Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, current businesses’ hours may differ from what is posted on their websites. Also, keep in mind that some may require guests to wear face coverings before entering their doors.
The area around Hendersonville, North Carolina, was well settled before Henderson County broke away from Buncombe County in 1838, though no towns existed at that point. Flat Rock had already been settled for several years, and Buncombe County was nearing its fifth decade. Even after the new county had been formed and the name “Hendersonville” chosen, it still took two years to choose the site of the county seat. Eventually, a site along the Buncombe Turnpike was chosen, and Judge Mitchell King donated a portion of his Flat Rock estate to found the city of Hendersonville.
Today, Hendersonville is known for being the largest producer of apples in the region, and tourists don’t often forget its bears.
The Bearfootin’ Bears
Downtown Hendersonville is remembered for its unique bear statues, an interactive art walk that changes every summer. In May, the statues begin blank, but local artists transform them into colorful masterpieces. After the statues are revealed, they remain on display through summer. A map of the Bearfootin’ Art Walk is available online.
The bears are auctioned in October, and proceeds go to local nonprofit organizations. Winning bids up to $3,000 are split between the downtown program sponsoring the bear and the nonprofit program chosen by the sponsor. Any amount over $3,000 goes to the nonprofit organizations. In 2019, the Bearfootin’ Bears raised over $57,000 for Hendersonville charities.
North Carolina Apple Festival
North Carolina is the seventh-largest apple-producing state in the U.S., and Henderson County is North Carolina’s top-producing county. With 150 orchards, there’s a reason it’s nicknamed “Apple Valley.”
Hendersonville celebrates its apple heritage with the four-day North Carolina Apple Festival every Labor Day weekend. The event typically includes a three-day street fair with over 200 vendors, including local artisans, food vendors and local apple growers. Watch a glassblower work his magic while enjoying a fresh apple cider donut, caramel apple or fried apple pie.
Some of the festival’s apple growers have been mentioned previously in our Around Greenville series. Take a look at Around Greenville: You-Pick Apple Orchards.
In addition to the many art galleries that are scattered along Main Street, Hendersonville also has a collection of museums. Though many are closed or operating under reduced hours due to COVID-19 restrictions, the museums are eagerly waiting to welcome guests once it is again safe to do so.
Henderson County Historic Courthouse and Heritage Museum
Step back in time as you step through the doors of the Henderson County Historic Courthouse. Built in 1905, the courthouse was closed in 1995 but reopened at its centennial celebration in 2005. It now houses county offices as well as the Henderson County Heritage Museum.
Admission to the museum is free. The Heritage Museum typically follows the public school schedule, but visit the website for hours.
Appalachian Pinball Museum
Similar to its cousin in Asheville, the Appalachian Pinball Museum invites guests to play as many pinball or video games as they wish for a flat fee. This arcade has over 60 pinball and video games dating from the late 1960s, and has several games on display that predate the ’60s. Unlike Asheville, though, here you are welcome to come and go throughout the day with your wristband purchase.
WNC Air Museum
As the license plates say, North Carolina was the state “first in flight.” Though the Wright brothers’ famous Kitty Hawk flight was in the eastern part of the state, Western North Carolina also celebrates aviation history.
Founded in 1989, the WNC Air Museum boasts aircraft from a 1915 Morane-Saulnier N to a 1977 Parker Air Racer. Museum volunteers — most of whom are pilots who remember the “golden age” of airplanes — can give the history and details of the 18 aircraft displayed at the museum, many of which were used during the World Wars.
Admission to the museum is free, but donations are welcome. Visit the website for museum hours.
Mineral and Lapidary Museum of Henderson County
In addition to the many gem mines in the area (which are fascinating), Hendersonville has a museum dedicated to local geology and paleontology. One of the more popular exhibits is the Hendersonville meteorite. The museum also proudly displays a casting of a T-Rex skull and a woolly mammoth leg bone.
Another exhibit, the fluorescent mineral display, shows how North Carolina’s abundant minerals react to ultraviolet light. Dull gray and brown rocks suddenly glow green, red or blue when placed under black light or short wave ultraviolet light.
Admission to the Mineral and Lapidary Museum is free. Visit the website for museum hours.
Dandelion is not a typical restaurant. It is a branch of Safelight, an organization offering assistance to those affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. Safelight doesn’t focus only on crisis solutions but on long-term solutions, as well. Through their job training program, interns learn the skills they need to live successful lives. Dandelion is only one of these internship opportunities and trains interns to succeed in the restaurant industry.
The menu changes often at Dandelion but includes options such as soups, sandwiches and salads that use locally grown produce. Check the website to see what’s on the menu for the day.
Black Bear Coffee Co.
Looking for a twist on the traditional latte? Black Bear Coffee Co. may have just what you’re craving. The coffee company blends their own coffee with unexpected flavor profiles that are surprisingly tasty. Try the Polar Bear Affogato that pours espresso over vanilla ice cream and tops it with salted caramel. Or the Dawn till Dusk, a chamomile tea latte with notes of maple and cinnamon.
Mike’s on Main
Built in 1900 by Dr. William Hicks Justus and Dr. Columbus Few, Justus Pharmacy operated the first soda fountain in Hendersonville. Justus bought out Few in 1909 and left the drug store to his son when he retired. The Beck brothers bought the business in 1957, which led to a string of new owners.
Currently, Mike’s on Main displays Justus store memorabilia — including the original cash register and apothecary jars — as well as a working 1950s jukebox. The menu also includes egg creams, malted shakes and ice cream sodas in addition to breakfast, burgers, hot dogs, and other ice cream treats.
Mast General Store
Mast General Store is no stranger to those who live in Greenville. Hendersonville’s store is just as interesting as the one in downtown Greenville if a bit roomier.
The building where you can find Mast General was built around 1909 and was first Maxwell Brown’s Fancy Grocery. Other stores that have occupied the same space include Freeze Drug, Potts 5¢ and 10¢ and First Citizen’s Bank. The original tin ceiling still looks over shoppers as they dig through the barrels of candy and peruse nostalgic gifts.
Dancing Bear Toys
Awaken your inner child as you walk into Dancing Bear Toys. A family-owned business, the shop was opened by the Proctor family in 1989 but was purchased by the Evers family in 1991. The Hendersonville location opened in 1997.
As the store claims on its website, Dancing Bear is “a space for kids and adults to play.” With hundreds of games, puzzles and toys that you can play with in store, it’s a place to unwind and have fun, no matter your age.
Catch up on our Around Greenville series to see more of what our city and the area around it has to offer.