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The History of Trains and Customs of the Southern Appalachians

Program Number: 16093RJ
Start and End Dates:
4/6/2014 - 4/11/2014; 4/10/2016 - 4/15/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Montreat, North Carolina
Price starting at: $645.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: History & Culture; Train Treks
Meals: 15; 5 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 5 Dinners    
Meal Options: Low Fat; Vegetarian; Low Salt; Gluten Free    

As the high iron tunneled and climbed westward, momentous decisions, scandals and tragedies rolled through Appalachia. Examine the far-reaching ramifications of steam locomotive travel, from innovative engineering feats to the toiling laborers and rich tycoons behind their construction.


• Relive the romance of a magnificent bygone era as you ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
• Narrated visits to the historic Black Mountain, Old Fort and Apple Valley railroad depots reveal the effects of the railroad on the economy and culture of this mountain region.
• Learn and sing the songs inspired by trains and railroads and screen, and discuss films that have become fixtures of railroad lore.

Activity Particulars

Optional walking or hiking on uneven terrain.

Opportunities are available for traveling companions to attend a different program at Montreat during the same week. Click here to see a list of all programs at Montreat.

Date Specific Information

4-6-2014, 4-10-2016

Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.

Coordinated by Montreat Conference Center.


Originally founded as a spiritual retreat center, Montreat, nestled on Lake Susan at the foot of Graybeard Mountain, continues to be a peaceful destination for those seeking respite. Footpaths weave through the 4,000 acres of surrounding woodlands and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains offer other recreational opportunities.

Beautiful conference center overlooking small lake in the center of Montreat. Spacious lounges, classrooms, fireplace and dining facilities in same building.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Righton McCallum

Righton McCallum is a retired English teacher and research librarian. She has taught the local history and research course at Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville, N.C. Righton authored the folklore chapter of the textbook “North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History” and has also written two books of her own Carolina-inspired poetry, “The Montreat Gate” and “Beside the Lake.” She and her husband have two sons, two granddaughters and an opinionated Airedale named Drew.
Peter Loewer

Peter Loewer is an artist, gardener, writer and illustrator living on the shores of Lake Kenilworth in Asheville, N.C. He holds a bachelor’s in graphic arts and art history and won the 1958 Max Beckmann Fellowship to the Brooklyn Museum. Peter gardens in what he calls a “failing effort to escape the real world and its problems.” He writes and illustrates gardening books and, with the help of his wife Jean, children’s books. His latest is “Loves Me Loves Me Not,” about the language of flowers.
Anne Lough

Anne Lough is a nationally known traditional musician who performs and teaches at schools, workshops and festivals throughout the East and Midwest. She holds a bachelor’s of music education from Murray State University in Kentucky and a master’s from Western Carolina University. Anne is particularly respected for her artistic, sensitive style of playing of the Appalachian dulcimer, a unique string instrument. Her music has been features on a PBS Christmas special and in educational videos.
Meals and Lodgings
   Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
  Montreat Conference Center 5 nights
 Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
Type: Conference Center
  Description: Originally completed in 1929, the 101 room Assembly Inn is undergoing a major renovation. New windows have been installed throughout the building, as well as an upgraded heating and air-conditioning system. By May 2014, all guest rooms and public areas will be refurbished with new furniture, carpet, paint, art, lighting and bedding. This stately hotel is a beautiful stone building, overlooking a small lake. It has a beautiful, spacious lobby with a fireplace and comfortable furniture for fellowship, puzzles and games, or just relaxing. The building was made from native stone that sparkles with mica. The dining room is in the same building as our housing and meeting facilities, and an elevator serves all floors (except for 7 steps going into one main meeting area). Of Montreat's 4,000 acres, 2,500 acres are dedicated to wilderness and are entered in the NC Registry of National Heritage Areas, and we have more than a dozen maintained hiking trails. Tennis courts also available. We will have board and card games in the lobby for your enjoyment, but if you have a favorite, please feel free to bring it along. An outdoor pool is located on the grounds, but it not open during our Road Scholar programs (only open June 1 - first week in August). However, a lovely fitness center (Cheshire Fitness) is located just a few miles away, and they offer daily or weekly rates for visitors. There are no TVs or phones in the individual housing rooms, but there is a TV in the main lobby, and guests can be reached by leaving a message at the front desk (staffed 24 hours a day). If it is urgent, the front desk staff will contact the coordinator who will deliver the message in person, otherwise a note will be left on the guest's housing door. A quiet reading room is also available, located near the main lobby of the Assembly Inn.
  Ship Information: 401 Assembly Drive, Montreat, NC 28757
  Contact info: 401 Assembly Drive
Montreat, NC 28757 USA
phone: 828-669-2911 x0
  Facility amenities: All housing accommodations will be in the Assembly Inn. All rooms have private baths. The bathrooms have a tub/shower unit. Most double occupancy rooms have two beds (a double bed and a single). Single occupancy rooms have one double bed. The bedrooms also have a desk, a clock, radio, Kleenex, closets and lamps, as well as a sink and counter and a large mirror. It would be helpful to bring an umbrella, a flashlight, and individual make-up mirror, if desired. Blankets, sheets, pillows, (beds are made), bath mat and a towel set will be provided (rooms are served by our housekeeping staff and clean towels are available daily). Each housing and meeting area has an individual heating and air-conditioning unit. Snack and cold drink vending machines are located on the ground floor, and ice machines are on the second and third floors. Wireless Internet access (with personal laptop) in all areas of the Assembly Inn. Computer in main lobby for access to email and Internet. Courtesy phones are located on each floor.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: call for price/availability. Rooms are not typically available, due to retreats. Participants may call to check availability. If no rooms are available, the coordinator will assist them in finding a hotel nearby.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: call for price/availability. Rooms are not typically available, due to retreats. Participants may call to check availability. If no rooms are available, the coordinator will assist them in finding a hotel nearby.
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Registration, 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., Assembly Inn, Montreat, NC You will be staying at Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center that night.
  End of Program:
Lunch on Friday (12:30 - 1:30 p.m.), Assembly Inn, Montreat, NC You will be staying at Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required.
  Parking availability:
free parking at the Assembly Inn
To Start of Program
  Location:  Montreat Conference Center
  Nearest city or town:  Black Mountain and Asheville
  Nearest highway: I 40, I 26
  Nearest airport:  Asheville Regional Airport
  From End of Program
  Location: Montreat Conference Center
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Knoxville, TN


