Facebook Tracking Pixel

Highlands Heritage Walking Trail

The town of Highlands, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is unique among the communities of Western North Carolina. It’s chief claim to fame–while bolstered by commercial, sociological, and historical advantages–is aesthetic. It is still a small village nestled in an ocean of mountain peaks blanketed with forests as far as the eye can see.

A well-known legend of the founding of Highlands claims that two developers living in Kansas, Sam Kelsey and C. C. Hutchinson, took a map in hand and drew a line from New York to New Orleans. Then they passed another line between Chicago and Savannah. These lines, they predicted, would be the great trade routes of the future, and where they crossed would someday be a great population center.

These two men founded Highlands in 1875 as a health and pleasure resort, enamored as they were of its natural beauty and healthful climate. Described as “a Southern Mountain Town Founded by Northerners,” Highlands has attracted strong, caring citizens from every state in the Union. As a direct result, it is too cosmopolitan to be provincial, too broadly based to be singular in attitude and perspective, too enamored of its natural surroundings to be totally indifferent to them, and just isolated enough and small enough to be anxious about the benefits and setbacks of growth and development.

Though still small, Highlands has grown significantly over the years. Since the mid-1930s, its population has doubled from 500 to almost 1,000. Its business district has increased from 25 members in its Chamber of Commerce to nearly 250. And its summer population has grown from 2,500 to around 20,000.

Compiled by Randolph P. Shaffner, Archivist for the Highlands Historical Society, and sponsored by the Highlands Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Highlands, and the Highlands Historical Society, this itinerary is a walking tour of many historical buildings and sites within the business district.

