…In November 1912 Motor Age magazine heralded the delights of “an exclusive road for motor cars…nearly all of it at a 3 to 5 percent grade.” E.W. Grove of St. Louis and Asheville was responsible for creating the road up to and beyond the Grove Park Inn. The entire length of the road beginning near the end of Charlotte Street to the summit of Sunset Mountain was “laid with macadam and rolled until its surface is as smooth as a floor.” It was wide enough for “speeding motors to pass at any point” and there were signs at approaches to curves for motorists to blow their horns!At the crest, the road connected to an as yet unfinished, but proposed Blue Ridge Highway, from Asheville to Blowing Rock. At that time, only 50 miles from the Blowing Rock end were completed; from the Asheville end there was only a horseback trail to Mount Mitchell.
On Sunday, July 25, 1920, the following announcement appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times.
On the Visit Sunset Mountain pamphlet pictured above you can see that the toll was 50¢ for one seat cars; 75¢ for two seat cars. On July 28th the following headline was found in the Citizen-Times.
The text inside the Visit Sunset Mountain sales brochure extols the wonders to be seen from the road. The pamphlet dates after 1931 because it mentions Blue Briar Cottage where “Herbert Hoover, Jr. regained his health in 1931.” Also, it states that “there was a level space for parking and a shop for the sale of rugs, pottery, and native crafts at the summit.”
The back page of the pamphlet announces that the present owners of Sunset Mountain live in Monaco and that it is for sale as a whole or in part by the Sunset Estate Company. Blue Briar Cottage was for rent for periods of three months to three years. H.L. Parker was the agent for the company. In March of 1950 this story appeared in the Citizen-Times. At that point in time the collection of tolls on the road ceased.
Two other toll roads existed in Buncombe County in the early twentieth century. In the west, Highway 151 winding up to Mount Pisgah from the head of Hominy Valley was once a private, one-lane carriage road built by George Vanderbilt to access his Buck Springs Lodge somewhere between 1915 and 1917. Later it opened as a toll road with one way up the mountain in the mornings; one way down in the afternoon. The toll was 75¢. No one knows precisely where the toll house was originally located, but it’s thought the toll house was in the area that is now a campground, just as 151 makes a sharp left turn to ascend the mountain. The toll house cottage was given to Chester and Ruby Cogburn before or shortly after they opened for business as Pisgah View Ranch in 1941. The cottage—one of the guest cabins—still stands at Pisgah View Ranch.
At the eastern end of Buncombe County the Mount Mitchell Railroad was originally built in 1912 to carry timber and lumber down the mountains. Realizing the benefits of tourism, a passenger train to Camp Alice was quickly added to transport numbers of visitors. By 1921 the lumber supply was exhausted. The railroad tracks were pulled up and the rail bed converted into a single-lane toll road for vehicles. The toll road opened on June 26, 1922. Tolls were one dollar per adult; 50¢ for children between the ages 5 and 12. Like the toll road to Mount Pisgah, there were scheduled times for going up and coming back down the road. The road closed in 1939 when the Blue Ridge Parkway opened.
If you’re intrigued take a look at Mount Mitchell Motor Road: To Mount Mitchell, North Carolina downstairs in the North Carolina Collection at Pack Library. You can also check out a copy of Jeff’s Lovelace’s Mount Mitchell: Its Railroad & Toll Road at your local library branch!
Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room Board Member