The French Broad River, believed to be the third-oldest river in the world by most geologists, flows 39 miles through the scenic river valley of Transylvania County. At its headwaters, the North Fork of the French Broad River is a steep and rapid-filled river known for its difficult whitewater, but once the river reaches the small town of Rosman it begins to mellow into a nice and fun float suitable for paddlers of all ages. Popular trips include starting at Rosman’s Champion Park and paddling around five miles through the area’s scenic farmland and hardwood forests before taking out at Hannah Ford Road. Alternate take out options include Island Ford Road and Hap Simpson Park in Brevard. We recommend hooking up with local paddling guide service and gear shop Headwaters Outfitters for boat rentals and shuttles along the river.
The Mountain Lily steamboat was constructed in 1881 to carry passengers and freight between the junction of the Oklawaha River and the French Broad River, to just east of Brevard, NC, a distance of some seventeen miles. The vessel was the central capital of the French Broad Steamboat Company, owned by Col. S. V. Pickens of Hendersonville. The steamboat was designed to link Brevard, Hendersonville and Asheville. The Mountain Lily was 90 feet long with two decks and staterooms to accommodate 100 passengers. On the maiden voyage it held some 100 people, friends of Pickens, but was never successful in showing a profit. The Company tried several other ventures with the steamboat, but all were unsuccessful. A flash flood in 1885 pulled the boat from the mooring at Banner Farm Road and it became mired in a sand bar near King’s Bridge near the current Haywood Road in the 1880’s. The boat was sold for salvage and her wood was used to build the Horseshoe Baptist Church. and her bell was hung in the church belfry.
According to Riverlink.org, a nonprofit group that advocates for the French Broad River, the French Broad River wasnamed it Agiqua (“Long Man”) by the Cherokee Indians and its tributaries were his “chattering children.” For thousands of years, these first inhabitants hunted the forested slopes of the French Broad River gorge, fished the river’s rushing waters, and farmed and built villages amid the rich bottom land. The Swannanoa, a major tributary, was also heavily settled. Today, the remains of more than 20 archaeological sites stand mute along the riverbanks, awaiting exploration.
Hernando De Soto’s expedition passed through the area in 1540, in search of gleaming gold. They never found it, and soon headed west. But in their wake came first a trickle and then a flood of other visitors.
Early European settlers dubbed the river the French Broad, because its wide waters flowed into what was then French territory to the west. In the 1780s, the first white settlers crossed the Blue Ridge: William Moore made a homestead on Hominy Creek, and Samuel Davidson farmed the rich land along the Swannanoa.
More settlers followed, drawn by the river’s song. In the 1820s, the Buncombe Turnpike was built, and farmers in Kentucky and Tennessee began driving livestock through the mountains, following the river’s course en route to the great ports of Charleston and Savannah, farther south. Drovers herded upward of 100,000 hogs a year along the busy road, traveling between “stands” that later grew into towns, and stagecoaches carried passengers and mail.
In the 1880s, the railroad arrived, opening the door to hordes of wealthy visitors who traveled the river corridor. One of them, George Vanderbilt, created the nation’s largest private residence and first school of forestry here. Other visionaries soon followed. By the turn of the century, Asheville’s Riverside Park had become the favored haunt of fashionable ladies and elegant gents. But a fire in 1915 badly damaged the park, and after the Great Flood of 1916, a battered city turned its back on the riverfront.
For more information on the French Broad River Paddle Trail, visit Riverlink’s website and check out their interactive map to the French Broad River Paddle Trail, as well as the printable PDF map that can be accessed here.