A Personal History: Mayfields Farm to Hawthorn Hills

by Virginia Browning Turner,
daughter of Bert & Sara Browning
Written in the Spring, 2000

Remember those times when life was slower, gentler and in many ways, more personal? Milk wasn't something you picked up at the supermarket. Your friendly milkman, the one with treats in his pockets for the kids and dogs on his route, delivered it along with real cream and butter.

Bert Browning was the owner/manager of a small local firm, Kalmia Dairy. Kalmia, by the way, is the botanical name for our native mountain laurel. The dairy was a processing plant purchasing milk from many Henderson County farms to supplement the production of its own small dairy farm on Haywood Road.

In 1943 Bert and his wife, Sara, expanded the scope of the operation with the purchase of the Hicks McCrary dairy farm consisting of 103 acres, two barns, a large farmhouse located on the level area to the west of the old oak tree and four small tenant houses.

Since the farm and the dairy were both bought in the month of May and Bert and Sara's anniversary also was in May, they named the new acquisition Mayfields Farm. Over the years white board fences replaced barbed wire. Three more barns and two silos were added. Some 70 Guernsey and Holstein cattle grazed the well-tended pastures. The one barn remaining today was a feed barn. The flooring in the loft was laid of hardwood for the square dances that were enjoyed in the summer before the winter hay was dried and stored. For special dances a live band was on hand but more often the music was from a PA system and a 78-rpm record of "Down Yonder" performed by the Skillet Lickers. Only one record was needed because these were square dances and that was the only tune anyone wanted.

Kalmia Dairy, the processing plant, was operated in four different locations over the years, the last one being built in 1952 on Asheville Highway. This final location was proclaimed (both with a full cover photo and a feature article) by the Southern Dairy Products Journal as the foremost processing plant in the southeast. The Asheville Highway location also featured a restaurant (we called it a dairy bar) serving salads, sandwiches, soups, pies and, of course, ice cream. Everything was made on site including the ice cream. Operated by Sara from 1950 until 1957, The Kalmia Dairy Bar was a favorite with residents and tourists alike.

A small part of the original entrance road to the barns is now the Hodsdon's driveway at 27l5 Brevard Highway. During WW II, German prisoners were held in a camp here in Henderson County and groups of them were sent out to work on farms. Until 1962, when Bert decided to dress it up with a rock facing, you would have seen the initials P.O.W. on the concrete heading of the culvert under the Hodsdon's driveway, a legacy of the young Germans who installed it.

The Brevard Highway was four feet narrower in the 1940s' than it is today. With wider shoulders and much less traffic, we rode pleasure horses along the various roads in the county without any safety concerns. For training, there was a riding ring next to the stream in the level area behind Frank and Pat Newell's house at 210 Heathcote Road.

Kudzu came along in the 1950's, widely hailed as the perfect thing to feed cattle. On a summer day we set out to plant this wonderful addition along the edge of the pastures on the west. Fortunately the cattle ate most of the plants before they had a chance to root!

Bert sold Kalmia Dairy in 1957, both the processing plant on the Asheville Highway and the Mayfields Farm cattle. He had always said that the land was so rolling that it was more suited to a development than to farming and the next few years were spent planning and implementing the subdivision that we now enjoy.

The purchase of 97 acres of wooded area, now Heathcote Road, brought the total acreage to 200. William Pitkin, an architect known for laying out Shaker Heights in Cleveland, Ohio, was hired to plat the roads and the lots. It was Mr. Pitkin who gave Bert and Sara the idea of a name for the subdivision by saying that he had never seen so many hawthorn trees in one place. Bert was pleased with the name, but was bugged forever after by people who insisted on putting an "e" on the end of Hawthorn. Nathaniel might have been pleased but Bert was not.

Mayflelds Farm and subsequently Hawthorn Hills had a private water system until 1990. At first the water came from a spring on the mountain above Lake Virginia that fed two large covered reservoirs and flowed by gravity feed to the various residences. After a well was dug near the barn in 1973, the spring water was augmented by well water during dry periods. As more homes were constructed and demand became heavier, the pump house on Heathcote Road was built in 1986 to raise the water pressure to serving homes on the upper side of Browning Road and we tapped into the Hendersonville City Water System. Bert made sure that all residences had meters approved by the Hendersonville Water Department and it was my job to read the meters each month and take care of the billing.

In 1990 the cost to Browning Enterprises of providing water for the subdivision became prohibitive. The Utilities Commission of NC would have approved substantially raising the rates. However, we decided to give the pump house and the system to the City of Hendersonville rather than place this burden on the residents. I must admit that I wasn't unhappy to give up my chore of crawling into 63 holes each month to read meters so that I could then go home to figure and prepare the bills and Bert III wasn't sorry to lose his responsibility of getting any leaks or ruptured lines repaired.

After Mr. Pitkin had finished his work in 1959, Sara began planting trees on all of the lots that had been open pastureland. She did well and many of those trees are enjoyed today although many others did not survive. During the early years the undeveloped pasture lands were cut for hay and many a tractor operator failed to see tree seedlings not much, if any, higher than the hay.

Bert built the first house in 1963. It is now the residence of the Brewers at 110 Hawthorn Drive. Over the years he was the contractor for 16 homes. Some were spec homes to set the tone of the area but most were built for specific owners.

By design, Hawthorn Hills developed slowly over the years. Prior to 1993, no more than two lots were sold in any single year. Bert loved the land and since it carried a cost basis of farmland, he had an excuse to sell it off very slowly. Lake Archer was built in 1962. Hawthorn Drive, Browning Road, Heathcote Road, Riding Gate Road and the rest of Phase Two were developed over the years in four separate stages. In 1963 the first part of Hawthorn Drive was graded and paved. It went from the highway to the barn while at the same time Browning Road was established as far as the driveway to 309 Browning Road. About 1969 Heathcote Road and Gregory Way were put in and Browning Road was extended to meet it. The "meadow road" extending Hawthorn Drive from the Barn around to meet Browning Road, was built in 1977. Riding Gate Road and the rest of Phase Two were established in 1993.

Sara and Bert built their dream home at 304 Browning Road in 1965. The brick from the milking barn was used in its construction and the leaded panes flanking the front door came from bookcases originally in the small cottage that sat at the site of Nooky Noel's home, 116 Hawthorn Drive. Other fine architectural items from various places were incorporated into the house and it was filled with fine antiques. Bert and Sara joked that they should just call the house "Leftovers." Work in her yard was Sara's love. The grounds at 304 Browning Road were a showplace and Sara could be seen every morning, weather permitting, working in the yard and visiting with those passing by. Surely Bert and Sara share our pleasure that it is now owned and loved by their grandson, Parker Browning.

Sara also developed and tended the plantings at the entrances to Hawthorn Hills, along the highway and around Lake Archer. While Sara gardened, welcomed new residents and gave memorable parties, Bert also kept very busy. He rode through the subdivision every day making sure that everything was shipshape and not a single stray limb had fallen to mar the landscape. With loving care over the years, Bert saw to the maintenance of the roads, lakes, entrances and common grounds. All building and site plans had to meet with his approval and contractors were often reminded that no trash was to be scattered around a building site. Ever mindful of the overall appearance of the neighborhood, he even knocked on doors and asked the residents to adhere to his high standards. He was fondly known as the "Benevolent Despot."

The Hawthorn Hills family grew and thrived. The first 4th of July picnic under the big oak tree was held in 1978 followed in December by the first Christmas gathering at the Hendersonville Country Club. The Christmas lunch at the club that year was $6.50 per person including champagne!

Sara, beloved by all who knew her, passed away in 1983. Bert stayed on in their home. He continued his active life in Hawthorn Hills and in the community although by that time most of the running of the subdivision had been taken over by his children, Bert III (downtown Bert) and me. Even after he was no longer able to drive on the highways, Bert was seen each day driving through Hawthorn Hills to be sure all was in order.

The last home that Bert built was a custom home at 302 Browning Road, now the Miller home. This was in 1987. Bert was 86 at the time and, as always, expected the carpenters to be on the job and working at 8:00 a.m. Coffee and smoking breaks were definitely not necessary in his estimation particularly since he himself was on the job for the entire day with only a short break for lunch.

In 1996 Bert suffered a bad fall that made it necessary for him to reside in an assisted care facility. However, after recovering from the fall, he came out during the day and worked in his workshop continuing to build the fine furniture that had been his hobby since 1944. Bert passed away in 1997 at the age of 96. His long and full life was celebrated by a memorial service held in a large tent near the old oak tree where the original farmhouse had stood. An era had come to a close.

It is the hope of the Browning Family that each of you enjoys the fruits of our labors and that you have many happy years as residents of Hawthorn Hills. In the words of the late Frank Ewbank, on the occasion of Bert's ninety-fifth birthday:

  • "We all know Bert,
  • he's mostly merry.
  • Bought some cows for his Kalmia Dairy.
  • Then bought some pasture
  • so his cows could feed
  • and bought the land
  • lock, stock and deed.
  • Sold that land to the Jacks and Jills;
  • today we call it Hawthorn Hills!"