Highlands Heritage Trail

  • Partridge-Rice Home (1883). The Highlands miller William Partridge and wife Eliza built this 1½-story frame house with multi-gable roof in 1883 on Oak Ridge. Partridge’s flour and corn mill stood at the back of his property on Mill Creek and for almost 20 years provided grain for the people of Highlands. In 1899 he and Eliza tried to retire to a commune in Georgia but returned home penniless to be cared for by the townsfolk. The family of the butcher Luke Rice lived in this house from 1909-68. Today it is home to the Highlands Chamber of Commerce.
  • Boynton-Norton Home (1881). In 1881 Capt. Charles Boynton built this 2-story multi-gabled frame residence on Oak Ridge. It became the home of David and Mattie Norton in 1905. Phoebe Rogers Crisp and her siblings Nannie and Josh Rogers converted it into a boarding house, Crisp House, in 1924, and for the next 40 years it was variously known as Potts House in 1936, Paxton House in 1952, and Tate House in 1957. In 1964 it was Phelps House, where Milida Thurman’s sumptuous meals were legendary. Since 1998 it has reverted to Main Street Inn.
  • Hick’s Building (1927). Built in 1927 to house Jim Hick’s barber shop and Elinor Cleaveland’s Highlands Grille, the 1st restaurant in town, this building became home to the original Highlander Restaurant, Tate’s Restaurant, and the very popular Mountaineer Restaurant, all of which served good mountain cooking for over 70 years until closing in 1999. Today it houses Kilwin’s.
  • Rice and Thompson Building (1928). In 1928 Irvin Rice built his Meat Market and Grocery, his brother Luke running the butchery in the rear. Hamburger, weighed on the only scales in town, sold for 10¢ a pound; a round steak, for a quarter. Florence Thompson had her tea room here during the early 1930s; and Lilly Pierson, her Hat and Dress Shop, followed by Sara Gilder’s grocery, Bert and Harold Rideout’s Satulah Café and Drug Store, and Dee McCollum’s Paintin’ Place. Wit’s End has sold ladies’ and children’s clothing here since 1940.
  • Potts Livery Stable and Grocery (1902, 1926). In 1902 Billy Potts built a mammoth Livery Stable that rivaled H. M. Bascom’s for fast horses and fast deliveries. Hiram Dillard purchased the operation in 1910. In 1926 Frank and Roy Potts established Potts Brothers grocery, which served Highlands for the next 30 years until replaced by the Highlander Restaurant, a 40-year success until it closed in 1999.
  • Cleaveland’s Grocery site (1885, 1920). Highlands pioneer W. B. Cleaveland built his gabled grocery in 1885. Charlie Wright, after his heroic rescue of Gus Baty from Whiteside Mountain cliffs in 1911, managed a general merchandise store here under the advertisement: “Come and See us Any Time and you’ll Buy Your Clothes here All the Time.” In 1920 Fred Edwards built here his own general store that thrived for over 30 years until replaced by Steve Potts’ Country Store, today’s Ann Jacob Gallery.
  • Bascom-Marett Store site (1883). One of the earliest businesses in Highlands was the hardware store, built by H. M. Bascom in 1883. It lasted over 40 years and was continued as Highlands Hardware for 13 more years when George Marett took over in 1925. Marett expanded the building to include a 2-story, plain, square frame grocery. In 1940 Bascom’s building was moved on logs across 4th Street to where Schmitt Building Contractors is today (See 15 below). In 1956 Marett’s building was moved to 3rd Street (See 43 below) between the Masonic Hall and Marett’s former home, built in 1927 on the Spring Street corner.
  • First School site (1878). The first Highlands School, built of white pine planks in 1878, served the town for 40 years where the Town Hall exists today. Its bell still rings in the millennium clock tower above. Its single story housed Prof. Harbison’s famed Highlands Academy and the beginning of today’s Hudson Library.
  • Second School site (1918). The second Highlands School, erected 1916-19 lasted over 30 years where the ABC Store stands today. It was a brown-shingle two-story building known as the Town Clock School on Knowledge Hill.
  • House-Trapier-Wright (Prince) House (1877). The oldest existing house in Highlands was built by Arthur House near his sawmill in 1877. A frame house with multi-gable roof, it was bought by Frank Wright in 1913 and remained in the family as the Prince house, when Frank’s sister Lizzie married a Prince. The Highlands Historical Society purchased it as its new home in 2000.
