Tag Archives: Blue Ridge Mountains

Group: Proposed ACP Pipeline Poses Undue Risks to the Blue Ridge

Too many questions remain for FERC to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline says monitoring coalition

By Rick Webb


In-stream blasting would be used for crossing the South Fork of the Rockfish River, a native trout stream in the pipeline corridor below the proposed drilling operation.

MONTEREY, VA. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (CPMC) has submitted a report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the proposal to drill through the Blue Ridge Mountains under the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the National Forest.

The information provided in the DEIS is insufficient to support evaluation of the proposed Blue Ridge drilling operation. The scale of excavation is not fully disclosed or considered, and the results of critical geophysical investigations have not been provided. Identification of geohazards and evaluation of mitigation measures have been deferred until later, precluding a meaningful opportunity for informed review of the project. The published DEIS fails to meet the information needs of the public or the governmental agencies that have responsibilities related to the ACP project.

FERC must release a revised DEIS to:
1)  prove that boring through the Blue Ridge is a practicable option, by providing reliable and complete geophysical data
2)  disclose the extent of land disturbance and water quality damage the proposal would create
3)  include detailed, site-specific plans and pollution control measures for all alternatives for crossing the Blue Ridge.


The Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

The DPMC Report:
A High-Risk Proposal – Drilling Through the Blue Ridge for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Story Map Version
Facebook Announcement 

To learn more about the DPMC, visit their website: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition or contact Rick Webb, Program Coordinator at rwebb.dpmc@gmail.com.


Take a Hike!

Mother Nature nurtures our souls with wonderment and beauty

By Michael M. Barrick


MORTIMER, N.C.Wilson Creek is officially a National and Scenic Wild River. That federal designation, which took effect in the summer of 2000 is critical, as the purpose of the law according to The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems website, is “ … to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational value in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Wilson Creek earned its designation only because of hard work and cooperation among county and federal elected officials and staff.


The “creek” which is certainly as much like a river as the stream it feeds into – the Johns River – deserves the designation. Scenic and wild it is, as it tumbles thousands of feet in elevation over 23 miles down the Blue Ridge Escarpment through the Pisgah Forest in northwestern Caldwell County. Through the millennia, it has carved out steep and imposing gorges as well as quiet ponds for fishing or tubing as it nears it confluence with the Johns River.


Harper Creek, a major tributary of Wilson Creek near Edgemont, N.C.

Its headwaters begin on Calloway Peak, the highest point of rugged Grandfather Mountain at 5,946 feet. More importantly to me is that a favorite spot on it is just 18 miles from my front door. Indeed, on my last visit last week – as I sat on a rocky perch overlooking the waters below and canyon to the north – a couple of determined kayakers were navigating its boulders and rapids.


Perhaps it is because of how and where I was raised, but my soul demands nourishment from Mother Earth. Its wonderment and beauty is soothing. Add the challenges of a strenuous hike and the focus it requires, and you can understand the origin of the expression, “Take a hike!” It was probably a wife growing weary of her husband, “White Hair Curmudgeon,” grumbling and mumbling.


I have been visiting here now more than 40 years. Formerly used by the Cherokee as a hunting ground, it was eventually logged by the first European settlers. It was once one of the most vibrant communities in the county, but two devastating floods – in 1916 and 1940 – made worse by the muddy slopes stripped of timber, stopped industry and settlement in Mortimer, though more than a few hardy souls live here and in nearby Edgemont.


In the summer, it has its share of tourists. On a winter weekday, though, there’s a good chance you’ll see far more critters than people. Especially while the leaves are off the trees, it is where I go to “listen” for whatever I might need to hear; to interact with nature – hawks, whitewater, giant cliffs, rocks, steep paths and more – that are just not available in suburbia.

To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett, when I place myself in wooded latitudes, it does wonders for my attitude. So, go take a hike!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Read more about the National Wild and Scenic River Act

More than Woods and Streams Destroyed When Wild Places are Defiled

Wild places and wildlife are sacred because they are evidence of a creator

By Michael M. Barrick

My love for the wildness of the natural world was kindled in the most unlikely of places – an urban neighborhood. True, it was a pre-interstate, small-town neighborhood nestled along Elk Creek in Clarksburg, W.Va., a main tributary of the West Fork of the Monongahela River. In addition, our house was one of only seven on a dead-end cobblestone street. Still, our neighbors were close. The one-mile walk back and forth to school was through neighborhoods with houses no further apart than the wing span of a small child. Narrow alleys dissected and intersected with the streets crowded with cars.

In the middle of all this, though, was my sanctuary. Our property included a swath of woods along the creek. High, steep cliffs marked the safe edge of our boundary, though that didn’t deter me and my friends from scurrying up and down them. Two ponds were under the tall canopy of trees; the foot-and-a-half wide path down to it from what we called our “upper-back yard” was overgrown with rhododendron.

