When each person takes stock of his life and what he/she has/has not accomplished, there will be few who find that they have built their own monument. Guilford Nanney did. He was responsible for the first cliff trail at Chimney Rock Park and for the original stairs that led from the parking lot to the top of the Chimney.
When Dr. Lucious Morse from Missouri purchased 64 acres of Chimney Rock Mtn and cliffs for $5,000 in 1902, there was a stairway to the 2,280 foot precipice built by the previous owner and open to the public in 1885. The Morse property grew to over 1000 acres as the family added surrounding land tracts. According to an article in Guideposts of the WNC magazine whose date I can’t make out (written by Suzannah Smith Miles) Lucius recorded in a ledger that “Mr. Nanney says that he can take ten men and build a first-class 4-foot trail from the parking place to the bottom of the falls” in two weeks for $200. “The result was an astonishing network of trails, ladders, and 472 steps.” Nanney spent thirty years from then on maintaining the buildings and trails some of which are still in use.
Todd Morse who managed the park for nearly 40 years said that Nanney used locust wood from the area. It ages well, almost like iron when it gets old. Footings constructed from locust poles were secured to the cliffs by brackets with nail holes drilled into the rock. In 1949 a 258-foot elevator was open to the public. And in the 70’s and 80’s, the Morse family focused on improvements of the park and preservation of wildlife to make a natural wonder available for tourists from all over the world.
In 2007, North Carolina took over the park at Hickory Nut Gorge for $24 million. See http://www.chimneyrockpark.com/park/history. This includes land in western Rutherford County and adjacent counties of Polk, Henderson, and Buncombe.
Nanney started out as a home builder who lived in Henderson County with his wife Mary Merrell and four daughters. Architectural historian Barbara Miller Lane said in her book Housing and Dwelling: Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture: “You told him how many rooms you wanted, and he built you a house. He would not suffer interference and meddling.” “Today, several of the Queen Anne-style homes Nanney built in Rutherford County are on the National Historic Register.”
Ms Miles wrote, “He spent his latter years working as the park superintendent.” Guildford and Mary Nanney are buried in the cemetery of Chimney Rock Baptist Church near Lake Lure.
Chimney Rock is a great place to explore when you come to the Nanney reunion in Union Mills in August. See http://www.chimneyrockpark.com for details of Climbing Rumbling Bald Mountain, learn about the puzzling white-nose syndrome found in local bats, see photos of the Round Top Mtn and Eagle Rock Park lands. Moderately strenuous hikes of scenic ridges with a park naturalist provide an excellent opportunity to be tutored in the flora and fauna of this area.
Visitors now have the option of walking to the top on the 491 steps of the Outcroppings Trail, or taking the 35 second elevator (when it is working) to the Sky Lounge Gift Shop and Deli. Through the souvenir gauntlet you get access to the final 44 steps to the top of the rock. What a view.