A 501(c)3 Non-Profit

Account
Please wait, authorizing ...
Not a member? Sign up now
×

About the Orchard

The Story & History of the Orchard

Our Story

In 1995 Katherine Trubey purchased 280 acres of unrestricted land straddling the Blue Ridge Parkway to preserve its historic beauty and prevent development that would destroy the views from the Parkway.
The Historic Orchard at Altapass just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Spruce Pine, NC

Photo: Carolina HD Used with permission

Though the land was bought as a preservation project, the new owners recognized that they had much more than Blue Ridge Parkway views and heritage apples to preserve. “Kit” Trubey, together with Bill and Judy Carson, began a journey: to preserve the unique history and culture of Altapass, and to use The Orchard at Altapass location to showcase it.

In 2002 the natural and historical preservation projects associated with The Orchard, McKinney Gap, and Altapass were placed under the umbrella of the nonprofit Altapass Foundation, Inc. Then in 2004, the orchard and the general store were incorporated as a supporting nonprofit organization. Together, the Altapass Foundation, Inc. and Altapass Support, Inc. promote and support the many special projects of the Orchard. These projects attract an increasing number of visitors to the area each year and bring together locals, tourists, and vacation property owners.

The mission of the Altapass Foundation, Inc. is to preserve the history, heritage and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains; protect the underlying orchard land with its apples, wetlands, butterflies, and other natural features; and educate the public about the Appalachian experience. We depend on contributions from Altapass Foundation members and donors to continue the many programs and projects aimed at preserving the land, the history, and the culture of Altapass. We invite you to support our mission by becoming a Member of the Altapass Foundation. Individual memberships start at just $30 per year.

A Little History of the Orchard

The history of the Orchard at Altapass includes the Overmountain Trail, Railroads and much more!
Perched on the crest of the Blue Ridge atop the Eastern Continental Divide, the Orchard occupies a unique spot in both America’s landscape and history. Geography has been a key to the Orchard’s story on both counts. Occupying a commanding location above two important watersheds – the North Toe River, which eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Fork of the Catwaba, which finds its way to the Atlantic – the Orchard has been a vital travel route since our continent’s earliest settlers began exploring these mountains. Buffalo and elk traversed here, followed by the Cherokee Indians and eventually European settlers.

The ancient game paths became foot trails and then trading routes. Early settlers defied British attempts to make peace with the Indians by disallowing settlement to the west of the mountains. Their resentment of British rule culminated when they formed the Overmountain Men during the Revolutionary War, marching to King’s Mountain and handing the British a stinging defeat recognized as a turning point of the conflict.

The Orchard’s first permanent resident was Charlie McKinney, whose legend has grown due to his prodigious family. McKinney had 48 children by four wives he somehow managed to co-exist with simultaneously. The mountain pass where the Orchard sits was named for him, and you will still see the McKinney name everywhere in the area today, with dozens of families tracing their lineage to him.

America’s industrialization came to the area in the 1890s. The Orchard’s location on the lowest pass through the Blue Ridge in the surrounding 100 miles dictated that the nation’s railroad barons would find it. Several bankruptcies hindered the line’s construction, but in 1908 the Clinchfield Railroad opened, complete with an engineering marvel: the Clinchfield loops, consisting of 18 tunnels in 13 miles of track built beside and below the present-day Orchard. Four thousand immigrants crowded those slopes to build the bed and tunnels, with many dying in accidents, fights and murders.

The railroaders rechristened McKinney Gap as Altapass, or high pass. A resort soon blossomed on the spot, with two hotels and a golf course sprouting near the railroad station. Within a few years, though, Clinchfield discontinued passenger service and the resort withered, its demise quickened when a highway was built through nearby Gillespie Gap.

But the railroad gave direct birth to the Orchard. Recognizing an opportunity, the Clinchfield planted trees on several hundred acres. Once again, geography played a key role: facing southeast, the land is frost-free most of the time, with cold air sinking into the nearby valleys, replaced by warm air. The operation soon prospered, growing state champion apples repeatedly and at its peak producing 125,000 bushels of apples a year. It became a mainstay of the local economy, with dozens of families supported by its jobs.

The arrival of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930s was yet another key chapter in the Orchard’s history dictated by geography. The route following the ancient buffalo trails promised a tourism boom, but it also split the Orchard in half, sparking a bitter court fight that eventually reached the NC Supreme Court. The road builders won the battle and the Orchard lost its momentum as an agricultural enterprise. Local residents despaired as its prosperity and jobs waned. Many feared the land’s spectacular views would fall prey to real estate developers, but the current owners forestalled that by purchasing the property in the 1990s. They sold the upper half of the acreage to the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and on the lower half established a nonprofit Appalachian cultural and history center – while maintaining the operation of the apple orchard – that is dedicated to keeping this unique history alive.

Topographical map of the Orchard at Altapass off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
The terrain of Altapass, which means “high pass,” funneled humans through this area for millennia. Travelers found McKinney Gap, the lowest passage through the Blue Ridge for a hundred miles and the site of good rivers on either side, the best route for crossing the Eastern Continental Divide. But the tranquility of McKinney Gap belies its turbulent past. Early Indians used a Palmer-type spear point to hunt the Wooly Mammoth, Cherokees followed its game trails to battle, Spanish Conquistadors exploited local populations in their quests for fortune and empire, colonial settlers of European descent defied British rule with knives and guns, and railroad workers braved hazardous working conditions to build the Clinchfield Railroad.

