Even if you live a long way from the mountains, you can still go with me, thanks to UNC-TV’s Our State program that premiered on Thursday, June 5 at 8 p.m., (with repeats at various times during the month).
Maybe I shouldn’t tell you about why I first came to visit Saluda. Politics. I was running for statewide office. My friend George Couch was determined to help me win his home county, Polk, where Saluda is located. He arranged a campaign stop in Saluda with an overnight at the Orchard Inn. The innkeepers, it turned out, were old friends, Kathy and Bob Thompson. They took such good care of me, and the folks in Saluda were so nice that I kept coming back there to campaign, even though only a few hundred voters live there.
By the way, although I lost the statewide election big-time, I won in Polk County by a comfortable margin.
I returned to Saluda a few years later in search of a “home-cooking” restaurant to include in Interstate Eateries, my book about family-owned eating-places near the interstate highways. I found Ward’s Grill, which was part of a family business that had been on Saluda’s Main Street from the early 1900s. The breakfast sausages and the lunchtime hamburgers were extra tasty because they came fresh from the adjoining meat market and general store owned by the same man, Charlie Ward.
As I learned on my recent visit with UNC-TV, Ward recently sold his business to Larry and Debra Jackson, who maintain the tradition. Larry told me, “People come in and ask for Charlie’s Sausage. I have to tell them that it is Larry’s Sausage made with Charlie’s recipe.”
Just up Main Street from Ward’s is the M.A. Pace store. It, too, has been operating for 100 years at the same location. The Paces have been in the Saluda area since the 1700s. In fact, the Saluda community was first known as Pace’s Gap. Robert Pace has owned this store for as long as anybody can remember. He runs it much the same way his father did for many years before. The result is the opportunity for visitors to go back in time to the early 1900s and experience a general store like the one where their great-grandparents traded.
There is a problem, though. Mr. Pace sells all kinds of hardware, groceries and local handmade items that his modern customers need. But you cannot buy some of the stock he has on display, like shoes from the 1920s or corsets from an even earlier time. “I’ve got a lot of things in here that I don’t sell,” Mr. Pace told me, “and maybe more than what I have for sale.”
Main Street is only a few blocks long, but it is packed with local shops and good places to eat. All around are reminders of the railroad boom times in the early part of the last century. Saluda sits at the high point of the steepest railroad grade in the eastern part of the country. As a result, it was the first stopping point for trains coming from the south. Lots of visitors from South Carolina decided to spend every summer in the area.
The railroad tracks still run through the middle of town along Main Street, and even though the trains stopped running a few years ago, some Saluda old timers still look down the tracks towards the steep grade, remembering fondly the huffing and puffing of the two engines it took to push the loaded cars up to and through their treasured town.
They would not mind a bit if you joined them.