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Granite from old HHS gym will rock on in Laurel Park

After the old gym at HHS was demolished, the granite was hauled off to a field at Jackson Park. After the old gym at HHS was demolished, the granite was hauled off to a field at Jackson Park.

In their application for a grant of $27,609 from the Works Progress Administration, Hendersonville Mayor A.V. Edwards and City Clerk R.R. Arledge described the project they wanted the Depression-era agency would fund.

On the Hendersonville High School campus would be a new gymnasium with a basement dressing room and bleachers plus “landscaping of the surrounding grounds for beautification of place and recreation.”
The new structure to serve the school and community would have exterior walls made of native stone and a wood floor under a steel-truss supported composition roof. The application, dated Sept. 10, 1935, was a success. The WPA funded the project, financing what the city projected would total 771 “man months” of work for stone masons, plumbers, electricians, steam fitters, painters, roofers and nurserymen. (Total labor cost was estimated at $20,172.)
The first public event at the granite gym, in June 1937, was not a basketball game but a music performance by a Big Band led by Bob Crosby, Bing’s brother, according to research by Patrick Gallagher, a 1965 graduate of HHS.
The old gray edifice served Bearcat sports teams with distinction for 83 years. When they planned the new $60 million renovation/new construction project at HHS, school officials, engineers and architects determined that the historic building was not salvageable under today’s building standards. But Henderson County commissioners also made a deal with the demolition contractor to save the stone, which dozens of dump truck loads hauled away to Jackson Park, where it sits in piles. No one knows how the county may make use of the stone but the first use of it is known. At some point soon, a few hunks of the granite will be going home — to the old W.A. Smith quarry in Laurel Park.
Before he developed the resort town on the mountain with recreational lakes, gondola rides and a dance pavilion, Smith founded the quarry that would supply native rock to area construction projects.
“The Hendersonville Stone Company is a new enterprise for this city,” the French Broad Hustler newspaper reported in November 1907.
To fully capitalize on the natural resource, Smith needed a way to reduce giant slabs of granite — technically gneiss metamorphic rock — into gravel-size rocks.
“In anticipation of much railroad building here in the near future, Mr. W. A. Smith has installed a giant stone crusher in his fine quarry at Laurel Park, with screens for separating the stone, and with a powerful electric motor to operate the machines,” the Hustler reported in January 1909. “The stone crusher is in place, the screens, bins and chutes to load the stone directly into the wagons are built, and the Electric Company is now installing the motor.”
Besides crushed rock, the quarry was producing “the finest grade of building and monumental stone,” the newspaper reported. “Those who have seen the beautiful specimens of rock from this quarry exhibited in Mr. Smith’s office claim there is no finer stone anywhere. It is susceptible to a beautiful polish.”
Located at its founding on Dr. Guy E. Dixon’s property, the quarry covered acres of land that over the years became lots for houses. The sheer cliffs left after the stone was removed are still visible among the homes built on the rock face. Paul Hansen, the resident historian of the Laurel Park Town Council, showed a reporter around the sites. Hansen and Laurel Park Mayor Carey O’Cain, an HHS graduate, hatched the idea of getting pieces of the old relic and exhibiting them to honor W.A. Smith and one of his many entrepreneurial ventures.
“We got quite a bit of it,” Hansen said. Town Public Works Director Andrew Griffin “went down to Jackson Park and got a couple dump truck loads.”
Hansen is working with Chris Burns of Summit Marketing on a monument design and Hunter Marks, of Watermark Landscape Architecture, on the grounds around the display. Town officials haven’t decided for sure where the monument will be but Hansen thinks a flat turnaround at the end of Old Laurel Drive “appears to be the ideal spot.”
The quarry operated probably until World War II, Hansen says. The Smith family sold the property in 1950 and overtime homes replaced the sound of blasting, granite heaving from the earth and a rock crusher making railroad fill.

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The Lightning thanks Laurel Park Town Commissioner Paul Hansen and local history writer Patrick Gallagher for contributing research for this report.