Playing in a clean mountain creek. Clear waters such as these are in jeopardy from energy extraction

Playing in a clean mountain creek. Clear waters such as these are in jeopardy from energy extraction

It was a natural science laboratory that also served as my sacred spot – my place of meditation. It caused both wonder and wander. It offered insight into the rational and the mystical. Ultimately, it was a site of solitude.

Yet, it was also an essential part of our community. It provided a place for me and my friends to explore new things together, to take risks, to share secrets. We gathered along Elk Creek in a field as a tribe virtually every summer evening to play volleyball. Some of us even tried not to rotate from that creek side, hoping we could jump in the waste-high water, negotiate the rocky creek bed and retrieve an errant ball.

As I grew older, my childish ways gave way to very adult worries. At 18, I would spend hours in those woods pondering my future. Would the body counts from Vietnam mean that, I too, would be drafted? Why were peace-loving people such as Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. murdered? Nobody, of course, had answers to these questions, making those woods a vital sanctuary as I sorted out adult problems in what had been a child’s world. In short, it was one of the few places where I was at peace.

Then, it was destroyed. Sadly, though the creek and woods were sacred to me and many others, they were not to the state of West Virginia. They were in right-of-way for a new highway. So, at 18, my roots were involuntarily ripped up as heartless functionaries for the state attempted to “help us replace” our home. As I watched my folks, in particular my mom, struggle with this loss, a loss resulting simply from our society’s priority to move cars faster, I quickly lost faith in our institutions. I found myself lost; sure, we had a new house, but my sanctuary was destroyed – forever.

Cold Creek in the Pisgah Forest of western North Carolina. This water basin is home to some of the most rare Southern Appalachian plant and animal life.

Cold Creek in the Pisgah Forest of western North Carolina. This water basin is home to some of the most rare Southern Appalachian plant and animal life.

So, I moved to the largest city in North Carolina to work as a paramedic. There, the flat land and the lack of mountains only served to remind me of my lost sanctuary. Fortunately, though, an uncle on my mom’s side had settled over a decade before in the Blue Ridge foothills about two hours from Charlotte. Growing up where I had, he too had a love and respect for wild places. So, he bought about 100 acres of pristine woods, far up the Blue Ridge Escarpment. There I was introduced to unspoiled views, with hills, valleys, woods, water basins and wildlife that offer an unending display of the rich Southern Appalachian eco-system. We could safely drink out of any creek, spring or stream. Spring days offered a beautiful new surprise every day. The night was when the critters reminded us that we were only visitors and the starlit, unobstructed sky reminded us of just exactly where we fit in the grand scheme of things.

We are not, I learned, the center of the universe.

It was an awareness that led, in time, to my deeper understanding of the natural world – that it is sacred. It is sacred because it supports the very life which supports us. It is sacred because it is delicate. It is sacred because of what it offers our hearts, minds and souls (if we will accept and recognize it). Wild places and wildlife are sacred because they are evidence of a creator.

In our modern, western world, these are lessons desperately needed today. As we sit in a room and watch friends and relatives peck away at small phones and computers, oblivious even to the person sitting next to them, we quickly lose sight of our smallness in place and time.

Meanwhile, with our faces glued to the latest electronic devices, our politicians ignore climate change and, unquestioning, push us further away from the wild lands which sustain us. The experience I had 40 years ago of losing my home is repeated daily in the Mountain State and elsewhere in Appalachia – all for “the progress of man.”

Action, then, is required. There is still land to preserve. We must be educated and unified. We must then speak truth to power, and we must prepare our children and grandchildren – for this is a multi-generational battle. First, though, we must realize that not all people will change. Enough, however, can be persuaded.

To persuade them, we must begin by asserting our morally superior position. While that may, at first glance, sound arrogant, it isn’t. Why? Because we have already established that wildlife and wild places are sacred. This assault upon the sacred is a clear and present danger to all terrestrial life. So, we must not concern ourselves with being marginalized or characterized as “tree huggers.” Rather, we should embrace our conservationist heritage. It is this heritage that gave us the national park system.

There are countless ways to do this. Perhaps you could start by attending the Earth Day conferenced scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. With a theme of “Preserving Sacred Appalachia,” it will be a gathering of conservationists with one goal in mind – to deliver a unified message that Appalachia and all wild places are sacred and worth preserving. Join us. Embrace the label of conservationist or environmentalist. Live a life consistent with those monikers. Become the expert within your circle of influence. Most importantly, relentlessly spread the gospel of conservation. Will we prevail? In time, we can. We certainly, will not, however, should we shy away because of what others think or say about us. Let us not allow apathy, ignorance or greed guide our future.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project, a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member. Learn about the Earth Day conference here.

The Fearless Climber

By Michael M. Barrick

Before Sarah and I moved back to my native state of West Virginia in the middle of 2013, we lived in another place that we consider “Almost Heaven” – a cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains just a few miles south of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The cabin and the 57 acres it sits on offered the desperately needed sabbatical I required after a stressful life season.

