When Terry Ruscin traveled cross-country 12 years ago from San Diego to settle in Hendersonville, he brought with him a fascination for local history that, to date, has produced three books exploring Western North Carolina’s often colorful past: Hendersonville & Flat Rock, Hidden History of Henderson County, and Glimpses of Henderson County.
This month marks the publication of Ruscin’s fourth regional book, about how Western Carolinians traveled through their isolated, rugged terrain. A History of Transportation in Western North Carolina will be revealed at a book launch early this month at the Henderson County Heritage Museum.
Ruscin’s three books form a planned series about each of the population centers of Henderson County — but his research began turning up intriguing hints of the challenges and triumphs of early and more recent settlers in merely getting around, and away from, the county.
“I pushed the fourth volume to a back burner and forged full-speed ahead on the transportation-themed manuscript,” Ruscin says. The project involved more research mileage than he originally conceived, given the county’s growing ties to other mountainous areas. “[It] entailed the entire western sector of North Carolina. I worked with genealogists and historical societies throughout the region,” he says. He also gathered anecdotes from former county residents living as far away as Texas and Georgia.
Among the book’s coterie of memorable characters are Valentine Ripley, one of the county’s earliest entrepreneurs, who owned the largest stagecoach company in the area and who was instrumental in bringing the first rail lines to the mountains; Solomon Jones, the mid-19th-century surveyor of many of the roads still in use today; and Colonel Sidney Pickens, who organized the first mule-driven trolley service in Hendersonville. In more recent times, Oscar Meyer Jr. (no connection to the cold-cuts empire) was the driving force behind Hendersonville’s airport, and taught many of the county’s earliest aviators to fly.
Although his most recent work turned out to be a much bigger challenge than anticipated, Ruscin says he has no regrets that it forced the postponement of the planned series.
“It felt like being a kid again, playing with all the trains and planes and boats and vintage cars and such,” he says. “I enjoyed every step of the journey.”
The official launch of A History Of Transportation in Western North Carolina will be held Saturday, November 5, at 2:30pm at the Henderson County Heritage Museum (inside the Historic Courthouse at 100 North Main Street). The free event will include book signings, a slideshow, live music, and refreshments. Call 828-694-1619 or see hendersoncountymuseum.com for more information.