  • Old Hudson Library building (1915). Born in a box of books in 1880, one of the oldest public libraries in North Carolina moved in 1915 into its first real home on East Main, next to the Episcopal Church. Designed by Dr. Huger Elliott, director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and built by local contractor Walter Reese, it served the town for almost 70 years. Gertrude and Dolly Harbison were its librarians for 50 of those years. Stephen Vincent Benét was one of its first patrons. A new Hudson Library was constructed to the east in 1985, and in 2002 the old Hudson Library building was moved to join the Historic Village to house the Highlands Historical Museum and Archives.
  • Bug Hill (1908-18). In 1908 Dr. Mary Lapham, a pioneer of the Swiss cure of tuberculosis, established a Sanatorium, known locally as Bug Hill. Many TB patients, who came to Highlands to die, lived instead long productive lives because of Dr. Lapham’s prescription of fresh mountain air and sunshine. When the San burned in 1918, the 60 open-air cottages were removed. The Highlands Recreation Park occupies the site today, and one Bug Hill Cottage has been preserved by the Highlands Historical Society.
  • Anderson-Sullivan Home site (1906). In 1906-9 Alexander Anderson, world-famous creator of puffed wheat and puffed rice, built a landscaped Scottish mansion that was made entirely of native wood, was insulated with mineral wool, and relied on a windmill to pump water. For almost 40 years this beautiful home belonged to the William and Anne Sullivan family but was later sold and unfortunately torn down in 1973.
  • Zoellner’s Garage (1878). Originally Monroe Skinner’s blacksmith shop, Carl Zoellner established his Esso Station and Garage here during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The building served the town as Highlands Laundry for almost 40 years.
  • Bascom’s original store (1883). Moved here from across 4th Street in 1940 (See 7 above).
  • Dr. O’Farrell’s Drug Store (1882). Built in 1882 by James Rideout and home of the Blue Ridge Enterprise, Highlands’ 1st newspaper in 1883, Dr. Henry O’Farrell’s pharmacy was where R. J. Reynolds demonstrated for the townsfolk how to roll a “cigarette.”
  • Highlands House-Highlands Inn (1880). Built by Joseph Halleck in 1880 as a 3-story frame hotel with 2-story front porch, Highlands House was given to John Jay and Mary Chapin Smith as a wedding gift in 1886, when it became Smith House. This was the year after the famous Moccasin War erupted on its doorstep. Now on the National Register, it was called Highlands Inn in 1925. The famous Altitude Oak stood for almost 60 years in the road out front.
  • Grey Cottage (1883). In 1883, three years before Mary Chapin married John Jay Smith, she built a wooden-shingled frame Victorian home with decorative bargeboards in gables that would serve them both for the next 60 years. A student of botany, she created an exceptionally beautiful garden around a spring in the woodland setting. An accomplished poet, she devoted much of her life to the growth of the Hudson Library. John Jay was a builder, whose sawmills furnished most of the mate¬rial used for houses in Highlands before 1920.
  • Episcopal Church of the Incarnation (1896). Constructed on land funded by Tudor T. Hall as the 3rd church building in Highlands, the Episcopal Church is a 1-story frame Victorian structure with high-pitched roof and circular, patterned wooden-shingled belfry. Today it is on the National Register. Its earliest priest was Rev. Archibald Deal, a circuit rider who in 1879 earned an annual salary of $100.
  • Hutchinson-Frost-Hall-Farnsworth Home (1878). Begun in 1878 by Arthur Hutchinson, co-founder of Highlands, and completed in 1880 by Dr. Charles Frost, Highlands’ 1st long-term resident physician, this sturdy Victorian home with multi-gable roof and wrap-around porch was constructed with massive hand-squared white pine logs placed upright like a stockade and clap boarded on the outside. In 1890 it belonged to Charlestonian Tudor T. Hall, but for most of the 20th century it was owned by the Patrick T. Farnsworth family.
  • Reinke Home (1934). Although built as late as 1934-35 by Edwin Reinke, 1st director of the Highlands Biological Station, this log cabin is a model of the Joe Webb style of construction, famous in Highlands since Joe Webb built almost 30 such cabins from the mid 1920s to the mid 1930s. It is today’s Highland Hiker.
  • Kelsey-Harbison-Harris Home site (1875). The 1st house in Highlands was a two-story home built in 1875 for $350 by Samuel Kelsey, co-founder of the town. Subsequent occupants were Prof. Thomas Harbison; Minnie Warren, who christened it Kanonah Lodge; and Rebecca Harris. All that remains today of the house, which burned in 1976, is its handsome chimney at the rear of The Falls on Main.