From Airport




None - Car Required


Travel Time:


2 hours 


Charlotte, NC


From Airport




None - Car Required


Travel Time:


2 hours (all interstate) 


Greenville, SC


From Airport




None - Car Required


Travel Time:


1 to 1 1/2 hours (all interstate) 


Asheville, NC


From Airport




various... see listing below
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


price varies
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


45 minutes 




35 miles


The Road Scholar coordinator suggests/recommends to you Grandyco Car Service 828-273-3214 and is happy to coordinate transportation for guests coming in to the Asheville airport, so price is less. Other options (visit for more) Marvels Transport 828-280-1698 A Red Cab 828-232-1112 Areawide Transportation 828-713-4710 Beaver Lake Cab 828-252-1913 Checker Cab 828-254-1155


Asheville, NC


From Bus Terminal




Commercial Van/Shuttle
same as listed for airport
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


20 minutes 




18 miles


arrange for transport with Road Scholar coordinator at Montreat; she will coordinate times with other participants.

Driving Directions
  from all points to Interstate 40 come to western North Carolina via Interstate 40; use exit 64 for Black Mountain/Montreat/Route 9 (15 miles east of Asheville, NC). At the exit, turn north on Route 9 (go through one traffic light, across a railroad track and another traffic light, and up the hill to the traffic light). Go straight across where Route 9 becomes Montreat Road, and travel approximately two miles to the Montreat entrance (stone gate). From the gate, continue approximatley 1 1/2 miles to the middle of the conference center. The Assembly Inn is on the hill on the left, across from Lake Susan. Pull up to the front door of the Inn to unload, and then park your car. Note: do not trust a map or GPS that tries to bring you in on highway 9 (except for the last few miles) instead of Interstate 40 (unless you want to travel along very sharp curves, up and down mountains). Also, do not go up Flat Creek Road... come up Montreat Road (Highway 9 north).
Elevation Note: Some may wish to hike (on their own) in surrounding mountains, which peak elevations exceed 5,400

