By Pete Zamplas
Terry Ruscin knows what was where and when in Downtown Hendersonville and beyond.
History takes on added meaning during this time of reflection, as we begin a new year and decade. Noted author Ruscin is among local historians well versed in the structures that are downtown and ones that were, and the businesses they housed decade to decade.
He does a slide show presentation, of mostly historic Baker-Barber photos to tell the story. He snaps contemporary images for a then-and-now comparisons. He organizes his slide show block by block, building by building, and progressing southward toward eldest structures. He uses a pointer on screen.
His chronicles buildings’ transitional uses. The Palace Theatre opened in 1912. It is now Kilwin’s ice cream parlor, as he noted in a recent presentation. The Queen Theatre debuted in 1915. It was Fox starting in ’33, then State in ‘46. Now, The Goldsmith by Rudi is there at 434 N. Main.
The Carolina Theatre lasted decades, on the west side of the block from Fifth to Sixth avenues where the ECCO Aquarium and Mast General Store are now. The theater opened in 1933, was destroyed by fire in 1940, then rebuilt to seat 1,000 patrons.
Barber Photo’s last of three downtown sites was on that block, following the businesses expansion northward along Main.
The city’s initial town hall was once a vibrant theater and opera hall upstairs. It was built in 1893, and torn down in 1925. It was in the middle of downtown, on the east side.
A very visible downtown landmark is the large McClintock clock, on the northeast corner of Fourth and Main. The Historical Society is there now. It was a gallant bank building — Citizens National in 1921.
Across Main from it, at 401 N. Main, was the subterranean Hendersonville Youth Center (AKA “Teen Canteen”) in 1948-57.
Hands On! Children’s Museum is where Belk was, before moving to Blue Ridge Mall.
There were gas stations and auto dealerships downtown. The Visitor’s Center used to have a gas station there instead, long ago. Hunter Chevrolet and Shipman Motors opened downtown in 1925. Shipman was where the Japanese restaurant Umi is now, at 633 N. Main.
Bruce Drysdale Elementary was built in 1959 on the site of what was the large Hotel Wheeler. That is just south of Five Points and a fire station, and across the start of the Asheville Highway from Hendersonville High School. The 100-room hotel went up in 1895, and was near the rail station. It had the first successful electric light plant. It was renamed Carolina Terrace, added a dance pavilion and brought in nationally-known dance bands. Then it was The Terrace. But fires struck it in 1927 and in late ’30, ending an era.
The sprawling St. John Hotel burned down in 1915. It was near the Historic Courthouse, which opened in 1905.
Ruscin uses some special effects. He phases in a photo of an entrepreneur over the person’s business building. He does that when chronicling the Shepherd business family, from M.M. to Thomas Shepherd.
M.M. ran the first known general store in town, in what is hailed as the city’s first commercial brick building. Co. Valentine Ripley built it, circa 1847, on the east side of Main and north of Second Avenue. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. Sinclair Office Supply was in there. A photo shows how its latest brick exterior is still in superb condition. It was an early post office, and a Confederate commissary.
Ruscin shows on a big screen a detailed business card: “Shepherd & Blythe Contractors and Dealers in Furniture, Undertaking & Embalming…Repairing and Cabinet Work. Ripley Building. Hendersonville, N.C.” Thomas Shepherd & Son is the funeral parlor today, off of Church Street.
A tourism slogan for Hendersonville a century ago was “Where the vogue of tomorrow is revealed today,” Ruscin noted. Main Street was very wide — 100 feet — so a team of horses pulling a wagon could make a U-turn rather than have to back up to turn. To stem drag racing and induce people to window shop while driving on Main, the road was serpentined in 1978.
Ruscin said he has long been fascinated by history, and driven to research it. His eleven books include Hidden History of Henderson County. He has written travelogues, and newspaper columns. Ruscin said he has drawn much content from historian Louise Howe Bailey’s nine history books.
He is a member of the local Genealogical and Historical Society, Henderson County Historic Resources Commission, Historic Flat Rock Inc., the City of Hendersonville’s Design Review Advisory Committee for historic districts.
Ruscin, 68, ran his own advertising firm. He graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit. He lived in Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, then California. He moved to Henderson County in 2004.