Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Welcome to the Garden of Eden

The Green Park Inn's green horse stands southbound on the Eastern Continental Divide,
as if he might sip from the Pee Dee and piddle-dee-dee into the Mississippee.

     Four of America's more poetic rivers descend from the mountains where I live: the Mississippi, Pee Dee, Santee, and Tennessee. The first two can be traced to springs under the stately Green Park Inn, which straddles the Eastern Continental Divide in Blowing Rock. Headwaters for the other two are within walking distance.
     As far as I know, the only other place that stands at the head of four great rivers is the Garden of Eden, as described in the second chapter of Genesis.
     A beloved local banker named Alfred Adams (1911-2002) wrote a little essay about this, harking back to the simpler days before Boone had a Five Guys, four-lane highways, or a three-time national champion football team. 
     I couldn't find this anywhere else on the web, so I put it here just for you:

Boone, the Second Garden of Eden

by Alfred Adams 
    There’s been a certain amount of research done to locate the ancient Garden of Eden. It’s been discovered to have been forty miles east of the city of Damascus; the Damascus where Saul had his vision. From the Garden there rose four rivers. One flowed north, one south, one east, and one west.
    Boone, North Carolina, is located forty miles east of the city of Damascus, Virginia, and from the base of Grandfather Mountain rise four rivers, flowing one to each of the cardinal points of the compass—-which gives you all the physical evidence necessary to convince you that it is indeed the second Garden.
    Now with it being 3,333 feet up here to the courthouse yard, depending upon where in the courthouse yard you measure, because it ain’t level either, we have no air and water pollution problems here. The air you breathe here is just as pure as any breeze that ever chortled down a country lane before the advent of the combustion engine on civilization.
    The water that bursts out of the breasts of these majestic mountains and cascades down over the rocks, over the logs and on out into the rivers of the valley below has been tested to be 100.00001 percent pure, which makes it a good place to live.
    But eventually, the shadows lengthen and twilight falls and you can no longer ignore the clear call of the tolling bell. You’re now 3,333 feet closer to the abode of the righteous. You’ve got a running go on heaven from up here.
    And look at the other side of the coin. Suppose you fail to walk circumspectly before the world, and the keeper of the Golden City frowns upon your application and supplication. Heaven forbid! But in that event, you are 3,333 feet farther from the kingdom of the Satanic majesty. You can delay your entrance into that unwanted and unholy land by that much travel time.
    And the way traffic gets in Boone, it’s worth considering.

  • Raindrops that fall in Blowing Rock actually have five ways to go to the beach. The New River heads north to the Ohio, the Watauga winds west to the Tennessee, and a thousand miles downstream they merge and feed the mighty Mississippi on the way to New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Yadkin flows east to the Pee Dee, and the Johns River goes south via the Catawba and Wateree to the Santee. Separated at birth, these two rivers eventually run parallel and are nearly reunited in the end—emptying into the Atlantic on opposite sides of Georgetown SC. In addition to these three natural outlets, there are also canals that divert waters from the Santee to Charleston and from the Tennessee through Alabama to Mobile.
  • A patch of rhododendron across the road from the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock is one of 53 "triple divide points" in the United States—where three major rivers begin. Technically, the Santee, Pee Dee, and Mississippi define this triple divide, while the Tennessee starts three miles west in the Moses Cone Park. The nearest triple divides along the Blue Ridge are on Sassafras Mountain SC (head of the Santee, Savannah, and Mississippi) and in Carroll County VA (the Pee Dee, Roanoke, and Mississippi). Click here for the list.
  • The Blowing Rock News published a story about the head spring of the Pee Dee, which is now hidden in a manhole at the Green Park Inn and clouded by construction on US321. See the postcard below. 
  • You'll occasionally read that the New and the Nile are about the only rivers in the world that flow north. I've also heard Asheville's counter-culture ascribed to the fact that the French Broad runs north—as if there is something strange about that. Let's dispense with this nonsense forever: Five of the 13 longest rivers in the world flow north. So do many of our more famous rivers, including the Rhine, Niagara, Monongahela, Shenandoah, Snake, and St. Johns. Just because they go toward the top of the map does not mean they defy gravity or social norms.
  • On the other hand, why do we say that rivers "rise"? They only rise when dammed. 

