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The History of "The Canal"

The Laurel Park Civic Association continues placing historical markers at designated spots throughout the town that shares significant history of yesterday and years gone by.  

A Historical Synopsis of “The Canal”  from The French Broad Hustler-  March – October 1909 

In March of 1909, Mr. W.A. Smith, a prominent Hendersonville civic leader and founder of Laurel Park, announced his plans to build a lake at his nature park – “Laurel Park”.  The following excerpts are taken from the local newspaper of the day:

TO BUILD LAKE AT LAUREL PARK

Laurel Park, said to be the most beautiful natural park in this country, is to have its charms still further enhanced by the building of a lake within its borders, opening up a system of still greater scenic beauty than is already possessed. Mr. W. A. Smith has had the preliminary survey made and it is his present intention to start work within the next few weeks. (FBH – March 1909).

 

Work on the dam for Rhododendron Lake and “The Canal” which connected the new lake with the existing Rainbow Lake was completed by the end of the summer of 1909 which is evidenced in this follow-up story of October 1909 in the French Broad Hustler:

 

Rhododendron Lake, rapidly filling with water, its great earthen dam offering secure protection to the lower lands below it.

From one end of Rhododendron Lake opens up the canal which will connect it with its little sister, Rainbow Lake, so familiar to the thousands who have visited Laurel Park. This winding lane of water, nearly a mile in length, is cut along and through the mountain side. Above the canal will run the street car line, below it stretches level fields and winding roads.

 

More photos to come!

A Short History of Laurel Park 

(Excerpts from A Short History of Laurel Park, by Lincoln F. Parker)

In 1876 there arrived upon the local scene, with its healthful climate and most attractive scenery, a certain Mr. W. A. Smith.   Mr. Smith had been born in Georgia some nineteen years previously and began the practice of law upon his arrival, even at that tender age.  As later developments indicate, he at once made his presence known in many civic ways. 

As Hendersonville’s population continued to expand (then passing 2,000), the need for additional residential property increased.  By 1888, Mr. Smith joined with Mr. C. M. Pace, a native of the area and retired Probate Judge, in purchasing a large tract of land on Echo Mountain, long before Laurel Park was such as even a gleam in their eyes.  Ultimately, their faith in the future paid off, but certainly not so profitably for them as for the future generations which now enjoy their foresight. 

At about the same time that Mr. Smith and Judge Pace purchased much of Echo Mountain, Hendersonville’s townfathers secured approval for a $20,000 bond issue earmarked for building a municipal water system.  This was Hendersonville’s first bond issue and, amazingly, was passed unanimously.  The present Laurel Park area played a prominent, if passive, role in this project, since the source of water was a series of springs and rills that fed a small reservoir off Laurel Park Highway.  Currently, this small pond has been attractively landscaped and is now the site of the original Cedarbrook Apartments, which abut the pond’s edge.  Gravity provided a steady flow of water to the growing town below.  The continuing growth of Hendersonville, however, found this source of water to be inadequate in a few years and the expansion of the water system developed in a different direction. 

The Smith-Pace property on Echo Mountain provided space for the natural western advance of Hendersonville.  The first encroachment upon the folds of the mountain took place on the lower levels and consisted mainly of summer houses and cottages, from which the residents fled to warmer climes before the onset of winter.  This original movement took place in the vicinity of Rainbow and Rhododendron (Laurel) Lakes, and around Crystal Springs where Mr. Smith erected a latticed rustic gazebo.  This added to the attraction of the clear, flowing spring as a picnic and trysting place for many of the beaus and belles among townspeople, as well as summer visitors. 

About this time much activity also centered around Rainbow Lake, which boasted a two-story pavilion with double-decked plazas surrounding the main building.  This small lake, just south of White Pine Drive, was the first recreational development in Laurel Park.  It was the site for a decade or more following the turn of the century of the County Fair, on the grounds of which horse shows were also held.

Laurel Lake (known at that time as Rhododendron), which lies just west of White Pine and south of Laurel Park Highway, is a sister to Rainbow, although a considerably larger impoundment.  Because the two lakes are at an equal level, a connecting channel, constructed in 1913, joined these small bodies of water.  It was possible to guide canoes and rowboats along the tree-lined waterway connecting the two lakes.  Laurel Lake boasted a bathing beach, with bath house and diving raft.  Rowboats and canoes were also available for rent, and a pavilion with a dance floor adorned the lake shore.  Later this became the summer home of nationally known dance bands.  Considerable residential building had taken place along and above the shore of Laurel Lake.  One of the most impressive homes to adorn this area is a large frame house built in 1915 by Mr. W. A. Smith, whose effort to develop Laurel Park had by then borne considerable success.  This house is now owned by Laurel Park mayor Henry Johnson and his wife Fair Romeo Johnson. 