It offered a time in a place that is the definition of peace. I helped my uncle and others build the cabin on the edge of Cold Creek, at the end of a hollow. I spent many days hiking up to the high peaks in the neighboring Pisgah Forest.

Cold Creek

Cold Creek

I valued the time alone, but also enjoyed visits by a friend of 40 years. We would sit outside enjoying the sunshine or moonshine – and sometimes both. We allowed the days to linger. We would take the occasional hike. But we never gathered up the gumption to tackle the ridge nearest to the cabin, as it is nearly straight up and full of rhododendron that are as formidable as they are beautiful.

That all changed one day when I was watching our granddaughter, Atleigh. She was a mere four-years-old at the time. The three of us were sitting along the side of the cabin, basking in the sun, listening to the creek. As we sat there, I did what friends often do – I offered a challenge. “Rick,” I said, “you feel like climbing that mountain?”

Before he could say “No,” or I could back out, Atleigh jumped out of her chair, turned to us both and declared, “I’m a climber! Are you?”

The Fearless Climber

The Fearless Climber

Now that was the ultimate challenge. So, without another moment of thought, we were climbing. I barely kept up with her and Rick was falling behind. He hesitated. Atleigh would have nothing of it. “Come on Ricky!” she exclaimed. “You can do it!” Inspired, he persevered. In time we reached the peak.

What awaited us was a panoramic, 360-degree view. To the north was Grandfather’s Mountain. To the south, the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. To the east and west, saddleback ridges. Rick found an old path and disappeared into the woods. Atleigh and I found a rock. She sat on my lap, her long legs hanging over mine, her head rested against my shoulder.

The little fearless climber that I cradled with my arms had taught two old men a valuable lesson – never, ever lose your sense of adventure. If you do, you will deprive yourself of unspeakable joy.

© Michael Barrick, 2014. This essay aired on “Inside Appalachia,” a program of West Virginia Public Radio. “Inside Appalachia” is heard on West Virginia Public Radio at 6 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday; it can be heard on numerous partner stations throughout Appalachia. Listen to it here..

Transportation Improvements Open the Blue Ridge to Piedmont Commerce

(Note: See “Crossing the River: The Catawba Valley and the Appalachians [1747 – 1849]” for the history leading to this account)

By Michael Barrick

Just roughly 100 years after the Catawba Valley was permanently settled by European settlers, numerous factors contributed to open the mountain markets of the southern Appalachians to the Piedmont of North Carolina and beyond. These factors also permanently linked the late-developing town of Hickory to the mountain communities of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the process, Hickory, though it was at first a small town in a county where political power was centered 10 miles to the southeast in the Catawba County seat of Newton, quickly became the economic hub of the Catawba Valley.

Hickory’s development occurred because its founders did not allow the Catawba River to serve as an obstacle to growth, and instead saw it as an opportunity to energize the region’s economy by improving transportation to the mountain markets and to the more populated cities to the south and east. Consequently, it placed itself squarely between the mountain forests, farmers, artisans and craftsmen and the rapidly growing cities of the Piedmont.

The Horseford Bridge
The Horseford Bridge, built by private investors in 1849, was the vital link that opened up Hickory to the bountiful crops of the mountain farmers. Spanning the Catawba River into Caldwell County, it helped spur Hickory’s growth, especially after the railroad arrived about 10 years later. Between the bridge and the rail lines, farmers could now get their crops to markets previously unavailable. Photo courtesy of Catawba County Historical Association Archives 

First there were fords, followed by ferries. Then bridges crisscrossed the valley’s many streams, making way for local trade. The first significant improvement occurred in 1849, when private investors built the Horseford Bridge, connecting Hickory to Caldwell County. The next significant development was the arrival of the railroad. In a debate about whether it would be routed through Hickory or Newton, a compromise was made in which both communities were included; Hickory would be on the main line and Newton connected by a spur. Other spur lines were added to connect with Maiden and points south. It was the development of these vital transportation links that helped make Hickory a commercial gathering place. The early, modest village was to quickly grow beyond the few blocks surrounding the train depot. Soon, hotels were built near the depot for the ever-increasing number of visitors. Local residents such as Abel A. Shuford moved from the countryside to the town, bringing with them their leadership, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. The development of the lumber industry, the establishment of Piedmont Wagon Company and the robust trade at Union Square all signaled a community poised for regional influence. The arrival of electricity, the founding of local banks, and a strong emphasis on education helped usher in an era of growth and optimism as the 19th century came to a close.

