Getting from the Low Country to the High Country

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Transportation has always been the key to growth and prosperity, and towns have always grown up along transportation routes: first creeks and rivers, then paths that became roads, and then the steel rails that guided the Iron Horse. Indeed, Tryon grew where the railroad stopped while engineer Charles Pearson decided where, and how, to cross the mountains.

The Indian trading trail that became US 176 has been superseded by I-26, and none too soon. The politicians always get involved in the routing of roads and often create challenges for the engineers (I am an engineer, remember. No bias here!) It is my understanding that the County Commissioners insisted that I-26 go by Columbus and have exits requiring traffic to visit. That is how we got the insane interchange with US 74 and the destruction of several properties beneath Miller Mountain when its mica dirt continually washed away, leaving no new roadbed.

During the agonizing wait for solutions to that problem, traffic was routed up and down US 176. Though it had been “improved” somewhat by widening the curves, there were still the choke points at two narrow bridges in reverse curves over the Pacolet River. It is not possible to get a 53-foot semi-trailer truck across those bridges.

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Opal Sauve’s report on the dedication of the new Interstate 26 prompted my offering some memories here of life with the Highway 176 of the early 40s. As implied by my opening paragraph, everything going from Charleston to Tennessee by highway came through Tryon, the valley and Saluda on U.S. 176. Of course, the rail freight had to go up and down the famous Saluda Grade, where a “helper” engine always stood by to help.

So you see, travel between Tryon and Saluda was limited to necessity because of the hazards. We had only three county commissioners in those days, and Baty Hall had to get down here from Saluda to the meetings as best he could. As a railroad man, he might have been tempted to try a handcar, but I believe even the intrepid Mr. Hall would not have wanted to ride one of those little things down the grade!