Laurel Park was a temporary beneficiary of the mass transportation mania which gripped the town when four franchises were granted- two of which were given almost simultaneously for competing streetcar lines.  Laurel Park was, however, most concerned with the franchise secured in 1904 by W. A. Smith, called the “Laurel Park Street Railway Company.”  This, of course, was designed to stimulate the growth of the Laurel Park holdings which Messrs. Smith and Pace had originally purchased in 1888.  The objective was to provide ready access to the small lake, pavilions, baseball fields, and cottages and rooming houses already constructed on the lower slopes of the mountain upon which Laurel Park was at that time situated.  The track was built along the north side of  Fifth Avenue, shortly after the franchise was granted and operation continued until 1918. 

Originally the source of its power was a steam contraption known as the “Dummy,” which consisted of a 25-horsepower locomotive to which was attached an open-air streetcar capable of carrying 40 to 50 persons.  Occasionally, when demand required, a flat car was towed which could transport luggage and freight to the Laurel Park resorts from the Southern Railroad Station in Hendersonville.  Shortly after the line’s construction, a steam plant was built on Fifth Avenue West.  The electricity generated by the steam plant was used to electrify the line.  One of the strangest features of the “Dummy” line was that it had no turn-around at either terminus.  It had to back all the way from Rainbow Lake to its genesis at Main and Fifth Avenue.

Even though Messrs. Smith and Pace had purchased about 10,000 acres of Echo Mountain in 1888, Laurel Park Estates as such seems to have been officially conceived on September 30, 1904, when the Henderson County commissioners granted a franchise to the energetic W. A. Smith who, with others, had “opened up at great expense a beautiful area known as Laurel Park.”  Before the franchise was granted, some development of the property had begun in a most embryonic fashion in the vicinity of Rainbow Lake and Crystal Springs.  The actual incorporation of Laurel Park Estates took place on July 25, 1924.  The town name was changed to Laurel Park when it was incorporated again on April 10, 1933.  The continuation of Fifth Avenue, known as Laurel Park Highway once it crosses White Pine Drive, was paved part way up the mountain at this time.

As the “Roaring Twenties” dawned with an optimistic outlook, and the summer bands at Laurel Park Pavilion and in Hendersonville itself brought with them an enthusiasm and verve which helped color the judgment of visitors and natives alike, Florida land speculators appeared on the scene.  With tales of fabulous profits in Florida land development, they infected the normally more conservative residents with their optimism.  By 1924 the Florida real estate boom had become superheated, and the purchase of local real estate seemed a sure way to wealth, even though most of the land and buildings were bought on the narrowest of margins.  Paper millionaires multiplied, and a false prosperity developed.  It was also in 1924 that Laurel Park Estates was incorporated.  The actual incorporators were L. Roy Sargent, A. T. Arledge, H. Walter Fuller and Robert R. Reynolds.  By this time, apparently, control of the area had passed from the hands of Messer’s. Smith and Pace and all of their associates to people who were Florida residents, except Mr. Arledge, a local attorney. 

The real stimulus to the development of Laurel Park and the construction of the concrete road to Echo Mountain occurred in July, 1925, when Commodore J. Perry Stoltz arrived on the scene from Florida.  He had extravagant plans for a guest hotel on the topmost part of Jump Off Mountain.  He ignited the Laurel Park estate explosion by announcing plans to build on top of Jump Off Mountain a 15-story hotel and convention center to rival his Fleetwood Hotel in Miami Beach.  Ground was broken on September 8, 1925, at the end of a new concrete highway leading up the mountain to the site.  The section of Laurel Park, now known as Fleetwood, adjacent to the hotel structure, was opened for sales on November 16, 1925.  Total sales for that first day amounted to $131,000 for 16 lots.  The Laurel Park Estates sales force was so enthusiastic that it set the sales goal for 1926 at $7 million!  Promotional schemes included having Jack Dempsey come to the area to train for his 1926 championship fight with Gene Tunney.  One of Dempsey’s three training sites in the area was the Casino on Laurel Lake, and another was at the site of the then under-construction Fleetwood Hotel. 

Financial problems were developing at both the Fleetwood Hotel project and at Laurel Park Estates.  The hotel contractors abruptly halted construction due to lack of money.  Efforts to resurrect the project failed.  The skeleton of the hotel (already virtually topped out) stood as a monument to its failure.  In the meantime, a dreadful September 1928 hurricane that swept across most of Florida proved devastating.  Development of Laurel Park became moribund and languished.  Millions of dollars were owed on the lots sold in Laurel Park in the form of notes, mortgages and land contracts, most of which had been financed by local banks.  Subsequent to foreclosure proceedings in 1935 the receivers engaged Gus and Raymond Staton to manage their interests.  In 1941 the Statons bought the remaining Consolidated Realty Company’s (the original mortgage lender) interests and became responsible for most of the sale and development of the property thereafter.  In 1941 the Statons developed Sky Village and in 1945, Echo Acres.  In the meantime, some of the lands, such as Fleetwood, had been sold to other realtors.  It wasn’t until after 1950 that there was any substantial demand for homes among the higher elevations of Laurel Park. 

Today, the population of Laurel Park consists mostly of permanent residents.  There is a very favorable mix of old-timers and newcomers who resettled here from virtually every state.  They continue to arrive, attracted by a pleasant environment, a vast array of leisure and cultural activities, and, of course, the inherent small-town advantages.