History of Hickory Nut Gap Farm

Hickory Nut Gap — where the highway crosses the Buncombe and Henderson County line, and the rain settles on the Continental Divide, tracking east towards the Atlantic or west to the Gulf — has always been an important gateway across the Blue Ridge.

The modern history of Hickory Nut Gap Farm began in 1916, with the arrival of Jim and Elizabeth McClure. Newly married and still on their honeymoon, they fell in love with the old Sherrill’s Inn and the surrounding farm. Elizabeth devoted herself to restoring the old inn and its landscaping. On April 30th, 1918 Jim held the first official meeting of the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Company. Wading into farm work, Jim learned firsthand about the many difficulties of mountain agriculture. We are now five generations of McClure descendants on this land.

Diary entries from the year 1918 written by Jim McClure:

[Aug. 1] “The cursed,cursed pigs are rooting up the whole lawn.” [Sept. 11] “…threshed 46 1/2 bu. wheat, 15 rye, 18 oats & 1 barley.” [Sept. 13] “Sent wheat to Alexander’s mill & they said it was the best wheat they had had brought in.” [Sept. 18] “…molasses being made, Fin, John & Foy at the evaporator, John with Red & Brown [the mules] hauling cane—& W.B. Morgan, Croak & Zeb strip-ping &cutting cane.” [Sept. 19] “Molasses started at crack of dawn. By noon…50 gal. was made by 8 p.m.” [Oct. 8] “Finished picking apples totaling 125 [barrels] …Started [grain] dryer this day & it did twice catch on fire & we are feeling sullen at the Demonstrating agents for getting us into it.”

In 1920, Jim initiated the visionary Farmers Federation, a cooperative organization to bring better agriculture to Western North Carolina. We Plow God’s Fields tells the story of the McClures and the Farmers Federation.

Jim and Elizabeth McClure raised two children, Jamie and Elspeth. Jamie died unexpectedly while on a coast guard ship during World War II. Elspeth married her cousin James McClure Clarke just after the war. James Clarke became the U.S. Congressman for 3 terms during the 1980’s. They raised eight children on the farm. Under the leadership of the fourth generation, Hickory Nut Gap Farm is enjoying a wonderful renaissance.

The Farm + Our Family

The land of Hickory Nut Gap Farm is jointly owned by the six children of James and Elspeth Clarke. In 2008 the land was put into a conservation easement with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Protected for eternity, the land will remain managed by the family and in the production of their agricultural pursuits.

Some of the six children, now grown with children and grandchildren of their own, remain here at the farm and in the area, while some have moved away to pursue a different course in life. This large farm family gathers often as the draw of the family home and its agricultural heritage is still strong.

The Agers

John and Annie Ager host the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Camp. Nearly every day you can catch Annie on horseback with a line of riding students following behind her. John Ager is involved in farmland preservation efforts in the region and a partner in Drovers Road Preserve. John was recently elected as a North Carolina General Assembly Representative.

Amy and Jamie Ager co-own the Hickory Nut Gap Farm business and the brand Hickory Nut Gap Meats. Both are graduates of Warren Wilson College. They have three eager boys who enjoy moving cows and feeding baby chicks.

Eric and Rachel Ager currently live in Turkey with their four children.

Kevin Ager is in the Army and works in California.

Doug Ager lives in Asheville and co-owns the renewable energy company Sugar Hollow Solar with his cousin Phelps Clarke. He can sometimes be seen jogging by the farm on his lunch breaks as their office is located nearby.

The Hamiltons

Dr. Will and Susie Hamilton are both retired are spending time enjoying their family and friends.

Isaiah and Annie Louise Perkinson own and operate Flying Cloud Farm, a 14-acres of organically grown vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Flying Cloud Farm offers their vegetables for sale at their roadside stand, local farmers market, and through a CSA. Annie Louise and Isaiah have two daughters.

William and Molly Hamilton and their four children live close by Hickory Nut Gap Farm where William grew up. William is the Farmland Preservation Director at the local land trust Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and he is also a real estate broker with Conservation Advisors of North Carolina Inc. Additionally, William serves as a Soil and Water Supervisor for the Buncombe County Soil and Water District. Molly grew up in eastern North Carolina where her grandfather farmed small grains, cattle, and pork and she serves as the Extension Assistant for NC State University Organic Grain Project. Molly is also a partner and operator of Farmer Jane Soaps.

With help from their three boys, Elizabeth and Fred Bahnson are cultivating a bio-intensive garden and permaculture orchard in Brevard. Elizabeth, former fiddle player for the Steep Canyon Rangers, is still a musician whose most recent album with Charles Pettee and FolkPsalm is entitled The Way of Manna. She currently teaches fiddle lessons. Fred is the author of two books, Making Peace with the Land and Soil and Sacrement.

David is a Massage & Bodywork Therapist, Musician and Educator living in the North Carolina Piedmont.  davidhamilton.massagetherapy.com

Elspie Hamilton is currently living and working in Yosemite National Park teaching environmental education and exploring the high peaks as an avid rock climber.

The Clarkes

Jim and Francine Clarke live in Cornelius, NC. They have a daughter, Sharon Cox (who is married to Jamey Cox), and three grandchildren, Hallie, Annalise, and Benjamin Cox. They and their family enjoy occasional visits to Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Hallie, Annalise, and Benjamin have greatly enjoyed participating  in the HNGF horse camp, both as campers and as counselors.

Billy and Cindy Clarke live here in Fairview, NC. Billy is an environmental lawyer at Roberts & Stevens Law Firm and Cindy works at UNC Asheville with the Family Business Forum. Their growing family adds to the clan.  Phelps Clarke co-owns Sugar Hollow Solar with his cousin, Douglas Ager. Winslow Clarke Dean and husband Matt have Asheville Stone in Fairview and have two sons McClure 5 and Cramer almost 3. Durban Clarke Zaunbrecher and her husband Austin live in New Orleans and are expecting their first child in May.  Ambrose helps where he can and Wills is busy as a 9th grader at Christ School.

Dumont Clarke and his wife, Shirley J. Linn, live and work in Charlotte NC.  Dumont is of counsel at the law firm Moore & Van Allen PLLC and also serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners of Mecklenburg County.  Shirley is Executive Vice President and General Counsel of FairPoint Communications, Inc. They also own a house on the edge of the farm here and visit the expanded farm store whenever they are here.  They have two daughters, Elizabeth, a 2007 Duke University graduate who is a US Navy intelligence officer and always on the move, and Deborah, a 2009 Davidson College graduate, who has been a teacher at The Hotchkiss School and Charlotte Latin School and is about to receive her M.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Doug and Betsy Clarke live in a house they built here on the farm. They have four children, Mark, Lily, Zoe, and Charlie. Doug manages the upkeep of the family home and grounds. Betsy is a hospice nurse at The Elizabeth House in Flat Rock NC..