  • Kelsey Memorial (1929). In 1929 the Highlands Improvement Society created a small triangular park and granite memorial to Samuel Kelsey as one of the founders of the town. It stands at the intersection of Church and 5th streets, the north end of which is the beginning of the Kelsey Trail. Many Highlanders spent their Sundays hiking this 5-mile trail to picnic at Whiteside Mountain.
  • First Presbyterian Church (1885). Constructed by local builder Marion Wright and funded by a $3,000 gift from the Prioleau Ravenel family in 1885, the 2nd church building in Highlands, a lovely 1-story frame structure with jerkinhead gable roof, steeple, and belfry, appears today on the National Register. The Reese family owes its presence in Highlands to Robert Reese, who came to paint this church and loved the town so much he never left it.
  • Central House (1878). Owned first by John Norton in 1878 as a 2½-story frame hotel with gable roof, shed dormer, and 2-tier front porch, Central House was one of Highlands’ earliest boarding houses. It was run by Joseph Halleck during the 1880s; David and Mattie Norton, during the 1890s; Billy and Mattie Potts, from 1905 to 1913; and Minnie Edwards from the mid 1910s until the early 1950s. It appears today on the National Register.
  • Rock Store (1889). Highlands pioneer James Rideout built a long, low granite store in 1889, where he sold general merchandise, advertising “Ride in to Rideout’s, Buy your dry goods, and Ride out of town.” In 1905 Rev. Billy Potts called it his Rock Store. Porter Pierson ran it during the 1910s; and mayor W. S. Davis, during the 1920s to mid 1930s. In 1934-35 it served as the first floor of the new 3-story Edwards Inn, which architect Linton Young designed and local builder Wilton Cobb constructed upon it.
  • Post Office-Telephone Exchange (ca. 1923). Although the P. O. has had many homes in Highlands, Nellie Cleaveland’s reign from 1923-35 featured atop a high pole a large bell, which she rang to announce to the townsfolk when the mail was up. Beginning in 1936 Dorothy and Caroline Hall and later Manila Reese serviced all telephone calls into or out of Highlands, often hollering to individuals down the street to come answer the phone.
  • Davis House-Lee’s Inn site (1889). Built by H. M. Bascom in 1889-90, Davis House was one of the most elegant inns in the Southeast, indeed one of Baedeker’s three highest-rated inns in America. A 3½-story frame hotel with 2-tier wrap-around porch and gable roof, it was known in 1923 as Martin House, in 1936 as Tricemont Terrace, in 1951 as the Bascom-Louise, and in 1957 as Lee’s Inn. A severe loss to Highlands, it burned in 1982. It was replaced in 1998 by Kelsey and Hutchinson Lodge.
  • Islington House-King’s Inn site (1883). In 1878 Monroe Skinner built a home, which in 1883 Margaretta Ravenel bought and expanded into a 3-story frame hotel, hip roof, and 2-story wrap-around porch, named Islington House. Including when it was known as Dixie House from 1891-93, it thrived for 30 years as a very popular inn. For a dozen years it stood abandoned before Bob King revived it as King’s Inn from 1925 until it burned in 1994. It was a fashionable haven for honeymooners.
  • Pierson Inn site (1899). In 1899, on the former site of pioneer builder Joseph Halleck’s home, Jeremiah and Emma Pierson constructed Pierson Inn, a 3-story frame building with 2-tier porches. Flanked by two 2-story cottages, known as Piermont and Lakemont, it featured one of Highlands’ earliest golf links surrounding a lake near today’s Highlands School. The Inn closed in 1958 and was finally demolished in 1993. Only the two cottages remain.
  • Satulah Mountain District. A number of homes in the Satulah Mountain District qualified for recognition on the National Register. Dr. Theodore Lamb was the 1st summer resident on Satulah in 1892. Others, like John Elliott, Mary Lapham, H. M. Bascom, Robert Eskrigge, Minnie Warren, Henry Sloan, Alice Lyons, and Marie Huger, erected homes between 1900 and 1925.
  • Kibbee-Hines Cottage (1878). Highlands’ first resident physician, Dr. George Kibbee, built his 1½-story wooden shingled front-gabled home for his family in 1878, the same year that he died fighting yellow fever in New Orleans. In 1924 it became the home of “Judge” Jim and Bessie Hines, who named it Chestnut Burr Cottage. Their daughter Bess Hines Harkins has been called the Poet Laureate of Highlands, “the Emily Dickinson of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Nick’s Restaurant thrived in this house from 1976 until 2005. It was burned by the Fire Department in 2006 and replaced by Satulah Village Townhouses.
