At the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina lie the foothills. The foothills are home to many small towns that you drive through if you travel east on Highway 74 to the growing city of Charlotte. These small towns were once thriving centers with busy uptowns, factories, mills, and rural landscapes. Today, they are struggling to survive. I grew up in one of these towns. I have watched a town filled with pride become a town with a Walmart. I have spent time in the area in recent years due to the decline and death of my mother. It is heartbreaking to see the change of a special place that was once bustling, but is now quiet.
Let me put some perspective on this small town. If you are in Asheville, one of the country’s hippest cities, and you drive down Interstate 26, at the foot of the mountain, you land in Tryon, North Carolina. Tryon is an old horse town. With lovely views of the mountains, the climate and the terrain are perfect for horses. Although it has always been a bit sleepy, horse people have always known about Tryon. Now the world will know. The Tryon International Equestrian Center is under nonstop construction and will host the FEI World Equestrian Games for thirteen days in September 2018. The town is preparing for an invasion of horse enthusiasts to their charming community. See here. The Equestrian Center is fabulous, and it is bringing new hotels and restaurants to the area. My hometown is a short thirty minute drive from Tryon. The drive is pastoral and easy.
Heading east from Shelby, my hometown, the Charlotte airport is 35 minutes away. Uptown Charlotte is a quick 45. Great places to dine and shop are everywhere. The city is home to several universities and other great educational opportunities. Charlotte is home to professional football and basketball teams. A day in Charlotte is always fun! But there is also lots of traffic. Sitting on I-77 or I-85 for an hour or more can get tiresome. Sometimes a trip to a small town is just the right thing to calm down and recharge.
My hometown could become that small town. A destination to take a break and recharge. Right now, it is struggling. When the mills closed, many jobs were lost. A mall was built in hopes of boosting commerce, but then the beautiful downtown became a ghost town. A major fire burned a city block; more heartbreak for the city. Then Walmart showed up. More local shops closed and the town was losing its heartbeat. The global collapse had no mercy on small towns, and my hometown was no exception.
In its day, Shelby was quite a place. In the early 1900s, there was a hotel complete with nine holes of golf and a swimming pool. It was a beautiful spot with lots of land for guests to roam. The hotel was well known not only for its amenities, but also for its springs. Guests would drive long distances to stay a few days at the Cleveland Springs Hotel and sip the mineral waters that promised healing properties. After two fires, the hotel became history. Although bricks and remnants remain, the hotel and the many travelers spending days in this charming city are history. The Cleveland Country Club bought some of the land and built a John LaFoy designed golf course, some of which lies on the old course that was a part of the old hotel. Shelby not only had Cleveland Country Club, but also North Lake Country Club, a beautiful spot on a lake for wonderful dining, swimming, and a game of tennis. Now the lovely spot is covered in weeds, and the building is rotting away with broken windows. The fate of the remaining club is uncertain. But the future could become opportunity.
The demographics of the city have changed. Many young people that grew up in Shelby do not return. Job opportunities are scarce. The Harris Teeter, a high end grocery store, left town after being an anchor for residents for over fifty years. Shelby is home to great people, but not a destination for strangers. It is one of those towns that people drive through on the way to Asheville or Charlotte. Why not change that?
Downtown Shelby has gotten a new life with restaurants, a brewery, quaint shops, and a fabulous music venue. This music venue celebrates the hometown of Don Gibson, a successful country music star. A great dining experience and a night of music are worth the trip. Add a midnight stroll around the court square with a special person, and you have a perfect night. The key to turning Shelby around is getting more people not driving by, but stopping for a few days or a long afternoon.
To do this, Shelby needs to have a reason to entice people to stop and stay. With Charlotte so close, and the growth of Tryon, as well as the proximity to Asheville, there is no shortage of people. Shelby needs a brand. I am sure you have figured out a long time ago that I have a vision for this town perfect for travelers and guests. The brand is organic and a return to the mineral springs of the past.
The country club could become a destination for health and rest. The name could change slightly to Cleveland Springs Country Club and Spa. The course could be the first organic golf course in North Carolina. With its rolling hills and magnificent trees against blue skies, it is a respite from busy life. Creeks and ponds add interest to an old style course with room to play. The front nine is surrounded by gracious southern homes, and the back nine features sixties style ranch homes. The back of the clubhouse would welcome golfers after a day on the course. The clubhouse would offer farm-to-table dining, local spirits, and mineral water, as well as organic treats to savor. Spa treatments only found in larger cities would await weary travelers. Yoga classes to stretch and strengthen the body while calming the spirit would lure guests inside. A saltwater pool would be open for guests and children. Poolside dining would be available for those craving fresh greens and vegetables grown locally with a southern sweet tea over ice. Har-tru clay tennis courts for those wanting to play under the lights on a cool fall night in the foothills. I am ready to book my stay!
The city could follow suit with organic dining and shopping around town. The old Harris Teeter shopping center would become The Village for students. Hands-on learning experiences that would prepare them for work in the future. Students would plant, build, organize, and learn in their own space. With shops and labs, The Village would be an interesting spot for families and entrepreneurs to visit.
An entrepreneurial spirit would emerge in the county. Growers, bakers, makers, and healers would make this small town come alive for visitors. But the residents would also transform. Jobs would be available, and entrepreneurs would feel the vibe.
“A dream,” you might say. “Possibly,” I would reply. The strong foundation is already there. The location is perfect. It only takes change, a new perspective on old streets. The charm of the city beckons those who pass through. Let the city strut her stuff with a little help of visionaries. A leap to the future with a hand in the past.
Originally published at medium.com