Antique postcard shows the springhouse that once guarded the head of the Pee Dee.
The house in the background still stands on Green Hill Road just off U.S. 321.
A thousand captured Confederates drank here the evening of April 17, 1865.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Late Unpleasantness

Charlie Zerphey pays his respects to North Carolinians who died fighting for the Union.

     Nothing puts our recent political squabbles in perspective quite like a visit to a Civil War grave. It's a sobering reminder that while today is not America's finest hour, neither is it our worst.
     I found some particularly interesting graves last week while "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Go ahead and snicker at Governor Sanford's infamous and lame euphemism, but I swear it was just an innocent trip with an 83-year-old retired printer from Pennsylvania, and all we were doing was climbing the highest mountain in Greene County, Tennessee.
     Euphemisms abound when we're talking about the American Civil War. Depending on your perspective, it may have been the War Between the States, the Southern Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, the Freedom War, or my favorite understatementthe Late Unpleasantness.
     I wonder what David and William Shelton called it. They are the soldiers who are buried—along with their 13-year-old lookout, Millard Fillmore Haire—in a meadow atop Coldspring Mountain along the Tennessee-North Carolina line.
     Tombstones erected by the government in 1915 are undated and identify them only by name and regiment. David Shelton served in the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry, and his nephew William was in the 2nd N.C. Infantry. 
     If you didn't know better, you might assume they were rebels.  But the stones don't say which side they fought on (perhaps to avoid desecration). The only indications are the little American flags placed each summer when the graves are faithfully redecorated by their descendants. 
     These are not Confederate graves. Like many men from the mountains, the Sheltons enlisted with the Yankees.
     That's one aspect of the Civil War that is not widely understood or acknowledged. The South was divided against itself. Descendants of the Overmountain Men were more invested in the preservation of the Union than they were in the defense of slavery. When North Carolina seceded, families had to choose sides. Often, this turned neighbors into mortal enemiesespecially in cases where men may have sold their souls to the Union for a $100 enlistment bonus. The ensuing malice might be described as the War Within the States.     
To explore other nuances of the war, I wrote a daily newspaper in 2015 to relive the 150th anniversary of Stoneman's Raid. The end of the Civil War was only a backdrop to some unforgettable stories. Read all about it in The Stoneman Gazette
     As far as I can tell, the Sheltons never went North. Their regiments were involved in recruiting home guards in Union-friendly parts of eastern Tennessee. One day when they crossed the mountain to visit family in the Shelton Laurel community of northern Madison County, N.C., they were ambushed and shot by Confederates who were probably their neighbors.
     There are differing accounts of the ambush, and there is some reason to doubt the date on Haire's tombstone, which was placed by his family just a few years ago and says he died on July 1, 1863.   (See notes below.) 
     If that date is correct, it's terribly ironic. July 1, 1863, was also the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
     North Carolina shed more blood at Gettysburg than did any other state.
     If the Sheltons had enlisted with the Confederacy rather than the Union, there is a good chance they would have been on the front lines at Gettysburg.
     Ultimately, they might have died on the same day, either way.

  • Were there two "Shelton Massacres"? On January 19, 1863, a Confederate regiment executed 13 Union sympathizers and buried them in a mass grave. They were later reburied in a family cemetery in the Shelton Laurel community south of Coldspring Mountain. Two David Sheltons and one William Shelton are among the 13 names on the gravestones--but no Millard Haire. Were these the same men who lie under the undated stones on Coldspring Mountain? It is possible that the Sheltons were re-reburied up there, and that Haire died separately on July 1, 1863. However, from what I read, it seems more likely that there were two separate incidents involving separate victims with the same names. Besides, it makes a better story. 
  • It is interesting that Haire was named for Millard Fillmore, a New Yorker who became the 13th president when Zachary Taylor died in 1850. Fillmore was a complicated character: pro-Union yet pro-slavery, and anti-Confederacy yet anti-Lincoln.
  • The highest point on Coldspring Mountain is called Gravel Knob. Via the Appalachian Trail, it requires a 12-mile roundtrip hike, and the top offers no views, only thorns. There's no good reason to go there unless you are involved in the hiking subculture of county high-pointers and want to claim Greene County TN. 
  • Gravel Knob was the 10th county high point that Charlie Zerphey and I have climbed together. Charlie was in his 60s before he started climbing seriously. At 83, he has reached not only the highest mountain or hill in 49 states (lacking only Alaska) but also the highest point in every county in 13 states from Maine to Virginia. Click on this list of his accomplishments.