For centuries before settlement of the earliest land grants in the area between 1789 and 1799, the “Great Flat Rock” was a gathering place for the Cherokees for trading and socializing among themselves and other tribes. The area was a wilderness with nothing more than foot trails along streams, in gullies and over and around ridges.
In 1793, John Earl (Earle) an early land grantee, was paid to open a road from upstate South Carolina through the Saluda Gap to Flat Rock, where he had a grist mill on what is now Highland Lake.
Later, the 1820 completion of the Buncombe Turnpike over Indian trails and drovers’ roads through Flat Rock and into South Carolina led to trade between the two areas.
In 1827, Charles and Susan Baring of Charleston bought 400 acres and built Mountain Lodge, the first of many summer residences in Flat Rock. The Barings also built a private chapel on their property and in 1836, they deeded their chapel, St. John in the Wilderness into the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. It is the oldest parish in the diocese and remains active today.
In 1830, Judge Mitchell King of Charleston came to Flat Rock and renovated an old “two on two” trace mill houseinto a residence he named Argyle. This core portion of the house, which was built around 1815, makes Argyle the oldest dwelling in Flat Rock. Argyle also has the distinction of having the longest continuous possession in the same family of any place in Flat Rock and perhaps Western North Carolina.
Baring and King continued to buy tracts of land at prices ranging from 25 cents to one dollar an acre. Eventually, they acquired much of the Flat Rock area and then sold the tracts to other families from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Within 20 years, Flat Rock became a colony of summer cottages and estates, thus earning its nickname of The Little Charleston in the Mountains.
Today, the Village of Flat Rock retains the quiet sophistication of its Charleston heritage interwoven with the delightful flavor of the mountains. Many of the original historic homes remain today and have been lovingly restored and preserved.
Historic Flat Rock, Inc. was formed as a nonprofit in 1968 to protect and preserve Historic Flat Rock. The organization through the years has offered house and garden tours, lectures and a variety of fundraising endeavors. As part of Historic Flat Rock Inc.,a Heritage Tree Program was organized to help protect Flat Rock’s cultural landscapes and heritage trees.Historic Flat Rock, Inc. is responsible for having the Village of Flat Rock be designated as the largest Historic District in North Carolina.
Flat Rock also is home to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, a property administered by the National Park Service, and the Flat Rock Playhouse, the official State Theatre of North Carolina.
In the heart of Flat Rock is a charming retail and restaurant community along Greenville Highway. Anchored by The Flat Rock Center and Little Rainbow Row – a nod to Charleston’s Rainbow Row district of pastel colored historic townhouses – there are a variety of shops, eateries and other businesses. Across from this retail area is Historic Flat Rock’s Forest Preserve and Bird Sanctuary with trails, picnic tables and a kiosk for community notices.
Since the early 1900s, thousands of children have made annual pilgrimages to summer camps in Western North Carolina. Flat Rock is home to some of the oldest summer camps including Bonclarken, Kanuga, Camp Pinnacle and Camp Ton-a-Wandah.
Another highlight of the community is The Park at Flat Rock which is in the French Broad watershed on the site of a former golf course. The park features open fields, reforestation areas, a variety of flora and fauna and a walking trail that meanders around the perimeter of its 66 acres. The Park at Flat Rock also has welcome center with a community room meeting space, handicapped-accessible restrooms, an open-air pavilion and a playground.
Although growth in such an attractive area is inevitable, the government and villagers of Flat Rock are vigilant about maintaining woods, green spaces and the calm pace of life – keeping Flat Rock just as charming and compelling a place as it was when the Barings first laid eyes on it.