None of this would have been possible had the city not been connected to the Blue Ridge Mountain communities. The region’s robust agrarian economy had sustained it for 100 years and had created strong communities. Stores and shops opened, as merchants were needed to provide equipment and supplies for home and farm. While Newton, Maiden and other towns throughout the valley had numerous merchants and craftsmen, the small community known then as Hickory Tavern would be among the last towns in the county to be officially established. However, the building of the bridge and the arrival of the railroad helped to expedite its standing. Although the arrival of the railroad around 1860 was undeniably significant – connecting Hickory with markets to the south, east and west – the essential first step in the establishment of Hickory as a vital market place was the building of the Horseford Bridge. “Early on, settlers in the northern mountains pushed a path down to the river at what became known as ‘the horseford,’ named for the fact that horses could make it over, but wagons had a rough time” (Freeze 265). For years, valley residents had to overcome the challenges that came with the streams that created their rich farmland. “That persons of the section of Catawba desired to cross streams is evidenced by the astounding number of ferries which operated shortly after the county became a governmental unit, some of them for financial gain. Between 1850 and 1900, it is estimated that 20 ferries and toll bridges were at the disposal of the citizenry. Numerous fords were also used” (Preslar 162). Dozens of crossings were available on the Catawba, the South Fork had five crossings, Henrys Fork river had numerous and Jacobs Fork had at least two.

Still, a direct route to Hickory was desired. For the region to fulfill its potential, the power of the river had to be overcome, even harnessed. The building of the bridge accomplished this. “A private company erected the bridge as a toll operation, knowing that the railroad then being built from Charlotte to Rutherfordton would encourage mountain farmers to head south across the county with their produce and wares” (Freeze, 268). Hickory had benefited from its proximity to Newton and other Catawba County towns, yet, “Early Hickory’s prosperity rested largely upon the trade from outside Catawba. Customers consisted mainly of ‘the mountain wagon trade.’ The mountaineers began to come down in numbers in late summer, and in the early years they would park their wagons on the public square between the depot and the stores. Nightly the place was lit by the camp fires and animated by the laughter and talk of mountain folk” (Freeze 278).”

Hickory was now a marketplace for produce, vegetables, wheat and other crops. Lumber, too, was being harvested. The bridge brought the farmers; the railroad provided access to customers. Hickory was now “…emerging along the tracks” (Freeze 171).

Hickory did far more than emerge. It boomed. Indeed, “The inimitable ‘great iron horse,’ which made its appearance in North Carolina in the early 1840s…is credited with developing Catawba county more effectively than any other transportation facility and determining that Hickory is the area’s principal city” (Preslar 164). In 1860, the Western North Carolina Railroad (WNCR), and later the Carolina and Northwestern RR, “…changed Catawba as much as did the Civil War. The impact of trains during the postwar decades fostered the growth of towns in an overwhelmingly rural county. Catawba was still primarily a farming area by 1900, but the towns – Newton and Hickory in particular – exerted a cultural and commercial power that gave them sway over the county’s life. The concentration of schools, stores, and shops around the railroad stations set the stage for the later development of industry and an urban culture” (Freeze 213).

Prominent families moved from the countryside to the town, helping lead its development. Meanwhile, others remained on the farms, recognizing that the rail lines opened their crops to markets heretofore beyond their reach. Farmers were not all that benefited from Hickory’s emergence. In time, industry would build up, and education and the arts would thrive as well.

Upon arrival of the railroad, a post office was opened for “Hickory Tavern,” the original name of Hickory. The same year that the city officially adopted its new name (1889), the first street lights became operational in the city. Two years later, what is today Lenoir-Rhyne University opened its doors as Lenoir College. Shortly after the turn of the century, construction had begun on public works and sewer facilities. The first local telephone exchange was housed in Newton in 1900, over A. A. Shuford’s bank in Newton, and by 1908, a street numbering plan was implemented. From 1860 to 1900, the railroad continued to grow. The railroad not only strengthened Hickory, it set it up as a regional hub. During the Civil War, the Hickory depot had served as a commissary for the Confederacy. After the war, Catawba, Claremont, Conover, Maiden and Newton had grown with the arrival of the rails. Though Newton was the county seat and at the geographical center of the county, Hickory was clearly emerging as the economic leader in the Catawba Valley. In fact, the Hall Brothers, the leading Hickory retail and wholesale merchants at the end of the 19th Century, enjoyed more business than the top five Newton competitors (Freeze 235).

Yet, Hickory was still very agrarian and charming. “Early Hickory was so small…that when the train blew its whistle twice daily, most activity stopped, and someone from every household gathered at Shuford’s store, where Dolph, the postmaster, called out the names of those receiving letters. So intimate was the community that young blades would ring the depot bell well into the night after a wedding, just to remind the couple folks were thinking about them” (Freeze 270).

Within a few years after the Civil War, Hickory was attracting people from throughout the state and region. “Through the mix of farmers and merchants Hickory suddenly became the boom town of western North Carolina. ‘The growth of Hickory is astonishing,’ Statesville newspaper editor E.B. Drake told his readers in January 1872. ‘New houses are going up on all directions. Business is flourishing’” (Freeze 271).

Indeed, at about this same time, Dr. Richard Baker began practicing medicine in Hickory, which during this time also included the opening of a drug store. He proudly placed a “card” – or advertisement – in the local newspaper announcing his practice. Payment commonly consisted of fruits and vegetables, and Dr. Baker, known for his charitable deeds, would have certainly bartered or performed care without payment.