Equipment Requirements: Anyone wishing to enjoy outdoor activities (walking, hiking), should bring hiking boots with tread on bottom.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Registration from 4 - 5:30 p.m.
(Sunday, April 6)
 Arrive To: Arrival on Sunday afternoon, pull up to portico of Assembly Inn (C6 on map) to unload, park anywhere in designated spots along Assembly Inn or lake. Dinner at 5:30, opening program at 7 p.m.
 Dinner: Dinner will be served in the Assembly Inn dining doom from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. A relaxing break after your day of travel! All our meals are served buffet style, and you're sure to find your favorites on the line this week. Enjoy your choice of two entrées (or have both), good for you vegetables, a complete salad bar, bread, and, of course, dessert. Tea (sweet and unsweet), coffee, milk, water available.
 Evening: Our opening program will begin at 7:00 p.m. We will spend some time getting to know Montreat, going over the schedule, meeting your instructors, and answering questions. We know you're tired from your travels, so we'll wrap up around 8 p.m. with some "getting to know each other" activities. Refreshments and fellowship follow in the Assembly Inn lobby, or retire to your room to rest.
Accommodations: Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Background on Railroads and trip to Mountain Gateway Museum
(Monday, April 7)
 Breakfast: 7:30 - 8:30 breakfast is served in the Assembly Inn Dining Room. Is breakfast your favorite meal of the day? Then you're in for a treat! Breakfast options change each day, but will incorporate lots of your favorites. Biscuits and gravy, french toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, hash browns, oatmeal (not the package kind either), and lots of others. Standard offerings include fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, granola, baked pasteries, orange juice (and another juice option). Fresh coffee or hot tea will start your morning off right!
 Morning: Our early morning class focuses on "The Building of the Railroads" (lecture and slides), with Righton McCallum. Following this presentation, we'll have a refreshment break in the lobby and then return to the classroom for slides and discussion on the railroads and the logging industry. We'll also hear stories of the development of the railroads in this area.
 Lunch: 12:30 - 1:30 lunch
 Afternoon: In the afternoon, we'll board the bus or van for a 20 minute trip to visit the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort. From there, we'll stop for a look at the Old Fort Train Depot and see all their railroad artifacts. (If you're interested, there is a model railroad shop just across the street). If the Andrews Geyser is on (weather permitting), we will stop by there on our way back to Montreat. If we are lucky, there will be a train that will pass on both sides of us as it winds its way up Old Fort Mountain. Andrew's Geyser is along the line of Southern Railroad at Round Knob, N.C. In the Land of the Sky Near Round Knob, on Eastern Slope of Blue Ridge Mountains, within a few miles of the Great Eastern Divide, on line of Southern Railway, 26 1/2 miles East of Asheville. The Geyser throws continuously a great column of water 250 feet into the air and constitutes a spectacle unique in its grandeur. In the tortuous ascent of the mountain this wonderful geyser may be seen from first one side of the train and then another. Erected by Mr. George F. Baker, New York, in honor of his friend, Col. Alex. D. Andrews of Raleigh, first V. P., Southern Railway.
 Dinner: Dinner is served from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. in the Galax Dining Room of the Assembly Inn. More good proteins and veggies, as well as a complete salad bar. Don't forget a little something for your sweet tooth!
 Evening: 7:00 Our evening program, "Fun in the Mountains," will give you the opportunity to participate in some of the recreational activities that are common for this particular area. games/cards, etc. available in the lobby
Accommodations: Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Songs and Lore of the Railroad, Customs of the Southern Appalachian Mountains with Anne Lough, Perley and Crockett Railroad meeting the Southern Railroad with Righton, and visit to Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mountain and Town of Black Mountain
(Tuesday, April 8)
 Breakfast: 7:30 - 8:30 a yummy breakfast buffet is served in the Assembly Inn dining room.
 Morning: During our morning course, "I've Been Working on the Railroad," with Anne Lough, we'll explore songs and lore of the railroad. Relax and enjoy learning and remembering these songs and stories that were inspired by the building of the railroad, working on the railroad, riding the rails, and all other aspects of railroading. From "John Henry" to "Casey Jones" to "The Little Red Caboose," we'll hear and sing songs and recall the important part that the railroads played in our lives. (mid morning, we'll take a refreshment break).
 Lunch: 12:15 - 1:15, we'll have lunch in the dining room. Taco Tuesday! A fun lunch, with several options for building your own tacos, burriots, or mexican salad. All the trimmings, including tortilla chips and melted cheese...sour cream and peppers. Full salad bar too. Top it all off with some warm peach cobbler and ice cream.
 Afternoon: This afternoon, we'll have an hour with Righton to talk about the Perley and Crockett railroads meeting the southern railroad systems. Then, we're off on another adventure... a 10 minute ride into Black Mountain. A visit to the Swannanoa Valley museum shows the development and history of the community and the effect of the railroads. Walk down the street for a visit to the Black Mountain depot and caboose. Additional time for walking around the town of Black Mountain is included. This quaint, fun town offers lots of "artsy" type shops, as well as an art museum. Those who do not wish to walk around Black Mountain may return to Montreat for free time. 5:15 return to Montreat (may return earlier if desired)