  • Selleck-Hill-McCall Home (1879). Highlands pioneer Eben Selleck built this 2-story, patterned wooden shingled, frame house with salt box gable roof in 1879. Mrs. Charles Albert Hill bought it in 1905. Since the early 1930s the family of Lilia McCall has owned it, calling it The Rabbit Hole. Its lawn surrounded by tall white pines hosted the elephants of the circus that visited Highlands in 1938.
  • Anderson Dime and Drug stores (1924). In 1924-25 Charlie Anderson established a combination variety and drug store that served Highlands for almost 60 years. It was here during the early thir¬ties, when Amos and Andy were cruising at their peak of radio fame, that a number of Highlanders formed a late afternoon Amos and Andy Club with Charlie Anderson as their “president.” In 1958 Clarence “Doc” Mitchell rebuilt the adjoining drugstore, today’s Mirror Lake Antiques. Anderson’s Texaco Station stood between it and his home, which he built on the corner in 1935 and where he raised his family.
  • Highlands Bank-Gem Shop (1923). The 1st Highlands Bank was constructed in 1923. When it failed in 1933 due to the Depression, the Bank of Franklin took over until Jackson County Bank bought it in 1936 and serviced Highlands for the next 20 years. In 1956 Archie and Hazel Jellen moved their Gem Shop here, the first gem store in Macon County, which still specializes in locally mined emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.
  • Bill’s Soda Shop (1883). Built in 1883 as Martin’s Meat Market and variously used as a drugstore, post office, phone company, and town hall, this corner store served as a popular meeting place when Gus Holt ran it from the mid 1910s to the mid 1930s. Still in the Holt family, it soon became famous as Bill’s Soda Shop, where folks enjoyed cherry cokes and smashes and an occasional ammonia coke until it closed in 1972. During the 1940s Harry’s Café, owned by Bill’s brother, occupied the quarters to the right.
  • Dimick’s Cheap Cash Store site (1878). Where the Stone Lantern exists today stood one of Highlands’ earliest businesses, Annie Dimick’s Cheap Cash Store, which sold general merchandise from 1878-84 but specialized in good Rio coffee “strong enough to hold up an iron wedge.” It was managed by George Jacobs, who sold or bartered “Anything but Credit.”
  • William B. Cleaveland Home (1888). Highlands pioneer William B. Cleaveland built this 1½-story multi-gabled family home with wrap-around porch in 1888 across the street from his grocery store. His wife Estelle ran the home after his death in 1893. This house belonged to the grocer Harvey Talley from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s.
  • Arthur Home site and Park (1979). In 1879 John P. Arthur, one of the first historians of Western North Carolina, built his Highlands home surrounded by a meadow and fronted with a white picket fence. By the mid 1920s this was a park shaded by large maples and fronted with 6 loafer’s benches installed by the ladies of the Improvement Society. The Boy Scouts built a cabin here in 1939. Today’s single loafer’s bench was installed in 1974.
  • T. Baxter White House (1875). Highlands’ 1st settler, T. Baxter White, built a front-gabled “white house” in 1875 that served as the town’s 1st post office and country store in addition to his home. A strong influence on the town’s moral, political, and religious views, White came to love Highlands so well that when old age forced him to leave after 35 years, he sat down in the Seneca RR Station and burst into tears.
  • Highlands Methodist Church (1909). The second home of the Methodists in Highlands was a 1-story cut stone structure with a classical revival style portico and tall steeple-belfry. Completed in 1909, it reunited the Southern and Northern Methodists from their separate churches in town. The new building was designed by renowned architect Upton C. Ewing. It was the Methodists who hosted Sunday afternoon services for the African-Americans, who served summer families in the town and performed popular gospel concerts as fund-raising benefits for the church and the hospital.
  • Masonic Hall (1893). First organized in 1890, the Masonic Lodge of Highlands moved into its new hall in 1893. Its goal for the past century has been “to take good men and make better people out of them.” Dr. Elbert Gilbert, the town’s 1st resident dentist, practiced here during the mid 1920s, and the front-gabled building housed Town Hall from the early 1930s to 1950.
  • Marett General Store (1920). Moved here from 4th and Main in 1956 (See 7 above).
  • Root’s Gift Shop and Tea Room site (ca. 1926). For 30 years, beginning in 1931, Annie Root operated a very popular gift shop and tea room, accompanied by Alice Inman’s knitting shop. During the late 1920s her husband Joseph installed the waterworks for the town, engineered the Highlands Country Club golf course, and surveyed many properties of the town. Their home was the 1st practice burn for the Volunteer Fire Department in 1967 when Reeves Hardware built its present home.
