Travel: Down Highway 64

Take this iconic highway to visit to Carl Sandburg’s home and the Esmeralda Inn


Published:

Nantahala National Forest Overlook off Highway 64 between Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Jill Lang/Shutterstock.com

Driving east on Highway 64 in North Carolina, I traveled the same route my parents took me years ago. We’d take off early on a Sunday and head north to the hills. Get back well after dark. All these year later, I followed them. Loaded down with camera gear, water, coffee, luggage and an old-fashioned paper map, I struck out.

I ran into an agreeable string of towns: Highlands, Cashiers, Brevard, Hendersonville, Bat Cave, Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. Mom always talked about Highlands and Cashiers, and she and Dad spent their honeymoon at Chimney Rock, a fact not lost on me when I checked into he Esmeralda Inn. “Esmeralda.” Is there a prettier word in the English language? (Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the play “Esmerelda” (with an extra “e”) in 1881 while staying at an inn near Lake Lure.)

Emerald green hills and white cascades accompanied me on this nostalgic, literary journey. And so did rocks. Lots of rocks. Massive boulders and sheer rock faces glistened here and there thanks to seeps, rivulets and waterfalls. The mountains serve up more surprises than the coast. It’s true. The green crumpled hills confine your vision to what’s in front of the windshield. Round a bend and the earth drops away thousands of feet. Round another curve and a waterfall thunders away. Climb a serpentine, switchback highway and you drift in and out of clouds. Stand on a beach and you see, well, lots more beach and too many people.

Two places, in particular, intrigued me on this journey. I wanted to see Carl Sandburg’s writing studio, and I wanted to stay at The Esmeralda Inn. 





Photos courtesy of Tom Poland

Top: The lobby of The Esmeralda Inn. Middle: Carl Sandburg’s writing studio. Above: Carl Sandburg’s home, Connemara.

Sandburg’s home, Connemara, makes for a good experience, but development has squeezed in as close as it can. You drive through an urban area to reach the parking lot. Wasn’t that way 16 years or so ago, and it sure wasn’t like that when Sandburg’s wife tended her beloved goats there. And what about that name, Connemara? That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? William Faulkner called his home Rowan Oak. Big shot writers name their homes. Well, I have a name for mine, too. I call it home. 

I don’t know that Mom and Dad honeymooned at the old Esmeralda Inn, but I like to think that they did. In the early 1900s, Hollywood fell in love with this region. The Esmeralda Inn served as a setting for many silent films. Maybe that’s what attracted my parents to this place. Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Gable stayed at the old inn to escape the crowds. Lew Wallace finished the script for “Ben Hur” in Room 9 of the old inn. Many years later, Hollywood rediscovered the region filming “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Firestarter” and “Dirty Dancing” here. 

Do you ladies recall the scene where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey of “Dirty Dancing” danced? I’m sure you do. Well, you walk that very floor now when you check into The Esmeralda Inn. I found it to be a beautiful, luxurious and quiet escape from the harassment of daily life. I stared at that floor recalling Otis Redding’s voice, the “Mashed Potato” and other songs from “Dirty Dancing.” You can, too. 

Across Highway 64, the Broad River purls, and beyond it a massive cliff skyrockets up, bringing to mind Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but it’s a sheer and dangerous face that looks down on the Broad River and nearby Lake Lure. 

Highway 64. For me it was a chance to make an excursion, a chance to relive old memories and a chance to see where a man named Carl Sandburg wrote poetry, “Abraham Lincoln” and “The Prairie Years.” Best of all, it gave me a chance to say that beautiful word, “Esmeralda,” upon my return to the flatlands.

 

Tom Poland writes about nature, the South, and its people, traditions and lifestyles. His work appears in books, magazines, journals and newspapers throughout the South.

 

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Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
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PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
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Calling all Black tech leaders and visionaries! Are you looking to spur future collaborations, discover new business and career opportunities, and invest in this community? Join us for T.H.E. State...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Durham Convention Center
301 W Morgan St
Durham, NC  27701
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Contact Name: Tarryn Henry
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
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Want to do more to help out your community park? Do you like history, the environment, agriculture, and/or the arts? Consider volunteering at Yates Mill! Join us anytime during the program time to...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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The 16th Annual (Virtual) Beaver Queen Pageant, Beavers in the Stream! The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-423-1502
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
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We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
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The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver personalities and compete for the title of Beaver Queen with their fashion,...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-698-9729
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
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River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
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