 Dinner: Return to Montreat for dinner 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. Typically our "holiday dinner" menu, enjoy fresh baked ham and turkey and all the trimmings (dressing, gravy, green beans, sweet potato casserole). And the best part... no relatives to entertain and no dishes to do!
 Evening: 7:00 Musical Concert in Convocation Hall. games/cards, etc. available in the lobby
Accommodations: Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Visit to Apple Valley Railroad Museum, free afternoon, and Movie Night!
(Wednesday, April 9)
 Breakfast: 7:30 - 8:30 a yummy breakfast is served in the dining room. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
 Morning: Our morning trip takes us to visit the Hendersonville, NC depot, which now houses the Apple Valley Model Railroad Club (AVMRC). Located in the over 100 year-old historic Hendersonville Depot at the corner of 7th Ave. and Maple Street, this 50 member club has constructed a fully scenicked HO model railroad representing Hendersonville and Western North Carolina. It occupies an area of 22?x100? and has a Western North Carolina setting. Our main yard is Asheville, N.C. where mainline trains run south to Spartanburg, S.C. and east to Spencer, N.C. At Hickory, N.C. the Carolina and Northwestern railroad departs to an upper level thru Lenoir and Mortimer and joins up with the W.M. Ritter logging railroad at Edgemont. We use a DCC radio system to control the railroad however we have the ability to run a portion of it under analog control for our members who prefer this type of operation. The tall mountainous scenery provides view blocks and makes it necessary for operators to actually walk around and follow their trains as they progress thru the layout. Track signals are installed to help members safely operate their trains. The scenery is basically complete but the railroad still requires lots of added details to enhance the overall effect. Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of locomotives and rolling stock as the club has a large collection of equipment. Members also bring their own equipment to run as well. There are some aspects of model railroading that involve operation of the railroad and the model trains in a manner that very nearly replicates prototype operations. Many model railroaders today, including some of our members, are particularly interested in this aspect of the hobby. Once a month we conduct prototypical operation sessions. Visit for more information.
 Lunch: 12:30 - 1:30 lunch in the dining room
 Afternoon: 1:30 - 5:30 free afternoon (we'll provide lots of options for your free-time adventures)
 Dinner: 5:30 - 6:30 p.m., dinner in the dining room
 Evening: 7:00 Trains and the Movies with Peter Loewer. Feature: Breakheart Pass (1975) starring Charlie Bronson.
Accommodations: Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
(Thursday, April 10)
 Breakfast: Early breakfast today (7 - 8 a.m), so we can depart for our train ride. Eat hearty!
 Morning: 8:15 depart for train ride (Bryson City or Dillsboro, depending upon train schedule With 53 miles of track, 2 tunnels and 25 bridges, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a variety of excursions that explore the amazing landscape of Western North Carolina. With the romance and mystique of an era gone by, guests on-board the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad will enjoy scenic train journeys across fertile valleys and through river gorges in a spectacular region near The Great Smoky Mountains. This section of Western North Carolina offers a wide array of ever changing vegetation and fantastic landscapes. Dating back to the 1800's and located on the southside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Murphy Branch allowed access to one of the most remote and beautiful places in the world.
 Lunch: We'll have box lunches on the train (that you can enjoy in your seat on the train or wait until our layover at the Outdoor Center and have a picnic).
 Afternoon: Arrival at train destination (Outdoor Center), and ride back to depot. free time to visit the area (and model train museum) Around 4 p.m., we'll board for our return to Montreat.
 Dinner: 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. dinner in the dining room
 Evening: 7:00 p.m evening entertainment (either a storyteller or a concert).
Accommodations: Assembly Inn, Montreat Conference Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Finishing up our discussion of railroads of the southern appalachians, visit to Craggy Mountain Line in Asheville, NC
(Friday, April 11)

Note: Today, we'll be taking another field trip. Again, you'll need to board the transportation, and be able to climb onto the train cars at our destination (platform stools are available).

 Breakfast: Breakfast at the Assembly Inn from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. If you haven't tried Ronnie's biscuits and gravy yet, this is your last opportunity (and then you'll wish you'd had them all week). Back to cereal and fruit tomorrow... so enjoy!
 Morning: Last year, for the first time, we had the opportunity to visit the "Craggy Mountain Line," a small railroad under development in Asheville, and it was such a hit we decided to make it part a part of the program! We will depart for our trip at 8:30 and spend about 1 1/2 hours at the line, seeing the cars and taking a short ride. Visit their website for more information ( We'll return to Montreat around 11 to faciliate checkout of the Assembly Inn. We'll gather with the other group in session to have a brief closing program at 12:15 and then have lunch together.
 Lunch: Closing program and lunch at the Assembly Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

A History of Railroading in Western North Carolina

Author: Cary Franklin Poole

Mt. Mitchell, It's Railroad and Toll Road

Author: Jeff Lovelace

The North Carolina Railroad 1849-1871 and the Modernization of North Carolina

Author: Allen W. Trelease

North Carolina Railroads: The Common Carrier Railroad of North Carolina

Author: David Carriker

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