Laurel Park History Lesson

The late 1800's saw the beginnings of what is now the Town of Laurel Park with the construction of summer cottages, inns, camps, and recreation areas around the lakes on the lower slopes of Echo Mountain. By 1903, a rail line had been built up Fifth Avenue in Hendersonville to bring day-trippers and summer visitors to Rainbow Lake to enjoy swimming, boating, dancing, camping, and gambling at the Laurel Park Casino. Later, another rail line and a canal connected Rainbow Lake with Laurel Lake (Rhododendron Lake), and a counter-balanced railway took sightseers from Crystal Spring (near Rainbow Lake) to an observation tower for views of downtown Hendersonville and near and distant mountains. After the stock market crash, the Town slowly transitioned from a summer recreational resort to a town noted for its year-round scenic beauty and lovely residential areas dotted with small lakes and pocket parks.

 The History of the Fleetwood Hotel

In 1925, Commodore J. Perry Stolz, builder of the popular and expensive Miami Fleetwood Hotel in Florida, arrived in Hendersonville with plans to repeat his success at the top of Jump Off Mountain near Jump-Off Rock. This 15-story hotel, also to be called the Fleetwood, would have a brick exterior trimmed with marble, all the modem conveniences, and a radio station at the top. A new concrete highway (Laurel Park Highway), fully lit (a first in the U.S.), was built up the mountain to the hotel site; this was used for transporting construction materials. Less than a year later, financial problems led to a halt in construction. Despite numerous attempts to complete the hotel, the 13th floor was the last floor completed, and the hotel was razed in 1939 by a salvage company.

 Jack Dempsey Trained Here

In 1926, the manager of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was offered $35,000 plus other benefits amounting to about $25,000 to bring Jack for a month's training at the Laurel Lake Casino. It was hoped that Jack would provide publicity for the Fleetwood Hotel, then under construction. The offer was accepted and Jack and his entourage (which included his wife, movie star Estelle Taylor) arrived in April 1926 to stay at the Kentucky Home Hotel in downtown Hendersonville. Jack trained at the Laurel Park Casino during wet weather, at Indian Cave during windy weather, and at the Fleetwood Hotel site at other times. At the end of the month, the Dempseys held an informal farewell dance at Hebron Lodge in Indian Cave. Alas, Jack's training here did not help him; he lost his title to Gene Tunney in September.

 The Legend of Jump Off Rock

Several legends exist to account for Jump-Off Rock's name; all seem to involve Indian maidens. The most prevalent is the story of a young Cherokee maiden who often met her Cherokee lover here. When he had to leave for a tribal war, they promised to meet at the Rock on his return. Every evening the maiden climbed to the rock to watch for her lover. One day, warriors returning from the battle brought news of her lover's death. That evening she climbed the Rock, went out to the edge, and jumped. Legend has it that on some moonlit nights, her ghost can be seen looking for her lover on Jump-Off Rock.

Special Note: Pre-WWII photos of Laurel Park can be seen in the Baker-Barber Collection at the Henderson County Main Library.