Museum hosts annual July 4th sunset fireworks hike

Oh say, can you see?

Black Mountain News

This year, celebrate the Fourth of July with family, friends, guests and the Swannanoa Valley Museum on a one-mile, moderate hike to the peak of Sunset Mountain. Museum guests will enjoy an old-fashioned watermelon-cutting and stay to watch the sun set and the fireworks explode over the town of Black Mountain. Wendell Begley, the hike’s leader and native of Black Mountain, will share the history and vintage photographs of this most historic place over dinner.

Watching the July 4 fireworks from Sunset Mountain, an easy hike from Black Mountain, is an annual tradition for many.

Towering more than 700 feet above downtown Black Mountain, Sunset Mountain (known in the 1920s as Miami Mountain) is the town’s nearest, highest and least-developed mountain. Even as Black Mountain expanded over the last half century, Miami Mountain received little development. In fact, except for the CP&L transmission lines crisscrossing the face of the mountain, the more than 100 privately owned acres have remained undeveloped.

During the first quarter of the 20th Century, however, Sunset Mountain was a busy tourist attraction. It was not until a devastating 1920s fire destroyed the mountaintop hotel, commonly referred to as the Peabody Hotel, that the town’s most scenic tourist destination slipped back into time. The ruins of the hotel still sit undisturbed at the peak of the mountain.

Interestingly, a large wooden lookout tower perched along the ridgeline behind the peak was called the Mount Mitchell Observation Tower. During the 1920s, hundreds of tourists traveled the narrow, switch-back road that the museum will hike on July 4 to get a glimpse of the spectacular mountain scenery that compliments Black Mountain.

From the peak on a clear night, visitors are still able to view the skyline of Asheville, the Newfound Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. Many of Black Mountain’s older residents still remember the large white-washed rocks spelling out the word “Miami” that identified the panoramic mountaintop. Those rocks not only branded the summit, but drew special attention to the famous hotel situated nearby. From the late 1910s to the outbreak of World War II, “Miami” was Black Mountain’s most well-known sight.

Sunset Mountain above Black Mountain used to be known as Miami Mountain, home to the busy Peabody Hotel.

The rocks themselves are still embedded in the mountain, but now are buried under almost 60 years of decaying leaves. The famous white rocks created quite a stir in Black Mountain shortly after World War II broke out. Town folk believed that in the event of an air attack, the highly visible marker would serve as a strategic landmark from the sky and draw attention to the valley. As a result, Mr. W.D. Hyatt, the caretaker of the mountain, painted the rocks black and discontinued his annual maintenance trips to Black Mountain’s most memorable landmark.

To visit Miami Mountain and hear the history of this most historic place, the museum’s Fourth of July hikers will meet at the Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St. in Black Mountain at 6 p.m. Please bring your dinner, water, a folding chair, a flashlight, poncho (just in case), camera, and warm clothes (it can get chilly after dark even in July). The museum’s team will transport chairs up the mountain and will provide watermelon and soft drinks.

Independence Day Sunset Fireworks Hike
When: 6 p.m. Monday, July 4
Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain

Cost:   $35 members, $50  nonmembers,  $25 under 18

Register: 669-9566,