Wander grounds of Black Mountain's hidden manor house
Secluded from the traffic on Interstate 40 and the bustle of downtown Black Mountain lies one of the area's largest historic properties, In the Oaks, only eclipsed in grandeur by the Biltmore Estate.
Built for industrialist Franklin S. Terry between 1919 and 1923, the 24,400-square-foot, five-story, 67-room home incorporates natural materials to complement its rural, small-town setting just off N.C. 9 on Vance Avenue.
On Sept. 5, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will lead a hike through the estate grounds, the final Valley History Hike of the season.
Hidden behind stone entrance gates designed by the firm of Asheville's most prominent early 20th century architect, Richard Sharp Smith, the National Register of Historic Places property, now home to Montreat College's Black Mountain campus, features an English Tudor manor house, outbuildings, and 89 wooded acres with a network of trails.
If you’d like to see the inside of this Roaring ’20s-era home, each October the college and the Swannanoa Valley Museum offer tours (this year’s dates are Oct. 23 and 24).
Reached via an intricate system of unpaved roadways and bound by the Southern Railroad on the east and the Swannanoa River on the west, the gently rolling landscape of In the Oaks shows the influence of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the natural and romantic Biltmore Estate's grounds.
Terry commissioned Olmsted's nurseryman Chauncey Beadle to design the grounds of In the Oaks.
Accommodating the property's varied topography, Beadle enhanced the site's natural beauty through conifer-lined alleys, slate walking paths, stone retaining walls and terracing. The property included an English garden, golf course with four greens and fairways with an underground irrigation system, tennis court, barn, stable, well house, firehouse, and caretaker's cottage. Beadle planted native pink dogwood, rhododendron, azalea, spruce, white pine, and hemlock, still flourishing on the property today.
In 1957, In the Oaks passed into the hands of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina as a conference center. In the summer of 1958, the diocese established Camp Henry, a co-educational residential summer camp, eventually adding eight cabins and a bathhouse to the estate, in addition to other buildings. Each fall, near the equinox, the diocese hosted an elaborate Michaelmas, a medieval-style celebration on the estate's grounds to mark the feast of the archangel Michael and the beginning of autumn.
Camp Henry relocated to Lake Logan Episcopal Center in 2002, and the diocese sold the property to Montreat College in 2001. The manor house now houses offices, classrooms and a computer lab, while the grounds feature hiking trails, a ropes course, and other athletic facilities.
If the walls of In the Oaks could talk, they would tell stories of Prohibition-era parties, relay ghost stories told by campers around the fireplace and even the recall the time Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed in one of its rooms during its time as a conference center.
The grounds also have many stories, some of which the museum will present during a moderate 2-mile hike led by estate expert Alan Edwards at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 5.
The cost is $20 for museum members and $30 for non-members. Register online at swannanoavalleymuseum.org. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 669-9566.