An event in the history of the Horseford Bridge also signaled a determination by Hickory’s leadership to recognize they had a vital role to play in the town’s growth. Within a generation of being built, its value was such that the town acquired it in the 1880s, “…when the heavy traffic on the structure led to the town’s decision to buy it and allow free crossing” (Freeze 268).

Piedmont Wagon
The Piedmont Wagon Company was Hickory’s first major industry and was a key to the town’s growth from 1880 to the 1920s. Prior to the establishment of the Piedmont Wagon Company, small wagon and blacksmith shops dotted Catawba County. Work in these shops, usually located at crossroads, was all done by hand, whereas much of the factory’s work was done with the aid of machines. George C. Bonniwell (1837-1912) is generally credited with establishing the company. An architect, engineer, and builder, Bonniwell came to North Carolina from Philadelphia in 1878. He found a business partner in the person of Andrew L. Ramseur, the operator of an iron forge, gristmill, and sawmill on the Catawba River. The original site of the factory was located at the intersection of the Western North Carolina Railroad and the Chester Lenoir Narrow Gauge Railroad. The present-day building is located on a slight knoll in the angle formed by the two sects of railroad tracks. The location was thus ideal for the growth of the business. As the company prospered, its physical plant, spread over the thirteen acres, increased in size. … At its height the primary markets for Piedmont’s products were eleven southeastern states, extending from Virginia to Texas. Output increased to one thousand wagons per month. This was from a business which originally produced one wagon per week.
Source: City of Hickory, N.C.

Another important development in Hickory’s emergence was the establishment of the Piedmont Wagon Company. Founded about 1878, it helped launch manufacturing in Hickory, helped expand its center westward, and “…made Hickory nationally famous for decades” (Freeze 280). Located about a mile west of the depot, it sat strategically at the junction of the rail lines. Its proximity to town helped ensure its access to mountain forests and growing urban markets; its location helped guarantee that it had access to timber to the north and west. “Soon after the establishment of the wagon yards, other industry began to be located at the western end of town. Most firms concentrated on products using the raw material that made Hickory tout itself as ‘the woodman’s mecca’” (Freeze 283).

In short, Hickory went from an ante-bellum village to a prototypical town of the Gilded Age, primarily because of the railroad; early maps and photos of the town bare this out, as the initial activity and development were around the train depot.

Numerous fires in each decade following the Civil War shaped the architecture and impacted the fortunes of numerous merchants. Several businesses – most famously hotels – as well as churches and homes were destroyed by fire. This led to the development of a fire brigade, the precursor to the Hickory Fire Department, which by the first decades of the 20th century was being lauded as one of the best in the nation. Also, most destroyed buildings were eventually replaced by brick structures, many of which still stand today.

Hickory was a segregated town as were all Southern towns during this period. Yet, there apparently remained a sense of community. “All residents of early Hickory were, in one way or another, neighbors. Rich and poor alike, and sometimes black and white, lived within sight of one another” (Freeze 290). It also experienced growing pains. Livestock roamed the streets when farmers were in town waiting for the train. In addition, “Hickory was a rowdy town, with taverns freely dispensing alcohol and civil order sometimes barely enforceable by the local police. As one resident stated it, ‘Hickory was a veritable frontier village. The plains of the wooly West did not surpass it in its will orgies of lawlessness’” (Freeze 293).

Conversely, faith also played a role in the town’s development with Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists and Methodists establishing churches after the first congregation – that of Corinth Reformed Church – had organized in 1869. Indeed, Dr. Baker and his wife played significant roles in the establishment of the town’s first Episcopalian parish.

There was also a determination to provide rigorous educational opportunities, recognizing the value of common (now public) schools as well as higher education to a community’s economic and cultural growth. Consequently, “By 1892, Hickory had become one of the gems of the New South. The Opera House joined with the Hickory Inn and the new bank to give the community an air of Victorian prosperity and sophistication. In 1889 Hickory was officially chartered a city. …It also chartered an electric light system. The street in front of stores on the public square was about to become Park Place, and in 1892 the area would take the name Union Square” (Freeze 307).

The seemingly endless supply of timber led to a robust furniture industry, including sawmills and factories. Investment by local entrepreneurs and even New York capitalists placed Hickory as a leader in the industry as the 20th century dawned. “By the early 1900s Hickory had developed several (furniture) plants, the first being Hickory Furniture Company in 1901. …By the eve of the first World War furniture had become the town’s leading employer” (Freeze 364). The growing economy of the region and the entire South, with farmers experiencing solid, steady prices, helped Piedmont Wagon enjoy some of its most prosperous times. By 1880, the population was 1,400 and Hickory was the busiest town between Asheville and Salisbury. Textiles and hosiery mills were opening regularly; several plants would open in the early 1900s.

