History of Saluda
"Here piggy!" is what you might have heard a person yelling in the middle of the street here long ago. Many years ago, before the railroad and the town, this area was known as Pace's Gap, just a crossroad for traders and herders. The Pace's Gap community included separated homesteads and a Drovers inn. The roads were used by traders who carried goods and by people who herded livestock through Pace's Gap from the western towns and villages. The Pace family built an inn that included a fenced-in yard so that livestock could be penned up for the night while the drovers slept. Back in the days of Pace's Gap children had to attend school inside of small churches.
To actually construct the railway that would pass through Pace's Gap thirteen miles of grading had to be completed. Captain Charles W. Pearson, who was the chief engineer of the railway, chose to run the tracks up Saluda Mountain instead of running the tracks through Howard Gap due to underground streams. The Mountain House was one of the first of many other hotels and boarding houses built for the railroad employees to give them shelter and food while on the job. The railroad cost a lot of money and took many people to build. People died from falling off the cliffs and many of the men were severely worn out from the hard physical work. When the tracks eventually reached the top of the mountain it became known, and still is known, as the steepest mainline standard gauge grade in the United States of America. On July 4, 1879 at eleven in the morning the very first passenger train came up the Saluda Grade. Afterward eight passenger trains came through Pace's Gap daily. Many tourists began arriving on trains. Famous people got off the train in Saluda. The streets would fill up with people who came to see just who would get off next. Celebrities such as Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dix, and other writers and artists stayed in Saluda in those days.
Pace's Gap started growing from crossroads to a more developed town. Large, high-ceilinged homes and inns were built for families to spend the summer in the refreshing air of the mountains. In February 1881, the community of Pace's Gap became so large and successful that the people got a chartered document calling the town Saluda, after the Saluda Mountains. The Saluda Mountains were named after the Saluda River, which got its name from an Indian chief whose name meant "Corn River" in Cherokee, which sounded like "Saluda" to white men. The town spread over seven hills and covered from 2096 feet to 2200 feet in elevation.
After the Saluda Grade was built it claimed many lives. The engineers that worked of the freight train did not look forward to the trip down the big hill from Saluda to Melrose, considering the fact that the area was known for wrecks and runaways. When the Southern Railroad had taken over the route from Asheville to Spartanburg they were ready to come up with another route. An engineer who had been hurt on the Saluda Grade came up with an idea of building spur tracks up the mountains at bad curves so that the engines going out of control could be stopped by gravity. The spur tracks allowed the trains to be able to send a signal to the people working at the station to indicate whether or not the train was under control. If the train was not under control then the it would automatically be sent off a ramp in order to stop the train by gravity. Modern diesels more easily controlled so all but one of the safety tracks has been closed. Slaughterhouse Curve, where a trainload of cattle was once destroyed, is still kept open. Living in Saluda always included listening for the toots that reassured the people that the engine was under complete control. By 1903, 27 men had been killed by engines going out of control and jumping tracks on one of the 50 sharp curves.
By 1896, Saluda had a post office, three general stores, one drug store, one doctor, one private academy, and eight boarding houses. The academy was at the time the only school in Saluda, it served as a seminary for girls and people would come from miles around to attend. The private school lasted until 1922 when the old academy was torn down and the new school was put at the top of the hill overlooking the old location of the academy. The new school became a part of the Polk County School System. In 1914 Doctor Smith opened a baby hospital in his own home. People with tuberculosis, or any other health condition would come up to his house to get help and stay in the cool air of the mountains. The office he had running in his home office was so successful that an actual hospital was built where he could work along with others. When the hospital was built it opened up job opportunities. In 1936 Edwin W. Leland bought the old flourmill building. The building was tow stories high; he made the top floor the Mountain Telephone office, and the bottom floor a storage area. Today, there is still a local phone company but it is not the same as the one that existed in the old flourmill.
Once highways were built and air travel was the new and interesting way to travel, the railroad was no longer the enchanting experience that it had been for so many years. Saluda was becoming a more modern town. Tourism slowed down due to W.W.I and the Depression. To add to the Depression's impact on Saluda, air conditioning was invented causing fewer people to come to the mountains for relief from the heat. Hotels were torn down and replaced with family homes due to the lack of business.
Since the 1960's Saluda has experienced a steady growth of people seeking simpler, more peaceful lives. Saluda is now home to many artists and craftspeople. Saluda had not changed much at all from the way that it used to be. Even though the train no longer runs through Saluda, the mayor and former mayor are working on a project to get another passenger train to run through Saluda once again. Perhaps people will travel up the Saluda Grade and admire the beautiful scenery soon. People from many places come to Saluda making tourism one of the town's main enterprises. Many of the stores that were built years ago till remain and are still doing business. Today Saluda has been recognized as a National Historic District.