After the Flood – Toxaway Falls Today and Yesterday

Toxaway Falls plunges 240 feet below Highway 64 in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. Viewing its spectacular jump requires some effort, but it is worth it. The falls flow down the center of a wide expanse of bare rock, but that has not always been the case.

The waters of Toxaway Falls originate high in the Blue Ridge Mountains about twenty-five miles west of Brevard. Here the seepings and pourings of numerous little springs join one to another, leaping and splashing their way down through green hollows, emerging to rest in rock strewn pools, only to slip like liquid glass over the brim of an upturned stone, and slide away again. These small tributaries follow routes of incredible beauty before they are impounded by the Lake Toxaway dam. Below the dam the excess waters of the lake are drawn off and flow swiftly over a bed of solid rock a short distance to the top of the Toxaway Gorge. There they plunge in a thunderous froth of white, tier upon tier, 240 feet altogether, down the face of a massive dome of exposed plutonic rock. Highway 64 crosses the top of the falls on a concrete bridge. Wow!

Toxaway Falls is easiest viewed from the restaurant situated a short distance west of the bridge on Highway 64. Except for a small shop and the restaurant, the west side of Toxaway Falls is, unfortunately (for tourists), a residential area. The east side of the falls is part of Gorges State Park; but that side is so rugged most people do not attempt viewing from there. However, the view from the top is really splendid and fairly safe, but you will have to park nearby and walk back to the bridge. There is usually room to park east of the bridge. On the side of the bridge you will see a little chain-link enclosed catwalk from which to view the falls in comparative safety.

Toxaway Falls flows down the center of a wide expanse of bare rock. Such scouring of a rock’s surface usually occurs naturally over time as a result of erosion. That is what happened here, but it was not a slow process, nor was it altogether a natural occurrence. The contributing factors began to come together in the late 1800s. It was then a group of wealthy investors discovered the rugged beauty of the Toxaway River basin and recognized it immediately as the ideal location for a first class tourist resort. In practically no time the waters of the Toxaway River were backed up to become Lake Toxaway and a five story hotel arose upon its shore. Several miles of railroad track was laid from a nearby town up the mountain to the Toxaway Inn and from then until 1916 a steady stream of rich and famous clientele from all over the United States enjoyed sumptuous accommodations at Lake Toxaway.

Then, in 1916, following a long siege of wet weather, the earthen dam at Toxaway collapsed and over five hundred acres of mud and water washed down the Toxaway Gorge with a roar that was heard for miles. The flood dislodged boulders as large as freight cars, depositing them near the base of the falls where they remain to this day. The magnificent hotel closed its doors, and was finally torn down in the 1940s. The lake was rebuilt in 1960 however, and became, along with a few older homes from the previous era, the centerpiece of a new private residential community, Lake Toxaway Estates.

Numbers of old picture postcards tell the story of the high life at Lake Toxaway in the early 1900s. Among these are some issued around 1908 bearing the only known image of Toxaway Falls falls prior to the collapse of the dam. This card appears to be a lithograph; it clearly depicts Toxaway Falls as a series of cascades flanked closely by trees and shrubs.

Toxaway Falls is one of many spectacular waterfalls in Transylvania County, North Carolina, a place that has become widely known as the Land of Waterfalls.

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