Suburbs also began to develop. Windy City (now Viewmont) was to the north, Brookford to the south, Highland to the east, and Longview and West Hickory to the west. Eventually, all but Brookford and Longview would be absorbed by Hickory. Still, the depot area remained the town’s focal point. Union Square was growing, funded largely by industrialist and philanthropist A.A. Shuford. Indeed, the Shufords were playing an increasingly active role in the community. “The Shuford enterprises embraced furniture, gloves, hosiery, textiles and banking. And there was Shuford time, energy and money, too for establishment of schools, churches and other civic institutions” (Our State 27).

The town and world was rapidly changing, and the next generation was charged with leading Hickory into the uncertain future of the fast-paced 20th century. City elder A.A. Shuford died in 1912 in the hospital founded by his nephew, Dr. Jacob Shuford. Just a day previous, A.A. Shuford’s brother and Dr. Shuford’s father, John, also died at the hospital. Earlier, in 1906, Dr. Baker died – five years before the hospital that would honor his life’s work would open.

Though passing on, the influence of the town’s founding generation was far from over. The foundations they had laid through a lifetime of service following the decades of the Civil War were solid. The progress under them was impressive. The example they set was exemplary. In short, all that was needed to support a modern community – infrastructure, population, a sense of community, a strong economy, vital social and educational institutions and a new generation ready to embrace their season of opportunity – was in place. Hickory had become a gathering place. A front page of the local newspaper from 1911 included the train schedules. Folks could get to and from Hickory from places like Gastonia and Lincolnton in the Piedmont and Collettsville, Mortimer and Edgemont in the mountains. Just roughly 60 years after the Horseford Bridge was built, and 50 years after the railroad arrived, Hickory had become the regional hub for the Catawba Valley, because its leaders recognized the importance of its mountain neighbors.

Works Cited
Gary R. Freeze, The Catawbans: Crafters of a North Carolina County (Newton, N.C.: Catawba County Historical Association, 1995).
Charles J. Preslar, Jr., editor, A History of Catawba County (Salisbury, N.C.: Rowan Printing Company, 1954).
The State magazine, April 18, 1959.

Crossing the River: The Catawba Valley and the Appalachians (1747 – 1849)

By Michael Barrick

The Catawba Valley is a river basin fed by the creeks, streams and rivers tumbling down the Blue Ridge escarpment. Though actually in the foothills of the Appalachians – also known as the Piedmont (though over time, those terms have come to mean two different regions along and beyond the Blue Ridge) – the Catawba Valley’s settlement was essential to the economy and growth of the southern Appalachians, especially in western North Carolina.

Today, its economy is on unstable footing, as many of the furniture and textile companies which employed tens of thousands have closed.

This is not the first generation to find challenges in the valley.

The swift and rocky waters of the Catawba River presented a formidable obstacle for the first European pioneers wishing to settle the western shores of its rich valley. However, the pioneering spirit guiding Adam Sherrill would not allow the river to stand in the way. The family had trekked through the wilderness of Virginia and North Carolina to find a home, and the rich rolling hills and fertile fields formed by the river valley offered everything an industrious farmer would need. A pastoral environment, it offered not only the soil, rain and sun needed for productive fields, it also offered peace and the opportunity to prosper – all that a pioneering family could ask for.

Not surprisingly, many others immediately began to settle the valley. Eventually, the river, rather than being an impediment, was the life source for those living alongside its shores and tributaries. While those who first forged the river at present day Sherrills Ford in southeastern Catawba County could not have envisioned the Catawba Valley today, it nevertheless is their legacy. Through their determination and industry, through a belief in self-reliance tempered with a reverence for God and stewardship of the natural resources afforded them, the first settlers – mainly German but also many Scotch-Irish and others – established not only a community, but a lasting set of values that continue to help guide it more than 250 years after they first arrived.

Among the first to arrive were the Schufferts, the ancestors of Dr. Jacob Harrison Shuford, who founded Richard Baker Hospital in Hickory in 1911.

North Carolina, ca 1760 and North Carolina, ca 1850
In 1760, western North Carolina was a wilderness, as evidenced by the top map. However, as is clear in the bottom map, by 1850 Catawba County’s borders were established. Clearly, the early settlement by the Sherrills and other early pioneers to the Catawba Valley paved the way for rapid growth of the region.
© Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Raleigh, N.C.

It isn’t all that surprising that the Shufords would settle in the Catawba Valley. The family had originally migrated to Pennsylvania from a region along the Rhine River and its tributaries in Germany. The geography surrounding the South Fork River may not have been as famed as their ancestral home, but a description of the home they left behind sounds similar enough to make the Catawba Valley enticing. “The soil along the Rhine and its tributaries is rich and the primary occupation is farming.” The tributaries flowing from the mountains make for “…beautiful, rich farmland, well watered and fertile.”

Consequently, in their new home, “With the fertile soil and temperate climate, they were soon blessed with a great abundance of everything they needed.” With literally dozens of streams feeding the farmland from the mountains, the valley’s geography was ideal. “The gently rolling hillsides, fertile and watered valleys, and plateaus are suitable for the growth of many crops. Agriculture also is prompted primarily by the mental nature of the early settlers: German and Scot pioneers were accustomed to farm life and were attracted locally due to the desire to pursue the tilling of the soil in productive and peaceful surroundings.”