In 1780, threatened by the British Army’s Major Patrick Ferguson, settlers turned Indian-style fighting tactics on Ferguson’s regiment, crossing the Blue Ridge at Altapass and defeating him at King’s Mountain. Re-enactors today honor these frontiersmen whom Thomas Jefferson credited with turning the tide of the Revolutionary War.

Charlie McKinney, a settler for whom the gap is named, built the first permanent home here in the 1790’s. He left an indelible mark on the surrounding community over the course of his 85 years, collecting four wives and siring 48 known children. Each wife and their children lived in a separate house, but all attended church together each Sunday. McKinney died in 1856, and was buried in an unmarked cemetery in a quiet rhododendron thicket just off of Orchard Road. The McKinney name is common in the area and colorful stories of the family’s patriarch are frequently heard to this day.

The Clinchfield Railroad brought the Orchard at Altapass to life.
By 1908 the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway was hauling coal from the Western U.S. to consumers in the East. The last piece of the line, the Clinchfield Loops, consisted of 18 tunnels along 13 miles of track adjacent to and below the present-day Orchard. Now owned by the CSX corporation, the line runs fifteen trains daily, each filled with Kentucky coal, and returns fifteen empty for refilling, their passing unnoticed
by Parkway travelers above.

The CCO coined the name Altapass (which means “high pass”), and spurred the growth of the surrounding community. At one time Altapass was the premier tourist destination on the Blue Ridge. Passenger train service brought visitors to the Altapass Inn for recreation, including golf, and for mountain exploration. Boasting “steam heat, electric light and all modern conveniences,” its altitude of 2830 feet made it an ideal getaway for outdoor adventurers who also valued comfort. Land speculators capitalized on the large number of visitors, selling acreage and home sites in great quantities. The railroad also brought factories, logging and apple orchards. However, after passenger service was discontinued and a highway was routed through nearby Gillespie Gap the station disappeared, as did most of the tourists.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct near Linvile Falls NC
The path of the Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the southern Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina, and this All-American Road bisects the Orchard tract. Joseph Hyde Pratt thought of a Blue Ridge Highway decades before today’s Parkway was built, and naturally started his ambitious project at Altapass. Eight miles of road were built before the project failed at the start of World War I. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Blue Ridge Parkway was begun; this product of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal provided much-needed jobs to the poverty-stricken mountain communities.

Building one of the nation’s most scenic parkways required seizures of many tracts of privately owned property by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The process was contentious and expensive. In many places along the 469 miles of road linking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Parkway could afford only narrow strips, opening up much of the adjacent property for development. For the route through the present-day Orchard, North Carolina condemned 73 acres and the 1500 apple trees growing there.

Nevertheless, this 52-year construction project has become the most visited park in the US National Park System, and has preserved thousands of acres of stunning mountain scenery and wildlife habitats. Early morning visitors along the Parkway near the Orchard may be enchanted to see a cloud “waterfall” gently whooshing down McKinney Gap. Seasons bring color changes, both extreme and subtle; clouds and
sun play hide and seek; stunning sunrises hearken the new day … the Parkway displays ever-changing delights for the traveler’s eye.


Conserving the views from the Orchard at Altapass is just one of the golas of the Foundation
The view from The Loops Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway includes a portion of the Rose Creek Natural Area, a property conserved by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC). About 1.5 miles of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail crosses this 534-acre property, purchased by CTNC in 2008. The tract, directly across the Blue Ridge Parkway from the protected CSX railroad land, also includes abundant streams and a variety of native wildlife, and will be turned over to the state of North Carolina for permanent public recreation management.

In 1995, Kit Carson-Trubey bought the Orchard, having signed a contract only two hours after she and her brother Bill Carson saw it for sale in the local weekly paper. She acted quickly, concerned that in the hands of a developer this 2-mile stretch of land with breathtaking views would be permanently marred.

Conserving the music that makes our mountain culture special!
Music is deeply ingrained in the culture of Altapass. The distinct sounds of the banjo, mandolin, and unique picking styles of stand-up bass and guitar are familiar for the Blue Ridge Mountains. One may find families of all ages picking together on the Orchard’s back porch. Nearly everyone plays, dances, or simply takes in the local mountain music. These days, the music is free to Orchard patrons. Locals and visitors alike are encouraged to “Dance like no one is watching!”

In addition to the local sounds, natural beauty, and heirloom apples, the preservation of the Orchard property has also given rise to butterfly and bird conservation. Thousands of school children and citizens of all ages have participated in a monarch butterfly tagging program. Six of those tagged at were recovered in Mexico after their fall migration.

One of the featured programs at the Orchard is the famous Hayride. Bill Carson, CEO and co-founder of the Altapass Foundation, and Skip Carson, Orchard manager, delight young and old visitors with stories of the rich and colorful local culture, history, and geography of the property and surrounding area.

orchardlogosm.png

1025 Orchard Road
Spruce Pine, NC 28777
828-765-9531

      Site Designed By

Follow Us

2018 Season Hours

  • CLOSED
  • CLOSED
  • 10:00 - 5:00
  • 10:00 - 5:00
  • 10:00 - 5:00
  • 10:00 - 5:00
  • 10:00 - 5:00
Copyright © The Historic Orchard at Altapass 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Search