  • Helen’s Barn (1935). The highlight of mountain culture could be found in the excellent fiddling, buck dancing, and clogging at Helen’s Barn, a large board and batten frame building constructed in 1932 on land purchased by Charlie Wright with the proceeds from his Carnegie Gold Medal. Originally located on the corner of Main and 1st, it was rebuilt where it stands today after its destruction by fire in 1935. Helen Wright Wilson and her children treated Highlanders to over 50 summers of square dancing that brought winter and summer residents together into a single class enjoying the fun. Although the target of pulpit pounding early on, many a courtship began at Helen’s Barn.
  • Salt Rock. Long before Kelsey and Hutchinson founded Highlands in 1875, Joseph Dobson of Cartoogechaye grazed his sheep and cattle on his land grant on the plateau. Salt was used by herdsmen of the time to calm their stock, and the rock at the southwest corner of today’s Wright Square prevented the salt from soaking into the ground. Even before Dobson purchased his land in 1844 at 10¢ an acre, the Cherokees are said to have used this site for camping.
  • Old log Law House site. Before the town of Highlands existed, a single-room log Law House served as a place where the county sheriff collected taxes, elections took place, and circuit riders preached the Gospel. This was the site of Highlands’ 1st non-denominational Sunday School in 1876, the same year that classes were held for the school. By the mid 1880s the Law House had ended its illustrious career rather ignominiously as Sumner Clark’s tool shed. Charlie and Helen Wright’s 1st home stood near here from 1914 until it burned in 1928.
  • Dobson-Stewart-Memminger-Raoul Home (1879). Joseph Dobson’s son William owned the 839 acres that he sold to Kelsey and Hutchinson for $2 an acre for the town of Highlands. In 1879 he built his home here. At the time Cherokee laborers were thought to bring luck. They carved the talismanic arrows that support the eaves and point toward the home. In 1884 Dobson sold his home to Henry Stewart, a New York Times columnist and one of the most prolific agricultural writers in America. In 1899 Gustavus Memminger, a leading figure in the world of phosphate mining, occupied the house. He turned it over in 1916 to the Raoul family, and Rebecca Raoul Altstaetter ran it and the adjacent Laurel Lodge as an Inn and Tea Room during the depression. In 1978 a furniture store moved in and built the large brick addition.
  • Methodist-Baptist Church (1885, 1940). The Northern Methodists were the first denomination to build their own sanctuary in Highlands in 1885. In 1904 they sold their building, a 1-story front-gabled structure with a small rose window, to the Baptists and, joining their Southern counterparts, built a new Methodist church nearer the center of town. In 1940-41 the Baptists rebuilt the sanctuary on a cruciform plan with cross gable roof and stone veneer, farther up on Oak Ridge where it stands today.
  • Hunt-Esty Cottage site (1883). In 1883 Judge Dana Hunt built a 1½-story cottage with front gable roof and wrap-around porch, including belvedere-like corner treatments, as his second home. In 1991 this house was cited by the Highlands Appearance Commission as a salient model of traditional architecture within the Highlands commercial district. It eventually belonged to Aaron Esty, the family of Jim Hines, and then Darthula “Sula” Rice. Known as White Oak House, it was regrettably torn down in 2001.


The town of Highlands was supposed to become a hub of commerce in the Blue...

How It Works

Look for destinations and click the + button to include them in your trip! Drag and drop (sandwich icon) to rearrange the order of your trip, and then click "Send to Google Maps" to get driving directions, or Bookmark Link to save the page for later.

Use these buttons to Add, Remove, and Organize your destinations.


The Regions of the Blue Ridge

In planning the best use of your NC mountains vacation days, know that the region can be divided into three sub-regions for ease of exploration:

Far West

  • Cherokee
  • The Nantahala Gorge
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park


  • Asheville
  • Hendersonville
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • The waterfalls of Transylvania County
  • Many more highlights

High Country

  • Grandfather Mountain
  • Linville Falls
  • Boone
  • Blowing Rock
  • High northern mountains


  • Mt. Airy
  • Lenoir
  • Elkin