OUR HISTORY ~ 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

Our Story

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 protect. And thus began the life-long preservation journey for Kit Carson Trubey, her brother Bill and his wife, Judy Carson. It has led them down a road that honors the unique history and culture of the Altapass region.

In 2002, the natural and historical preservation projects associated with The Orchard, McKinney Gap, and Altapass were placed under the umbrella of the Altapass Foundation, Inc, a non-profit corporation. Then in 2004, the orchard and the general store were incorporated as a supporting nonprofit whose focus was to promote and support the many projects of the Orchard. In 2021 both organizations came together under one roof as the Altapass Foundation, Inc. The projects and programs, both educational and entertaining, attract an increasing number of visitors to the area and bring together local peoples, tourists, and vacation property owners with a common goal—to "save the good stuff."

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 patrons and donors to continue the many programs and projects focused on protecting the land and its ecosystem and the history and the culture of the Altapass region. We invite you to support our mission.

A Little History of the Orchard



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 the key to the reason. Occupying a commanding location above two important watersheds—the North Toe River, which 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 the earliest settlers began exploring these mountains. Buffalo and elk traversed here, followed by the Cherokee Indians and eventually European settlers.

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 that consisted 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; many died.

The railroad gave direct birth to the Orchard. Recognizing an revenue-generating 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 year, with warm air replacing the cold air sinking into the nearby valleys. The operation soon prospered, growing state champion apples repeatedly. 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—was 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 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, albeit on McKinney's property, 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 Orchard Road. (You can visit the gravesite by following trail 10 which runs down 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 trains daily, each filled with Kentucky coal, and returns empty for refilling, their passing unnoticed by the 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 mountain exploration. Boasting “steam heat, electric light, and all modern conveniences,” its altitude of 2,830 feet made it an ideal getaway for outdoor adventurers who valued comfort and a sense of adventure. Land speculators capitalized on the large number of visitors, selling acreage and home sites in great numbers. The railroad also brought factories, logging and planted the apple orchards—one of them became the Orchard at Altapass. 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, bisecting 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 stalled at the start of World War I. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Blue Ridge Parkway was actually begun—part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal providing 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 Mountains 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 1,500 apple trees growing there.

Nevertheless, this 52-year construction project is 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 harken 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 is being 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. It was serendipitous that the owner answered her call before retreiving the four prior phone messages. Concerned that in the hands of a developer (who left one of the four on the answering machine) this 2-mile stretch of land with breathtaking views would be permanently marred, she acted quickly and has never looked back. And now under the auspices of the CTNC, the Orchard at Altapass lands will remain pristine, never to be developed.

CONTACT

ADDRESS:
1025 Orchard Road

Spruce Pine, NC 28777

Blue Ridge Parkway
(mile marker 328.3)

PHONE:
828-765-9531
TOLL-FREE:
888-765-9531
STORE:
828-467-4282

EMAIL:
information@altapassorchard.org

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HOURS

CLOSED FOR SEASON

REOPEN MAY 2023

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The Orchard General Fund
$23,683.00 Raised: $30,000.00 Goal:
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