THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, OLDEST ON EARTH?
That’s what many claim. One of several mountain ranges that collectively make up the Appalachian Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains were formed from rocks believed to be more than a billion years old.
The Appalachians were created when huge tectonic plates that formed the earth’s crust collided violently about 250 million years ago, causing slabs of crust to bend and wrinkle like they were made of fabric. At one time, these mountains may have been higher than the Rockies or the Alps, but weather and other erosion have worn them to the gentle peaks they are today.
The Blue Ridge Mountains got their name from the typical blue haze that laces around the peaks. The Cherokee called this the “Land of the Blue Mist.” The highest peak east of the Mississippi River is Mount Mitchell, which rises to 6,684 feet. Mount Mitchell can be seen from certain areas in the Swannanoa Valley.
Animals, early humankind, Indians, pioneers, and modern mankind have struggled over time to find pathways across the Blue Ridge that would lead them into the mountains of Western North Carolina. Discover these pathways at the Swannanoa Valley Museum.
The mountains of Western North Carolina are a region of great biodiversity, with more species of plants than can be found in any other area of similar size in North America.
Botanical studies have documented over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 species of fungi, and 500 species of mosses and lichens in the region. These mountains are also home to more species of salamanders than any other place in the world. More old-growth forests survive in the mountains of North Carolina than in any other Southern Appalachian state.
The Great Smoky Mountains boast more than 1,400 varieties of flowering plans and 100 species of trees, more than the whole of Europe.
Early European botanists, including William Bartram and Andre Michaux, discovered many species new to them on their travels through Western North Carolina. Michaux passed through the Swannanoa Valley in 1794 on one of his expeditions in search of plants to send back to his New Jersey nursery and on from there to the gardens of Europe. An historical marker about this visit stands in front of the Museum.
The Swannanoa Valley was the pathway taken in 1776 by North Carolina General Griffith Rutherford, who led more than 2000 men and 1500 horses from the piedmont up the Catawba River drainage and into the western mountains in a search and destroy mission against the Cherokee.
The Rutherford expedition was in response to increasingly frequent attacks by the Cherokees on pioneer settlers just east of the Blue Ridge, which was by treaty the dividing line between land available for settlement and Cherokee territory.
This dark moment in Western North Carolina history led to the destruction of many Cherokee towns further to the west, and to the deaths of many Cherokees. Upon completion of his destruction, Rutherford returned along the same path, which has become known as “Rutherford’s Trace.”
On October 7, 1780, American patriots won a definitive victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain, NC, near the South Carolina border. Thomas Jefferson called the victory “the battle that turned the tide of success” in the Revolutionary War.
Many of the militia men who achieved this stunning victory were known as the “Overmountain Men,” citizen soldiers who marched from Abingdon, Virginia, through Eastern Tennessee, over the high mountains of North Carolina, to engage and defeat the British at King’s Mountain in South Carolina.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, established in 1980, commemorates their victory, and every year reenactors follow the trail in honor of these soldiers. Visitors can retrace the footsteps of these heroes over a public motor route that leads through scenic rural countryside.
THE BUNCOMBE COUNTY TURNPIKE
In 1823 Archibald DeBrow Murphy used his growing influence in the North Carolina General Assembly to get funds allocated to the creation of the transmountain road that would become known as the Buncombe Turnpike. An important road completed in 1827 created the first wagon safe road that allowed travel from Tennessee – North Carolina – South Carolina.
The Buncombe Turnpike provided a means for mountain farmers and artisans to get their goods to other areas of North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina as well as providing much needed economic relief to the mountain areas. In North Carolina, the Buncombe Turnpike crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the French Broad River Valley.
As a result inns, shops and wagon repair depots opened up along the turnpike, generating more revenue to the previously impoverished areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Due to the central location of Asheville along the turnpike route, rapid growth and prosperity came to Asheville and surrounding areas. The turnpike is also accredited with bringing early tourist to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Another important element of the Buncombe Turnpike was the transportation of important agricultural goods, poultry and hogs found to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the towns and cities located on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The most common animals transported on the pikeway were hogs. In one fall a 150,000 hogs were driven over the Buncombe Turnpike.
Today Interstate 40 runs through the Swannanoa Valley connecting the Eastern United States to the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond, providing one of the vital west to east transportation links for goods and travelers.
The Central Highway, later US 70, followed a torturous, winding route over the mountains, a path that included 98 curves.
A welcome rest stop along the way was Point Lookout, a tourist attraction with a fantastic view of the Royal Gorge. Travelers could buy a soft drink for a nickel and a hot dog for a dime. A special attraction of the place was a bear named Sally, who entertained visitors by downing a bottle of her favorite drink, orange soda.
When the section of US 70 was closed between Old Fort and Black Mountain and Interstate 40 was laid, the road fell into ruin. Recently, in a partnership that included McDowell County, NC Department of Transportation, USDA Forest Service, and private individuals, the road has been cleaned up and converted into a biking and hiking trail, Point Lookout Trail.
Author John Ehle’s novel, The Road, is fiction based on fact and tells an epic story of the building of the railroad between Old Fort and Black Mountain.
For more information on this exhibit or any other exhibit, event or ways to support the museum please contact us at 828-669-9566 or send us an email.