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Now that stay at home orders have been lifted, everyone seems to be ready for a change of scenery this summer. I am delighted to start BJUtoday’s summer day trip series off by highlighting my hometown: Brevard, North Carolina.
Eight miles past the state line, Brevard is home to about 8,000 people and is named for Revolutionary War surgeon Ephraim Brevard. Though small, the city is a quaint mix of the historical and the up-and-coming. And we’re quite proud of our squirrels.
Brevard is one of a dozen U.S. cities known for its white squirrels, and no, they’re not albino. These little guys have black eyes and a gray stripe that runs down their backs. The first white squirrels came to Brevard from Florida as a gift.
Town legend says that originally the squirrels were part of an animal carnival and escaped into a pecan grove when the caravan overturned in Florida. The owner of the grove hired some help to capture the pesky rodents who had reproduced (something they don’t do in captivity) and were eating his profits. He gave the captured squirrels as thank you gifts to those who helped.
One worker gave his pair to his niece, Barbara Mull Lang, who lived in Brevard. One of Lang’s squirrels eventually escaped. Feeling sorry for the lonely squirrel left behind, Lang let the other loose. The squirrels began reproducing again. Today, about 25% of Brevard’s squirrel population is white, and the city celebrates the critters every Memorial Day weekend with a three-day street festival.
Visitors trying to spot one of our ghostly rodents should walk the grounds of Brevard College or Silvermont. Sometimes, you can see them if you drive through the college campus, but your best chance is on foot. The best time of day is just after sunrise or just before sunset because the squirrels don’t like the heat of the day.
Brevard Music Center
Each summer, Brevard Music Center hosts a summer institute and festival (they’ve gone virtual for 2020). Over 500 students participate in the institute, learning from more than 80 artists from the country’s top orchestras, universities and conservatories.
The festival typically includes almost 80 performances by leading musicians. Past artists who have performed with the BMC student orchestra include Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Renée Fleming, Isaac Stern, Conrad Tao, Itzhak Perlman and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Institute students, as well as members of the community and surrounding areas, are invited to attend. Some concerts are free while others have a ticket fee.
Looking Glass Falls
If you follow Highway 276 five miles into Pisgah National Forest, you’ll drive past Looking Glass Falls. One of the largest waterfalls you can see without taking a hike, this local landmark is a popular tourist spot. Park on the side of the road at the top of the falls, then walk down the stairs to the bottom. Heed posted safety signs, but otherwise enjoy the majesty and beauty of God’s creation.
If you don’t mind some hiking and want to see a waterfall or two closer to BJU, read this Around Greenville post.
Transylvania County Courthouse and Silvermont
Although Transylvania County was established in 1861, work on the courthouse didn’t begin until 1866, and that was only a frame building. The brick courthouse — the first brick building in Brevard — was built in 1874 and still operates today. The jail in the back was added in 1921, and the clocks in the tower were added in 1984 (although they had been discussed since 1911). The courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Silvermont is another of Brevard’s landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1902, the 33-room colonial revival mansion was the home of Joseph and Elizabeth Silversteen and their daughters. Silversteen was the leading industrialist of the area at that time, influential enough to name the nearby town of Rosman. He and his wife were heavily invested in Rosman, especially its education system, building the town’s first brick school building in 1919.
When Silversteen died in 1958, he had been preceded by his wife. Silvermont passed to the daughters his estate. Unfortunately, the eldest died in 1965, the second in 1968, and the youngest in 1972. With no heirs to which to leave the mansion, Silvermont was left to Transylvania County as a recreational and community center.
Today, local residents take advantage of the basketball and tennis courts as well as the playground, various gardens and walks on the grounds. In 1982, the first floor of the house was opened to the public. It currently hosts the Silvermont Opportunity Center. In 2011, the second floor was opened as a house museum.
White Squirrel Shoppe
One of the most unique shops in Brevard is the White Squirrel Shoppe on Main Street. I worked my way through high school, summers in college, and even some time after college at this one-of-a-kind souvenir store. Though it’s changed owners recently — and therefore changed style a little — you can still find every imaginable white squirrel item here. White squirrel hats, T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, jams and jellies, socks, scarves, candles — you name it, they’ve got it.
It’s not called “the coolest toy store on the planet” for nothing. In 2014, this Brevard original was listed as one of USA Today’s 10 Best Toy Stores alongside stores such as FAO Schwarz in New York and Hamleys in London.
Owner John Taylor sells only those toys and games fueled by a child’s imagination. No video games in this multilevel children’s paradise. But you don’t have to be shopping with a child to enjoy the store. There’s always something to wow your inner child in one of O.P. Taylor’s eight rooms.
Since opening the Brevard original in 1987, Taylor has expanded to also open stores in the Biltmore Park neighborhood of Asheville, North Carolina, and downtown Greenville, South Carolina. However, neither can quite compare to the tiny, stuffed-to-the-rafters shop in the heart of Brevard.
Arts & Crafts
Western North Carolina is full of artists and artisans of all types. Brevard has its fair share on display, from the sculptures scattered through downtown to the art galleries and artisan markets.
Our little city has over 10 art galleries featuring local, regional, national and international artists. Number 7 Arts, one of the cornerstones of the heart of Brevard, features only local artists. The photographs, paintings, wood pieces, sculptures and glass art are some of the most beautiful in the area. Red Wolf Gallery shows international, national and regional artists, but its pieces are just as exquisite. Starfangled Press is slightly hidden on Jordan Street, but this printmaking studio, gallery and storefront creates prints in store, does demonstrations and offers classes.
Brevard also has a few artisan markets that show off local arts and crafts. Gravy features products from over 70 vendors, most of whom are local, and a portion of the profit is donated to the local Boys & Girls Club. Across the street, Hunters and Gatherers sells products made by artisans from around the U.S.A. Around the corner on Broad Street, Local Color sells a colorful assortment of art, handmade jewelry, artisan clothing and other unique items all made by local artists.
Rocky’s Soda Shop
The must-visit restaurant in Brevard is hands down Rocky’s Soda Shop. Established in 1941, Rocky’s was first Varner’s Drugs, a drugstore and soda fountain. Varner served the neighborhood kids from the soda fountain himself and added a luncheonette in 1946.
Today, Rocky’s still serves old-fashioned ice cream sodas, malt shakes and egg creams. Much of the decor has not changed since Varner’s day, with red and white tile and Formica tables and chairs blasting diners to the 1950s. Even some of the sandwich recipes are the same, but today’s sandwiches are now served on bread freshly baked each morning at Bracken Mountain Bakery next door.
Cup & Saucer
A recent addition to the downtown Brevard scene, Cup & Saucer is not unwelcome. With a vaulted ceiling, antique mirror gallery wall, and a live edge slab table, the atmosphere is fresh and open yet cozy. It’s the perfect place to catch up with a friend or curl up with a good book.
In addition to making all of the food items on-site, Cup & Saucer locally sources a large portion of its ingredients. Dairy products come from Mills River Creamery just a few miles up the road toward Asheville. They get their coffee from two locations: Cooperative Coffee in Asheville and Methodical Coffee in Greenville.
Methodical Coffee may sound familiar. That’s because we’ve mentioned it before in our Around Greenville series.
If you’d rather have a cool treat, Kiwi Gelato is across the street from Cup & Saucer. Owner Richard Coadwell — the Kiwi in Kiwi Gelato — has been making his creamy sweet on site since 2007. With over 30 flavors on rotation, there’s always something for everyone. He always has a selection of dairy free options, too.
Greenville also has some good gelato. Check out this Around Greenville post to find out more.
Catch up on our Around Greenville series to see more of what our city and the area around it has to offer.