However, they were also accustomed to densely populated villages in Germany. Conceivably then, a primary draw to the valley was that it was not yet crowded with villages. The large river offered protection and fertile valleys; its many tributaries formed subtle yet beautiful slopes, hills, valleys and plateaus. Indeed, today, in a few areas of the county, the countryside remains remarkably similar to what the first settlers encountered. At first, settlement was deliberate, largely because of the unknown wilderness, and also because the migration from Pennsylvania was initially small. Immigration to the New World with an entire family and all of its belongings in toe was a physically-demanding, uncertain route to a new life.

Yet, the Schufferts chose the new life and all the challenges that came with it. “Many families from the area around Langenselbod (Germany) made the journey to America, among them, Johan Jerg Schuffert and his family.” By the 1750s, the Schufferts had also settled on the western side of the river, though several miles further west than the Sherrills. Though they would have followed the same route as the Sherrills much of the way, it is possible they took the more western Island Ford route that branched off of the Sherrill’s path just north of the Yadkin River in present-day Iredell County and crossed the Catawba River several miles upstream from Sherrills Ford. “In early 1755, George Shuford and his family left Pennsylvania, accompanied by the families of his son and daughter, and traveled to the western part of North Carolina (on what was known as ‘The Great Wagon Road’)….In September 1755, he bought 500 acres on land from Samuel Wilkins on the south side of the South fork of the Catawba River. This is the land he is buried on today.”  Today, the old family cemetery remains, not far from the South Fork River. It is there that Johan Schuffert died in 1762. He had taken his family about 435 miles from their settlement in Pennsylvania. Little did he know how far his family, fellow settlers and their descendents would carry a community over the next 250 years.

The countryside – while full of challenges – must also have offered tremendous hope and opportunity, at least as viewed from the highest point in the county – Baker’s Mountain. Today a county park, its trails and vistas offer not only a peaceful break from the hectic lifestyle for area residents, it also offers a peak into the past and what the Shufords and their early neighbors saw stretched before them. To the west is a narrow valley, greeted on the far side by the steep slopes of the South Mountains, a narrow, fingered prong of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. To the north, in the distance, are some of the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge; the imposing slopes providing life to the Catawba River Valley from its countless tributaries. To the east, the ridges gradually give way to the rolling hills of the Piedmont, but not before stubbornly holding ground, forcing the river to bend hard to the south. It was not far from Baker’s Mountain that the Shufords settled, on a 2,000 acre tract of land along the South Fork River. It offered bottom land, forests, hilltops, valleys and streams. Today, remnants of the homestead remain.

They did experience raiding parties and a few outright battles with Native Americans wishing to preserve the upper Catawba Valley as hunting grounds. Eventually, as more settlers from the Old World followed the trails blazed by Sherrill and the others, the Native Americans retreated west over the mountains. Still, maintaining the settlement required hard work. All tools for clearing forests, building homes, gardening, hunting and crafting furniture were hand-made. Farming was hard work with uncertain outcomes. Thriftiness was a hallmark, the result of needing to make use of every resource available to them. “Every member of the family, old and young, had work assigned. After providing shelter for his family, the pioneer had to clear the land, plow and plant….Marriage came early, and very often the women, who worked so hard, died young. All pioneer boys and girls learned to do their share of work as a matter of course.”

Wood was essential not only for the cabin, but also the furniture, utensils, tables and benches. Woodworking then, was an essential skill. Cooking was done over open fires. Clothing was home made, as was soap. Though a life of work, there were also times of merriment, as events accompanying farming or church life were also often festive and social occasions.

At first, families were self-sustaining. Then, as more people moved in, markets began to develop among the different communities. Eventually, local, narrow trading paths became market roads to distant coastal and commercial centers. This gradual transition from colonial wilderness living to the ante-bellum community provided the societal and institutional building blocks that would guide and sustain subsequent generations inheriting the riches of the valley. For instance, Jacob Shuford, the grandson of the family patriarch Johan, exercised sound stewardship with his inheritance. A prosperous farmer, “…he inherited a substantial portion of the Shuford farm on the west bank of the South Fork River. He eventually gave that farm to his son, Eli. He owned several large areas of farm land, the most notable of which he called ‘Bunker Hill.’ He was a good businessman….Among his descendents was Abel Alexander Shuford, industrialist and entrepreneur and one of the founders of Hickory, North Carolina.”

The Revolutionary War strained relationships among not only neighbors, but families. Yet, the importance of community, their common faith and interdependence led the families of the county’s various townships to eventually overcome the divisions brought about by the colonial revolt.

