Placemaking Spotlight: Hendersonville, North Carolina

Outdoor Recreation, History, and Culture Come Together in this Western North Carolina Mountain Town

Hendersonville’s inviting wide sidewalks and Main Street (photo: visithendersonvillenc.org)

Tucked away in western North Carolina between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smokies, the town of Hendersonville, North Carolina, bills itself as “the apple of North Carolina’s eye”—and with good reason. Located just 22 miles from Asheville, the town of about 14,000 residents exudes small-town charm while enticing travelers, young professionals, retirees, and nature lovers with its cultural attractions, restaurants, beautiful scenery, hiking trails, and more. As an example of placemaking excellence, Hendersonville preserves the architectural integrity of its past and embraces its picture-perfect natural setting as it considers its present needs and future plans.

Judge Mitchell King, who provided the land for the town’s charter in the 1840s, believed that Hendersonville’s Main Street should be wide enough to allow a coach pulled by four horses to turn around safely. As a result, the town today boasts a distinctively wide Main Street with broad sidewalks perfect for shopping, dining, and mingling opportunities that are enjoyed by visitors and locals today. The downtown area surrounding Main Street earned a listing in the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to its bevy of well-preserved historic sites dating back to the early 1900s, such as the Chewning House Hotel and the Henderson County Courthouse.

A “Bearfootin” statue from one of the town’s signature arts festivals, situated in front of the county courthouse. (Photo: visithendersonvillenc.org).

In its early days, much of Hendersonville and the surrounding Henderson County area’s economy was based on agriculture. In addition to crops like wheat, cabbage, and rye, hundreds of apple trees were planted in the county, and it soon became the leading apple-producing location in the state and one of the top ten apple-producing areas nationwide. Building on this farming tradition, agritourism has emerged as a driving force in the local economy.  

With its breathtaking natural scenery, artists, musicians, and writers can readily find inspiration in this scenic mountain town—and in fact, one of America’s most notable poets, Carl Sandburg, grew up just a few miles away. Today visitors can tour the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, an idyllic 245-acre estate where the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author lived with his family. As a contemporary arts destination, Hendersonville has more than a dozen different art galleries, museums, music venues, and similar creative spaces to celebrate the ever-evolving and unique culture of the city.

Outdoors enthusiasts also find themselves right at home in Hendersonville. Hiking trails abound in the nearby DuPont State Recreation Forest, and the jaw-dropping view of the Blue Ridge and Pisgah Mountains from the 3,100-foot Jump Off Rock is well worth the trip.

Jump Off Rock (Photo: visithendersonvillenc.org).

Given such strong cultural and natural assets, it’s no surprise that tourism has become an important driver of the region’s economy. Like many cities dependent on tourism, Hendersonville felt the impact of COVID-19 as travelers canceled their trips and stayed closer to home. However, the town’s focus on outdoor recreation and open-air exploration have helped it chart a speedier recovery.

And smart growth that embraces the town’s quirks and charms is still very much on the region’s agenda for economic development. Companies in the area are plotting strategies to attract more workers to manufacturing jobs, including offering apprenticeships enabling high school seniors to work with top manufacturing companies.

While it still holds strong appeal to retirees, Hendersonville is also positioning itself as a desirable place to live for young professionals and families, touting its scenic assets, low cost of living, job opportunities, and cultural diversions as selling points, along with its small-town charm. Residents come out for community celebrations and engage on issues impacting the town and its future, whether participating in the grand opening of a new police station or in strategic planning initiatives for the local fire department.

As an example of a town with excellent place-making, celebrates its unique selling points, yet also fosters a sense of community responsibility and belonging, particularly as it looks to the future. As Laura Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College, one of the area’s most important educational institutions, notes, “It is a town that is willing to work together.”