Undulating mountains surround the town of Waynesville, once billed as Gateway to the Smokies. The Smokies’ high ridges bring snow in the winter and cooler temperatures in the summer, and Haywood County boasts the highest average elevation of any county east of the Rockies.
Early doctors prescribed visits to the area for patients suffering from respiratory ailments — not an unpleasant prescription by any means. Along with these health-conscience tourists, the wealthy flocked from Charleston and Atlanta by train in the summer to escape the heat. Two trains a day unloaded vacationers at the depot, now known as the Frog Level district. Identified by its fresco of a frog sitting on a carpenter’s level, Frog Level, has gained recognition as a National Historic District and is now home to a collection of small galleries, a spa, coffee roastery and thrift stores. Each spring Frog Level hosts its own festival, The Whole Bloomin’ Thing, which welcomes growers, natural crafters and musicians.
From Frog Level visitors would be taken the three blocks to Main Street by horse and buggy. Robert Love, a Revolutionary War colonel born in Virginia, founded the town of Waynesville. After the war he, his wife and 10 children relocated from their home in what is now part of eastern Tennessee to Haywood County’s Richland Creek area. Love was a wealthy man who had inherited a fortune from his mother and further developed his income working as a land speculator, lawyer, justice of the peace, surveyor, state senator and clerk of court.
In 1809, Love donated 17 acres for the town of Waynesville, which was where the courthouse, jail and stocks were to be built. A main street and cross street were plotted, along with a public square and 30 half acre lots. The public square was located at the intersection of Main Street and Cross Street — today known as Church Street on one end and East Street on the other.
Main Street today bears much resemblance to the Main Street of yesterday with its bustling mix of downtown workers and visitors. Now, quaint brick sidewalks, galleries, gourmet restaurants, clothing and gift stores dominate the landscape with the occasional lawyer’s office or second-story apartment tucked in amongst the rest. Single-family homes, many of which are architectural gems, spread outward from the middle of town with views of the Smoky Mountains stretching for miles.
A short walk west brings visitors to the town of Hazelwood. Incorporated in 1905, Hazelwood was a town in and of its own right until it merged with Waynesville in 1995. The tiny town largely housed employees at W.H. Cole’s sawmill. Houses constructed in the area tend not to have basements, due to a high water table. Hazelwood is home to the Folkmoot Friendship Center, headquarters of the state’s international cultural festival, celebrated each year in July. Visitors here also will find a handful of small shops including a fabric and décor shop, specialty soap company and a coffee roastery, among others.