Resting between the Old Smokey and Blue Ridge Mountains, Waynesville, North Carolina, (population 10,200), is steeped in national history. Created as the county seat for the newly-established Haywood County (1808), it was founded in 1809 on land donated for this purpose by a Revolutionary War veteran, Col. Robert Love, and named for his commander, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Waynesville was also the site of the last battle of the Civil War (a Confederate victory, no less), taking place almost a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Incorporated in 1871, its population remained very small until it was connected to the railway system in 1884, and it is now the largest town in North Carolina west of Asheville.
Once connected to the railway, Waynesville became a regular tourist destination, with the economy supplemented by things such as lumber, agriculture, and alcohol production in its early years (though the consumption of such was illegal from the town’s founding until 2008); and later by textile and rubber manufacturing. However, with the closing of the DAYCO Corporation textile and rubber plant in 1998, the economy became more focused on tourism. Not only does Waynesville contain three “North Carolina Civil War Trails” markers, it also contains numerous locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Among these are two districts, as well as numerous individual houses and buildings. The first district listed on the Register is the Frog Level Historic District, so named for its location in the low area around Richland Creek, which runs nearby (the “Frog Level” being the high water line when the creek flooded—the highest point you might find frogs). This is where the rail depot was built, and it became the town’s major hub until the daily train stopped running in 1949. Despite a period of decline, Frog Level has recently been revitalized by a wave of new owners in the district.
The other National Register-listed district is the Main Street Historic District. The original town center, the Main Street District includes a number of the buildings that have been individually listed, as well as a number of buildings designated as local landmarks, such as the Citizens Bank & Trust Company building and the First National Bank of Waynesville building (now the Waynesville Library). This district is home to numerous cultural events, including the Mountain Street Dance, a celebration of the music and dance heritage of the area, and the new Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration. The town also hosts performances as part of the Folkmoot International Music Festival, an annual event that showcases music from around the world. The Downtown Waynesville Association, a non-profit funded by the town, was accredited as a 2009 National Main Street Program by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Waynesville’s Historic Preservation Commission recently released a booklet titled “Historic Waynesville: A Self-Guided Tour,” which includes a brief history of the town, along with information on the Historic Districts and the 17 buildings either listed on the National Register or designated as local landmarks. The booklet also includes instructions for applying to both lists. It is available at more than 20 locations in the town, including at least four buildings that appear in it.
Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2011.
For more information
Town of Waynesville Historic Preservation Commission