Religious faith offered hope and guidance. St. Paul’s church near Newton, which was shared by the Lutheran and Reformed congregations, was the first church built west of the Catawba River. “An unfaltering faith in God and certainty as to its beneficial manifestations are perhaps the most basic characteristics of the Catawbans….History bears out the fact that the building of a church almost invariably preceded the construction of other institutions in the community. The church edifice, in fact, served in the earliest days as a general center. Schools were conducted in church buildings.” In short, churches were the community center. They also were the first school houses, as “Education and religion were closely allied in the beginning of the county’s history. Men of education often performed the dual functions of teaching and preaching.”

Language barriers between German-speaking and English-speaking immigrants proved difficult. Eventually English became predominant and the spelling of Schuffert was changed to Shuford to accommodate English-speaking sensibilities. The challenges of agrarian living, with the many chores required of all family members, provided many practical learning opportunities, but still did not allow much time for formal instruction. Hence, a learned preacher would be the logical choice to entrust one’s children to for “book learning.” Of course, the elders almost certainly would have closely monitored the instruction provided the children, in particular on theological matters.

Eventually, by the early 1800s, several private schools were listed throughout the county. “Location of the schools generally followed the walking patterns of the neighborhoods.” In fact, while the teachers recruited to some of the schools were met with resistance as they brought in ideals and ideas not necessarily aligned with those within the community, their work was a forerunner to the common schools, which began operating as North Carolina’s first public schools circa 1840.

As important as churches were for the development of religious, social and educational moorings for the fledgling communities, the advent of improved transportation routes and systems were equally crucial for the eventual economic growth the region was to enjoy. Still, “Early Catawbans measured their status by their access to land. Since most farmed, how much land they owned, how good it was, and what they did with it determined to a large degree their places in the community.”

The river and tributaries were not navigable; therefore, with the exception of local trade conducted via canoe or the occasional pole boat, they were not travel routes. Foot travel was along established trading paths of the Native Americans and later from home to home and home to church. Pack horses hauled freight along the same routes, slowly expanding the markets from settlement to settlement. Wagons soon followed. What had been one-foot-wide trading paths were now rutted roads, carrying produce, lumber and durable goods. “It is believed that the earliest road of the Catawba territory was the State road, the Catawba county portion of which was constructed in 1763. The road entered Catawba county in its southwest part, traveled in an easterly direction through Bandys, Jacob’s Fork, and Newton townships, to and through the present town of Maiden and on east to Sherrills Ford.” Interestingly, Jacob’s Fork is named for the aforementioned Jacob Shuford, an ancestor of the hospital’s founder by the same name.

By the last decades of the 1700s, Hickory Tavern – now known as Hickory – had roads that allowed travel to and from the mountains or the coast; however, a few streams – including the Catawba River – would have to be traversed at various fords. A few stagecoaches came through, but personal conveyance such as the Conestoga wagon remained the preferred means of transport for those who could afford it. Several covered bridges connected communities, with the Bunker Hill Bridge still standing today. “Some of the early wooden bridges were built without the use of a single nail, the timbers being cut in such a way that wooden pegs were sufficient to hold them in place.”

A moving away from self-sufficient farms led to the growth of the trades in the late eighteenth century. “The Catawba’s early tradesmen included the blacksmith, the miller, the shoemaker, the cooper, the millwright, the tanner, the tailor, the hatter, the wheelwright, the saddler, the gunsmith, the silversmith, the fuller, the weaver, the clock maker, the joiner or cabinet maker, the carpenter, the felt maker, the miller, the mason, the potter and the merchant.”

Grist mills were common along the many streams and even the first sawmills were founded as more settlers moved in, needing wood for homes. Weaving and spinning became a necessary trade, a foretaste of the role textiles would play in the development of the region. Iron forges also enjoyed a period of prosperity well into the 1800s. Indeed, early on, the trades proved more stable and rewarding than the professions. “Virtually all the early lawyers, doctors, ministers, teachers and newspapermen supplemented their ‘profession’ with another, more remunerative, occupation, usually farming.”

Later, such professionals would play a pivotal role in establishing and developing Hickory. However, as the county was first settled, what is now known as Hickory was of little consequence. A license to operate a tavern was granted to John Bradburn, circa 1784. He built what became Hickory Tavern alongside the road that had been constructed about 15 years earlier. It is not certain how the town got its name, though it is commonly – though not universally – believed that it was near a notable hickory tree or perhaps a stand of them. In any event, what is today downtown Hickory was then but a building or two. Yet, in 1849, just about 100 years after the first settlers forged the Catawba River, Hickory would become a center of commerce and trade, facilitated by the opening of the Horseford covered bridge into Caldwell County. This event opened up markets and opportunities heretofore not possible.

© Michael Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2012

Works Cited:

David Shuford,. Origins of the Shuford Family in America: A Brief History and Genealogy (Baltimore, Md.:Gateway Press, Inc., 1998)

Charles J. Preslar, Jr. editor, A History of Catawba County (Salisbury, N.C.: Rowan Printing Company, 1954)

Gary R. Freeze, The Catawbans: Crafters of a North Carolina County (Newton, N.C.: Catawba County Historical Association, 1995)