Gold Hill lights fall fires
By Jeremy Judd
The air was chilly and the weather dreary Monday night, but the nearly 400 people attending the ninth annual “Lighting of the Fall Fires” in Gold Hill hardly seemed to notice.
Roaring fireplaces adorned almost every nook of the historic village, keeping visitors warm. The “Friends in Bluegrass” band played in the restored E.H. Montgomery General store and kept the mood merry. Hot apple cider and snacks were served in many of the historic buildings.
Some of the buildings are native, and others have been trucked in from other areas to help rebuild Gold Hill, an unincorporated town that once rivaled Charlotte’s population. Of course, that was before the Civil War ó back when Charlotte was a city of about 6,000 people. Gold Hill boasted a whopping 7,000.
But the gold trickled out, as did the residents, and Gold Hill was merely a ghost town until the late 1980s when two brothers, Bob and Darius Hedrick, decided to take the first steps toward restoring the town to its former glory.
Bob Hedrick explains that they were sitting in their backyard and Darius asked what Bob thought about restoring some of the dilapidated buildings. Bob told Darius, “I think you’ve had too much scotch and been sittin’ in the sun too long.”
Nevertheless, they went ahead and restored the general store only to watch Hurricane Hugo tear their hard work apart. Not easily discouraged, the Hedrick brothers restored the building a second time, and with that an ambitious project had begun.
A few years later they needed additional help and hired carpenter and handyman John Yeltyn.
Yeltln did such phenomenal work that 25 people from the community that had gathered to light a fire in the restored Arbor building one fall nine years ago decided to make it an annual event in Yeltlyn’s honor. The annual “Lighting of the Fall Fires” was born.
Frankie Harrison who works as Gold Hill’s event coordinator/historian explained that the future vision for the area is to turn it into an even larger historical tourist attraction with an emphasis on maintaining the authenticity of Gold Hill as it once was. “Lighting of the Fall Fires” is one of the events that raises money for the ongoing restoration project, which is led in large part by community members. For $12, visitors purchased a bag of “gold” nuggets and traded their nuggets for food and fun throughout the evening.
Gold Hill is obviously a work in progress ó some of the buildings are empty or not yet completed, but enough of the town has been restored that it’s easy to imagine, especially last night with the wooden sidewalks once again packed with people, the days when Gold Hill was a thriving boom town full of eager prospectors seeking their fortunes.