Watch July 4 fireworks from Sunset Mountain

Melanie English
Special to The Black Mountain News

Here’s something fun to consider for the Fourth of July — the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s hike to Sunset Mountain to watch Black Mountain’s fireworks display.

The museum invites families and friends to participate in this moderate, one-mile evening hike to the peak of this historic and remote mountain. The summit bestows views of Asheville’s skyline, the Newfound Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. Up there at dusk, the museum will host an old-fashioned watermelon cutting. Then, hikers will watch the sunset and fireworks before venturing down the mountain lit by fireflies and flashlights.

The hike, led by Black Mountain native Wendell Begley, will showcase the history of Sunset Mountain, which towers above downtown Black Mountain. The mountain, more than 700 feet tall, is the town’s nearest, highest and least-developed peak. More than 100 privately owned acres of the mountain have remained undeveloped, with the except for CP&L transmission lines.

Yet, during the early 20th Century, Sunset Mountain was a bustling tourist attraction. The mountaintop once featured the Peabody Hotel, the area’s most scenic lodging facility. Fire consumed the hotel in 1924, but its ruins stand undistributed. The mountain’s ridge line sported a lookout tower dubbed with the misnomer Mt. Mitchell Observation Tower.

During the first half of the 20th Century, hoteliers Malvina and Donald Peabody owned much of Sunset Mountain. They received the land in exchange for property in Miami, Florida, inspiring the peak’s unusual former name, “Miami Mountain.” Beginning in the 1920s, the mountain was emblazoned with whitewashed rock letters bearing its name. Like the infamous Hollywood sign, the word “Miami” was the most prominent feature until the outbreak of World War II, when fears arose that the highly visible landmark would pose a risk of air attacks. Caretaker, W.D. Hyatt painted the rocks black. Decades later, the rocks remain embedded in the mountain, buried by vegetation. As tourism waned, the mountain reverted to the name Sunset.

The hike will follow the same narrow, switchback road traveled by tourists over a century ago. Hikers will meet in the parking lot of the Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St. at 6 p.m. to shuttle to the trailhead.

Participants should bring picnics, water, folding chairs, cameras and flashlights. Hikers are advised to dress in layers, as temperatures drop with the altitude by the time the hike concludes around 10 p.m. The museum will transport chairs and other cargo up the mountain and provide watermelon.

The cost is $35 for museum members and $50 for non-members. Pre-register (required) at info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566. For more, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org.