Museum serves up July 4 hike, fireworks and watermelon


Celebrate the 4th of July with a moderate, 1.5-mile evening hike to the peak of Sunset Mountain overlooking the town of Black Mountain. On top, relax with a picnic dinner, a cold drink and an old-fashioned watermelon-cutting while historians from the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center share many tales of this most historic place. Guests will watch the sun set and the fireworks explode over town.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center is holding its annual July 4 hike to the top of Sunset Mountain overlooking the town of Black Mountain.

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 during the last half century, the more than 100 privately owned acres have remained dormant (except for transmission lines crisscrossing the face of the mountain).

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.

In its day, the Peabody Hotel on the top of Miami Mountain brought thousands of people to Black Mountain.

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 complements 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 long-time 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.

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, the museum’s Fourth of July hikers will meet at 6 p.m. at the Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St. in Black Mountain. Bring 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.

All proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum. Advance registration is required.

When: 6 p.m. July 4

Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank 

Difficultly: Easy/moderate

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

Register: 669-9566,