:
someone tried to cross the creek with his corn and some of it
- At the juncture of Foster Creek and County
Road 1318 is a perfect example of an old church cemetery across
from Foster Creek Baptist Church -- lined up, uncut, undressed
stones interspersed with old cut stones whose carvings are now
illegible. At .3 of a mile further on in the curve of the road,
note the mountain scene of barn and plank bridge. The road along
the; Laurel Creek from the turn-off from U.S. 23 goes up and down,
round and about the Walnut Mountains, affording occasional
breathtaking views amidst already beautiful scenery -- old barns
and farmhouses, cows grazing, one- and two-lane bridges, little
churches, Christmas tree cultivation here and there.
- Turn right at dead end on bridge onto
County Road 1916, and proceed through Guntertown Community to
Whiterock, in the Shelton Laurel section. the Presbyterians, who
dominated in the Laurel sections, built the now abandoned hospital
(28.5 mi.) and the church at the turn on Count) Road 1914 that you
will pass. In the early 1800s, "Duck" Shelton, the
ancestor of almost everyone in Shelton Laurel, was publicly
whipped for making coins from a silver mine he had accidentally
- Duck, whose secret mine has never been
rediscovered, used to hunt squirrels with silver bullets. To
gravesites of the victims of the Shelton Laurel Massacre: At
Whiterock Presbyterian Church turn right onto 1914 (28.7 mi. from
Mars Hill). Proceed 3.4 mi. over a one-lane bridge to dead end on
212. Immediately facing 1914 is a private, unpaved road. Drive
onto it, turn left at a vine-covered standing chimney. Follow
rutted road to a "Posted" sign. Park and walk into a
stand of trees behind a new log house. Round trip from 212 is .4
mi. Two granite markers list the names of al 13 victims.
The historical marker will be found at the
juncture of 212·and 208. Its legend: "Shelton Laurel
Massacre. 13 men and boys were killed by Confederate soldiers in
early 1863. Graves 8 mi. east. Confederate Colonel Lawrence Allen
was in command of the troops at the time of the Massacre. His
house, on Main Street Marshall, was plundered during the salt raid
- Continue on County Road 1916 to a dead end.
Turn left onto Route 212, past Laurel School. Until 18 years ago,
there were also five separate high schools, occasionally
graduating classes of fewer than 25.
- Observe an unusual wooden footbridge that
mates a sharp turn in mid-creek. Continue on Route 212 across
Laurel Creek (35.45 miles) to Route 208 and on to U.S. 25-70
- Continue past Walnut to Business Route
25-70. Turn right and descend 1.4 miles into Marshall (population
803), established as the county's seat of government in 1811.
Rivalry among contenders for county seats was so heated that a
referendum had to be conducted. According to a local story,
Marshall, named after Supreme court Justice Marshal, carried the
day by only one vote and that vote was from a person who was
offered free turnip seed if he would leave his fields to go to the
polls. Marshal is enshrined in Ripley's Believe It Or Not records
as a town that cannot grow, sandwiched as it is between the French
Broad River and steep bluffs on either side. Because of the
constant threat of flooding, no new structures can be built were
room found for them.
- The town, originally a stock stand along
the river, thrived during those years early in the 13th century
when the Drovers' Road was in operation. This was a good gravel
all-weather road with a base of stone, contoured to drain, that
was authorized as a turnpike by the state's Legislature to
accommodate the heavy traffic in livestock -- sheep, turkeys,
cattle, mules -- that thronged the bank of the French Broad and
Laurel Rivers, raising clouds of dust and a cacophony of honks and
bleats from Greenville, South Carolina, to Greenville, Tennessee.
Before the coming of the railroad in the early 1870s, "the
only thing you could get to market was what could walk." The
animals and poultry were meat for the tables of Georgia and South
Carolina planters who put all their acreage into cotton.
- Drive on through Marshall, note the red
caboose, donated to the town by Southern Railway. It will be
converted into a welcome center. At .7 miles out of town is a sign
pointing to the left to Mars Hill. From Downtown Marshall, head
south on Main Street, following the river to Rt. 251. Turn right
and continue along the river for a scenic drive along the Old
Buncombe Turnpike to Alexander. If you wish, proceed to Alexander
or ascend a winding road, called Hayes ·Run, that parallels a
descending stream, to rejoin 213. On the left is the exquisite
Gingerbread House, a white lace-like marvel built for a prominent
county citizen in the 1830s. It's not surprising to learn that it
took eight carpenters and three years to build. Today it is a bed
& breakfast that incorporates a gallery open to the public
featuring paintings, pottery and photographs.
- Petersburg became a commercial hub
in the last century, furnishing supplies to passing wagons. The
advent of the radio turned it into a gathering place for the
community. The tradition continues -- local neighbors like to
congregate at Coates' Country Store to "chew the fat."