The lush alluvial soils of the Bethel area attracted the first husbandry cultures, ancestors of the Cherokee, to the area thousands of years ago; this same fertile land continues to provide productive soils for the fields of today’s farmers.
These Cherokee ancestors inhabited the lands of Bethel (Pigeon Valley), taking advantage of natural amenities: rich soils for farming, thirteen miles of streams, the Pigeon River, and an enormous variety of native plant and animal life.
Bethel is the location of the oldest human settlement in Haywood County. The Blue Ridge Parkway lies at Bethel’s southern border, the community’s headwaters are blanketed by Pisgah National Forest with Black Balsam Knob, Cold Mountain, and Mount Pisgah providing striking contrast to farmlands and valleys below.
A leader in the state’s farmland preservation efforts, the Bethel Rural Community Organization’s (BRCO) mission is to locate and coordinate local and regional resources that enhance the quality of rural life in Bethel while preserving its lands and history.
Bethel Presbyterian Church
The organization’s headquarters are in the historic Bethel Presbyterian Church. The structure was built by prominent WNC builder, the Reverend Jesse Stalcup, in 1885. Prior to 1964, the facility was a typical white clapboard chapel. During the mid-1900s the building was turned to face Sonoma Road, and a fellowship hall/classroom addition dramatically changed the church’s appearance.
The beautiful interior is reflective of the narrow matched tongue-and-groove style that became prominent on ceilings and wainscoting after the Civil War. The Reverend Stalcup admired the tongue-and-groove appearance so much that he employed solid chestnut wood to position the traditional vertical bead board planks in conjunction with slanted and horizontal bead boards throughout the sanctuary to create a dramatic appearance on walls and the ceiling. The church pulpit is highlighted with a lovely stained-glass feature depicting Christ sewing the seed.
The Bethel Presbyterian Church congregation existed for 175 years (1834 – 2009) at which time BRCO began using the facility as a community center. Visitors can view a collection of art prints of historic sites in Bethel Community, a striking oil-based pictorial view of the church’s sanctuary and an artistic water-color depiction of the original white church exterior.
The organization has also collected Books 1 – 6 of Legends, Tales & History of Cold Mountain, a DVD (Walking in the Footsteps of Those Who Came Before Us), and a Cold Mountain Heritage Tour CD, available at www.bethelrural.org.
About Bethel Community
Bethel Community and surrounding lands share a number of important natural features and related designations that attest to the area’s significant natural heritage:
- The Blue Ridge Parkway, a designated “All-American Road” and the most popular unit of the entire National Park System, curves gracefully along the area’s high southern border.
- The area’s mountaintops include Pisgah, Black Balsam, and Cold Mountain.
- The National Audubon Society has designated the high elevation areas as an “Important Bird Area” for their vital support for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity.
- The area’s headwaters are blanketed by Pisgah National Forest, including two popular wilderness areas – Middle Prong Wilderness and Shining Rock Wilderness.
- US Highway 276 along the East Fork of the Pigeon River and NC Highway 215 along the West Fork of the Pigeon River form part of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.
- Hunters and fishermen are attracted to the area’s healthy populations of wildlife and trout, including a section of the East Fork managed by Trout Unlimited for catch-and-release.
- Lake Logan, on the West Fork of the Pigeon River, was the subject of a large land protection effort involving community leaders, state agencies, and conservation groups, protecting a total of 4,400 acres. At the turn of the 20th century this area supported a large logging operation known as Sunburst Village.
- The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program has located a grand total of 82 rare species and natural communities in the area, including the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel (Alasmidonta raveneliana), wavy-rayed lampmussel (Lampsilis fasciola), Eastern hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), and olive darter (Percina squamata).
- The area includes more than 13 miles of streams that have earned North Carolina’s “High Water Quality” rating; meanwhile, none of the local streams are rated as impaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- The State of North Carolina has bestowed Water Supply III status on the area, a designation reserved for less than 5% of the state’s lands.
- Alluvial soils are those that are rich in minerals and may contain gravel, sand, silt, and clay. Formed from a process involving running water, alluvial soils are rich, fertile, and suitable for sustaining various types of crops. The lush alluvial soils of the Bethel area attracted the first husbandry cultures, ancestors of the Cherokee, to the area thousands of years ago; this same fertile land continues to provide productive soils for the fields of today’s farmers.
- Bethel shares a second name with a previous, now extinct inhabitant, the Passenger Pigeon. Prior to the bird’s early 1900s extinction, the valleys of Bethel provided a migratory resting stop for the birds, generally regarded as the most populous bird species ever to have existed. As the birds exited through a gap in the mountain, they were so numerous that they darkened the skies for days. Even though the bird is gone, the area retains the name “Pigeon Valley,” the Pigeon River continues to flow, and Pigeon Gap still provides passage from Bethel to Waynesville.
- Bethel was home to Inman of Cold Mountain fame. Author Charles Frazier’s protagonist was born in Bethel, lived in Bethel, was killed in Bethel, and is buried in Bethel. Perhaps the “Cold Mountain” name was chosen because its stark, haunting tone that names a nearby mountain is better suited to commemorate the compelling story of Frazier’s ancestor.
- Bethel was home to Calvin Filmore Christopher, NC’s most prolific inventor, who invented over 10 inventions, including the computing scale – precursor to today’s market scales and gasoline tank measuring devices.
About Bethel Rural Community Organization
Bethel Rural Community Organization (BRCO) is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Its mission is to “Locate, coordinate, and lead local and regional resources to perform programs and projects that enhance the quality of rural life in the Bethel Community.”
Committees: In operation since 1990, the organization performs its mission through seven committees: beautification, benevolence, education, food pantry, historic preservation, 5K/Half Marathon Race, and rural preservation.
The Blue Ridge Heritage Trail is a program of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership.