Category Archives: Western North Carolina

A Revolutionary History Lesson: The Overmountain Men

Just imagine. The year is 1780. The Revolutionary War is at a stalemate, no end is in sight and the fighting has moved south with the British conquest of Charleston. The King of England decreed no white men were allowed to claim land west of the Appalachian Mountains, but some had settled in the area.

This week marks the 238th anniversary of a sentinel battle of the Revolutionary War – many say the turning point. In school, we never learned about the rag-tag mountain militia who chased the British to Kings Mountain and fought for freedom. Dubbed the Overmountain Men, they also battled nature as they pursued British Major Patrick Ferguson and his well-armed forces. Ferguson had successfully recruited “loyalist” troops from colonists in the Carolinas to fight for the British crown.

Marching from Virginia, through Tennessee and the Carolinas conditions were harsh. The men had to wade through a deep early snowfall, forge rivers, and try not to succumb to hunger and the effects of steady rain. The Colonels all agreed William Campbell would be their leader. The men had a lot to lose. These self-provisioned, self-armed troops relied heavily on their honed hunting skills and burning desire for freedom to “soldier on.”

One thousand men led by Cols. Campbell, Sevier, Shelby, and McDowell met up at Sycamore Shoals (today in Elizabethton, TN) and marched on to meet-up with the Carolina men at Quaker Meadows (now a golf course) in Morganton, NC. A total of almost 2,000 patriots set out on what would become a 330-mile trek.

On October 7, the Patriots finally found Ferguson and his loyalist recruits and winning the Battle of Kings Mountain became a turning point in the war. With Ferguson dead, the British abandoned their goal of taking North Carolina and retreated to South Carolina.

Loyalists were either killed or captured and the Patriots lost 28, with another 62 wounded. One of those wounded was Robert Sevier, brother of Col. John Sevier. Sevier didn’t make it home and dying in NC on the way. He and Revolutionary War veteran Captain Martin Davenport are buried near Spruce Pine, NC.

Every year the Overmountain Victory Trail Association reenacts portions of the 330-mile march in cooperation with the National Park Service. As just one part of the re-creation, they meet-up with about 400 NC school children to visually tell the story of the men and the battle, as well as visit the graves of Sevier and Davenport.

The children are taken up to the remote, tiny Bright’s Cemetery in small groups to pay homage to the memory of those who died for our freedom. The site is on the property of the Sibelco Schoolhouse Quartz Plant and is only open once a year when the company/mine sponsors the event and hosts the kids with lunch and other creature comforts (think tents, porta-potties, and even bug spray). It’s a 2.5-mile trek to the gravesite and back to the parking lot.

As a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), it was a privilege to attend. Local DAR members were instrumental in finding and restoring the gravesites in the early 1950s. The Overmountain Victory Trail Association members did a fabulous job capturing and telling the stories of 1780.

Footnotes

Three Top Leaders:
Lines were blurry between state boundaries at that time; in fact, many states had yet to be officially established. Shelby went on to form the State of Kentucky and become its first governor. In the meantime, Sevier was busy forming the short-lived State of Franklin which he served as governor. After Franklin dissolved, Sevier was instrumental in creating the State of Tennessee, becoming its first governor, the first of four terms. In 1781, just before the battle of Yorktown, while still serving, Campbell died in Virginia after a short illness.

Militias & Officers:
Virginia/ 400 men: Col. William Campbell
Tennessee/ 400 men: Cols John Sevier & Issac Shelby
North Carolina:
   Burke County/ 200 men-Col. Charles McDowell
   Surrey, Wilkes & Caldwell Counties/ 350 men-Col Benjamin Cleveland & Maj Joseph Winston
   Other Troops-William Chronicle
South Carolina: William Hill & Edward Lacey
Georgia: William Chandler

The Host Quartz Plant:
This area of North Carolina is the number one spot in the world for mining high-quality quartz. Quartz from this facility was used to make the lens in the Hubble Telescope.

For More Info:

We enjoyed our conversations with members of the group. One fact: Patriots aimed to wound, taking 2-3 men out of the fight (to care for the injured) vs a kill, removing just one.

National Park Service www.nps.gov/ovvi

Overmountain Victory Trail Association www.OVTA.org

TN – Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area www.sycamoreshoals.org

SC – Kings Mountain National Military Park www.nps.gov/kimo

NC – Historic Burke Foundation (Quaker Meadows) www.historicburke.org

VA – Abingdon Muster Grounds www.abingdonmustergrounds.com

 

Shatley Springs Does More Than Fill Your Tummy

In Western North Carolina, just a few miles south of the Virginia border is a little slice of mountain life that is good for the soul (and the stomach).  Shatley Springs is a ramshackle collection of metal-roofed buildings and cabins, some dating as far back as 1923. Décor leans to early-barn, with colorful flowers planted in re-purposed kitchen pots and old equipment.

Built over springs reported to have medicinal powers, a typical Sunday finds a huge after-church crowd and (without being rude) lots of folks who appear to have very healthy appetites.  If you don’t have a reservation you may have to wait, but just sit back in the porch rockers and enjoy the live music or wander around the grounds, check out the spring, buy some Ashe County fruit and bread, browse the shops, or chat-up some new friends. NASCAR is a popular topic I overheard being discussed during this most recent visit.  The shops have an eclectic variety of items including jewelry, candy, and locally handcrafted goods.

Lunch and dinner are available after 11:30 and feature fried chicken and sugar-cured country ham. This was our first time trying the breakfast menu and we had a delicious meal.  I like that you can forgo the trademark large family-style meals and order exactly what you want, including eggs made to order.  The biscuits are amazing, and as long as I can get good country sausage gravy I am happy (a treat my Yankee husband just does not understand).

When you can’t eat another bite, your waitress will add “God Bless You” to your check and wish you a blessed day – and she will mean it.

Of Note:

If you drive over from Boone the Railroad Grade Road between Todd and Fleetwood is a beautiful drive along the New River.

Once at Shatley Springs, you will need to check in at the office; they will call your name to be seated.  You return to the same area at the end of the meal to settle your bill.  Keeping up with the times, they now take credit cards. Open daily 7 AM til 9 PM.  Call for reservations. 

407 Shatley Springs Road, Crumpler, NC   336.982.2236

For more details check out: www.shatleysprings.com

Just because there is a Xmas tablecloth doesn’t mean it’s not time for summer peaches, homemade fried pies, and sourdough bread.

 

Mountain Wanderings

We returned to Lake Toxaway this year, at the invitation of good friends (thanks!) and once again had some wonderful new adventures. Who doesn’t love a mountain lake? And we enjoyed the hospitality of another Florida friend when he gave us a first-rate boat tour. It was interesting to learn about the history of some of the beautiful lake-front estates and even more interesting to hear current neighborhood tidbits. We even saw a bear scouting for food just below the deck of the house.

As a preservation advocate, I’m always up for anything historic and we visited the Cashiers Designer Showhouse, Fox Tail, presented by the Cashiers Historical Society. I wasn’t that thrilled with the showhouse, but enjoyed the 1920 cottage on the 42-acre property that was also open to tour. The Historic Lawrence Monteith Cabin was open as a joint venture with the Glenville Area Historical Society.

The three-bedroom house still has the original doors and windows with rope pulleys. The sawmill that provided the boards to build the house and the original farm fields were covered by Lake Glenville in 1941. Although electricity and plumbing were added in the 1940s, the three-bedroom home never had an indoor bathroom.

It was a nice glimpse into past mountain living.

CashiersHistoricalSociety.com

A Beautiful Day on the NC Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s a reason they call it the Blue Ridge.

After a week with some serious rain, the sky was clean and bright, with landscape greens and blues at their best. A perfect day to drive along the Parkway, stroll around Blowing Rock, and of course make a stop at Kilwins for some toasted coconut ice cream.

Along the way, we came across a Park Ranger equipped with a stuffed cinnamon-colored black bear (yes, they are not always black) to help promote the National Park Service’s exceptional Junior Ranger Program. When I expressed sadness at the demise of the little bear she assured me he had a very long life as a youth educator.  If you have kids or grandkids, be sure to check out the Jr Ranger Activities, they are terrific.

We learned the black bear population has come back from a low of 400 to somewhere in the 20-30,000 range in this part of the country. No wonder there are so many bear-sightings this year.

BTW, we also learned Carolina coastal bears enjoy a richer diet and are much fatter than their mountain relatives.

 

   

 

Chihuly at Biltmore

Escaping Reality in Boone, NC

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My family loves games and puzzles and are always up for an escape room adventure. This week, we tried Boone’s first escape room – Mysterium, and were not disappointed.

The Boone property is a completely local, original venture; not part of a franchise like so many others. Owner-creator Shaun has done a masterful job. His video, recordings, clues, and special effects are top-notch. The hour was packed with lots of interesting special effects – really the most we’ve ever experienced. Of course, I’m not going to give any hints, but don’t be daunted if you have to ask for help and get a few extra clues along the way.  You are connected to the outside by walkie-talkie and can ask for assistance at any time.

The theme of the room was “The Inheritance” and we were looking for the fortune left by mischievous adventurer/explorer Uncle Ambrose. The room is not large and play is limited to no more than six participants at a time.  Our team of four joined the mother-son duo Vicky and Andy (pictured above, on the left) for this quest.

Shaun is currently creating his next room and we can’t wait.

We did escape, with 8 seconds to spare.

Details:  www.MysteriumBoone.com

828.865.0009   *  743 W King St.  *  $25 per adult; $15 students with ID  *  Must be 12 and, if under 18 with an adult.

 

 

 

Banner’s Elk: Ever wonder how the town of Banner Elk got its name?

The Banner House Museum is a charming spot. Hundreds of visitors to this idyllic mountain town pass by and never give it a second look.  But, they should.

Built in 1865, by Samuel Henry Banner the home stayed in the Banner family for about 100 years. Once purchased by the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, the home was restored to its original condition and today contains many family heirlooms, period furnishings and curated exhibits explaining the local area, founders, and history. It opened as a museum in 2007. 

Samuel Banner was a descendant of the first Banners to settle in the area. The first Banner was 40-year-old Martin Banner who settled in the area in 1848, after passing through in 1830. Banner brothers Lewis, Anthony, Edward, and John soon joined him in the valley at the headwaters of the Elk River. They pooled their talents of wood working, tanning, metal working and farming and a thriving community was born. 

The spot Samuel selected for his homestead on the Elk River is now known as the Mill Pond, just off Highway 184. The area was known as Banner’s Ford or Banner’s Elk and when the town was incorporated in 1911, was shortened to the Banner Elk name we know today.

The museum also features exhibits on other local pioneer families, along with interesting information about the area.

One of the most interesting things I learned during the tour, was a bit of the area’s complicated history during the Civil War. Although nearby Boone was sympathetic to the Confederacy, most Banners were Unionists, with sons fighting in the war and family members hiding and transporting escaped Union prisoners.

 

Plan a Visit:

For a modest $5 contribution to the Foundation, you can experience a tour given by one of the volunteer docents at the Museum.  Mid-June through early-October hours are generally 11-3 Wednesday – Saturday, but call and verify they are open and giving tours. Check online for their event calendar.

Banner House Museum     7990 Hickory Nut Gap Road, just off NC 184   

828.898.3634       http://www.BannerHouseMuseum.org

 

The ‘Ole Swim’n Hole

A fearless diver hits the water from a high perch.

For years I’d heard mention of a nearby spot where kids loved to swim and dive – this is it.  Locally known as Trash Can Falls, it’s officially Laurel Creek Falls. The falls aren’t the star of the show here, it’s the hidden setting and opportunity to jump and play.  We just enjoyed watching.

Students from nearby Appalachian State University mingle with local kids to scramble around the boulders and test the waters with jumps ranging from heights of 10-30 feet.  The unmarked setting gives the spot a hidden waterhole atmosphere and you can just imagine Huck Finn stopping off for a swim. The river is a beautiful spot and we thought one smart couple had a great idea to hang their hammock between the trees along the shady bank.

Carefully navigating the handy metal grate.

Someone, likely unofficial, has placed a metal grate between the rocks to facilitate movement over a chasm.

One local student told me it was called Trash Can Falls because of its cylindrical shape, but further research explains that in years past a former recycle/dumpster site (called a “Convenience Center” in North Carolina), used to be the landmark for the trailhead. Today it’s hard to find.

Directions:

From Boone, NC, head towards Tennessee on Hwy 421 and hang a left on Highway 321. After a few miles, just past a concrete bridge, you will see a small gravel parking area on your right (a sign for Laurel Creek Road is on your left). Park here, cross the street and enter the woods. In just minutes you’re there.

Enjoying a natural shower.

Laugh, Learn & Laugh Some More.

 

Our friend in Asheville thought we would enjoy the LaZoom City Comedy Tour and she was right on point.

The 90-minute open-air bus tour winds its way through charming Asheville and manages to impart quite a bit of local flavor and history between the funny, corny, and sometimes bawdy, commentary.

Tour guide Cookie flips out.

This is a great city – chock full of unique locally owned shops and restaurants (over 90%) and more craft breweries than anywhere else in the country. You can bet the breweries are mentioned during this tour, which allows consumption of wine and/or beer while on board, and includes a rest stop at the Green Man Brewery.

Two facts that made an impression:

  1. despite the ghost stories, no one died during the Civil War’s Battle of Asheville, and
  2. last month Asheville’s nationally renowned Wicked Weed Brewing company sold out to Anheuser-Busch. We hope it’s not the start of a trend.

Check out their website for times, fees and other tour options: http://www.lazoomtours.com/

Incredible Day for a Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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