By Jesse Wood
Sept. 1, 2014. In the early ‘30s and before, the grounds of The Blowing Rock were essentially a dumping site. Folks would drive to the edge of the cliff and throw their trash into the John’s River Gorge below.
But Grover C. Robbins, Sr., a former mayor of the Town of Blowing Rock who has since been dubbed the “Father of Tourism” in the state, changed all that when he contacted the Bernhardt family about leasing the property to turn The Blowing Rock and its Native American legend into the oldest tourist attraction in North Carolina.
Eighty-one years later, the attraction remains in the family as Charlie Sellers, a grandson of Robbins, took over as owner on Jan. 1, 2014. His mother, Peggy Robbins Sellers, ran the operation for 37 years and retired “early” last year, Charlie said with a smile and twinkle in his eye.
Sellers left the High Country after graduating from Appalachian State University many years ago. Today, he owns an industrial water treatment company and lives in Burlington most of the week. After his wife died last year, Sellers noted that diving into his new enterprise gave him a way to spend his weekends and continue part of his grandfather’s legacy.
“It’s a real transition from tourism,” Sellers said, comparing his two businesses. “[The Blowing Rock] is as close as I’ll ever get to farming. If the weather gets bad, it just kills business.”
As soon as Sellers jumped on board, he immediately began revamping the attraction. The annex building, which features a concession stand and a possibly in-the-works museum of local artifacts, was renovated. Trails that were previously closed were repaired and re-opened to those entering the attraction.
In addition to improving the grounds of the attraction, he also started “thinking outside the box” on ways for the attraction to remain a prominent fixture in the state’s tourism industry for years to come with an added bonus of enticing locals who have never made the journey.
Come Saturday, Sept. 20, The Blowing Rock attraction will host an Americana music festival with two stages, one in the parking lot and another more-rocking stage inside the grounds, nearby the legendary rock. Also, Sellers envisions The Blowing Rock hosting weddings and other special events without interfering with the normal operations.
“Where else could you have a prettier spot for a reception for a wedding or a small corporate meeting or a family reunion?” Sellers asked.
In addition to the souvenir shop featuring more locally-crafted goods such as pottery and jewelry, Sellers plans for the main building to be renovated come next year. The renovation would return the main building closer to its original look before its first renovation a few decades ago.
The Legend and Upside-Down Snow
Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” declared The Blowing Rock as the only place on earth where it snows upside down. This is caused by an updraft from northwest winds and the angle of the rock.
“I’ve seen snow back over here 12 inches deep,” Sellers said, pointing about 20 yards away from the rock outcropping. “And nothing, maybe a dusting [nearest the rock].”
Sellers added that most of the updraft occurs in the wintertime, but “in the summer you can still throw a handkerchief over the rock and it will come back up.”
But before Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” made that declaration, the site was home to a fascinating Native American legend.
Legend has it that a Chickasaw chief feared the white man’s admiration of his daughter and brought her to The Blowing Rock, far from the white man and close to the care of a squaw mother. Soon, though, a Cherokee brave wandering amidst the John’s River Gorge and this young Chickasaw maiden began flirting and would eventually become lovers.
“One day a strange reddening of the sky brought the brave and the maiden to The Blowing Rock. To him it was a sign of trouble commanding his return to his tribe in the plains. With the maiden’s entreaties not to leave her, the brave, torn by conflict of duty and heart, leaped from The Blowing Rock into the wilderness far below,” reads the legend on The Blowing Rock website. “The grief-stricken maiden prayed daily to the Great Spirit until one evening with a reddening sky, a gust of wind blew her lover back onto The Blowing Rock and into her arms. From that day a perpetual wind has blown up onto The Rock from the valley below. For people of other days, at least, this was explanation enough for The Blowing Rock’s mysterious winds causing even the snow to fall upside down.”
A Day Adventure
The grounds of The Blowing Rock feature numerous picnic tables, and customers are allowed to bring in their own picnic. In addition to that, a concession stand and gift shop sell refreshments and ice cream.
The grounds also feature a 1/4 mile of trails with rails and stairs. The trails traverse the entire grounds, underneath numerous rock outcroppings, including The Blowing Rock, out to various overlooks and onto an observation deck where some of the most gorgeous views of the High Country exist.
“It’s one of the few places where you can see Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, Grandmother Mountain and Table Rock all in one swoop,” Sellers said. “And on a really clear day to the southeast, you can actually see the high-rise buildings in Charlotte.”
But if the air is a little hazy, several viewfinder machines exist on the property for a magnified look.
Entrance to the Blowing Rock costs $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and military, $2 for kids 4 to 11 years of age and free for children 3 and under. Group discounts are available as well.
Operating hours are as follows:
January through March (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Thursday through Monday (weather permitting, call ahead)
April and May (8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
June through October (8:30 a.m. to 7p.m.)
November and December (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Open Daily (weather permitting, please call ahead)