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Masonic Marker Built With Special Stones from All Over The World

High in the Smokies, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a large stone marker that pays tribute to the world’s Freemasons. It was built in 1938 with with more than 400 unique stones contributed by Masons all across the US and in 41 countries. A catalog (PDF) published at the time lists the origin, significance, and the contributor of each stone.

This year, as they have done for 75 years, York Rite Masons will assemble in the Smokies for an event that always includes an address at the marker.

A plaque reads “The scenic setting of this marker, surrounded on all sides by national park lands, was chosen to signify the universality of the Masons. Their ideals of equality, morality, charity, and a brotherhood of humanity are symbolized in the cement that binds these stones and bricks.”

You’ll find the marker just off the Parkway between Cherokee and Soco Gap. Near milepost 458, turn onto Heintooga Road and drive 3.6 miles to Black Camp Gap. There’s a parking area on your right, and two short trails to the marker. One trail is wheelchair accessible and the other skirts the edge of a small field where Elk love to graze.

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Bryson City – A Railroad Town Since the 1880s

This image of a railroad locomotive parked on a downtown side track has been a familiar Bryson City scene for well over a century – since the Murphy Branch first connected our rugged mountains with the rest of the world. Initially it was copper ore and later lumber that used these tracks. And today it’s the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad that treats tourists to a leisurely ride through the mountains, over Fontana Lake and along our scenic rivers, the Tuckaseigee and the Nantahala.

Photo by Aaron Morgan – website and Facebook

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Hi Na-Ber, How Can I Help You?

Na-Bers Drive-in on East Main Street is a Bryson City landmark — a classic 1950s-era drive-in restaurant that really hasn’t changed much in more than a half-century of serving townsfolk and visitors. Thankfully.

A love of nostalgia prompts a lot of tourists to give Na-Bers a try. And they’re not disappointed with the extensive menu, attractive prices, and the friendly service they receive from employees like 76 year-old carhop Dixie Hughes (above). When asked why she continues to work well beyond retirement age, Dixie says she just loves the job and the people. She’s quick to add “I’ll stay here as long as they let me.”

Dixie is as much a Na-Bers fixture as the drive-in’s vintage curbside speakers, where you can still order such long-time favorites as a chili dog, cherry or pineapple milkshake, barbecue and fried chicken. One regular customer proclaims “the Cherry Lemon Mountain Dew is the nectar of the God’s! Get a large one and enjoy the greatest non-alcoholic beverage in the universe!” And Congressman Heath Shuler has even been quoted in the national media in praise of Na-Bers’ signature cheeseburger topped with coleslaw. “One of my favorite vices,” he said.

Na-bers dates back to the early 50s when local drive-ins were soaring in popularity nationally. The original location, next to the Governors Island bridge on Hwy 19, burned in 1964 and was rebuilt on the current riverside site a little closer to town. According to owner Ronnie Henderson, the name ‘Na-bers’ was inspired by the original owner’s greeting to his very first customer — “Hi Neighbor, how can I help you?”. It stuck.

Na-Bers Drive-In, at 1245 Main Street, is open Monday thru Saturday, 9 am to 8 pm. Eat inside or in your car.

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A ‘Model Citizen’ in More Ways Than One

The late P.R. Bennett was ‘Bryson City’ through and through — mayor for nine terms, firefighter for 51 years, business owner, town clerk and member of the Swain County Planning Board. And after retiring, his love for Bryson City took him in a new direction: meticulously creating small-scale replicas of Bryson City landmarks — the train depot,  Jenkins Mill, the Presbyterian Church and the iconic old Swain County Courthouse. He also built a model of the Davis House, the late 19th century chestnut log cabin that the National Park now has preserved in its Mountain Farm Museum in Cherokee.

All the models but the church are now on display at the Swain County Genealogy Society above the Police Department on Main Street. Hours are 8 am to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 8 am to 4 pm Tuesday and Thursday; and Tuesday night from pm to 8 pm. As Bennett wished, the Presbyterian Church model lives at the church on North Everett Street.

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Happy New Year

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year from the Bryson City / Swain County Chamber of Commerce.

Above: the N.C. Clampitt Hardware Store — the county’s oldest continuously-operated business — and the century-old Swain County Courthouse building.

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Remnant of a Once Thriving Lumber Town in the Smokies

Three and a half miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, a right turn into Smokemont will lead to a campground and horseback riding stables. But hidden in the trees there’s also a white chapel, the lone remaining structure from a once-thriving Smokemont community. The Baptist church, sometimes referring to as Lufty Church (short for Oconaluftee) was formed around 1829, but the current building was erected in 1896. Like all of the Park’s surviving old buildings, the church’s doors are always open.

Originally called Bradleytown, the town of Smokemont became the headquarters for Champion Fibre Company’s massive logging and sawmill operation in the early 1900s. At the time, Champion ran the world’s largest paper mill in Canton, North Carolina, a mill that’s still running today. Smokemont had homes, businesses, a school, the logging mill, commissary, a club house, and even a hotel. In the early 1920s, the sawmill produced 45,000 feet of lumber and pulp wood per day.

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Unusual Barn Built For Bovine Contentment

When you drive past old barns in the Smokies, it’s not uncommon to see a silo nearby, or even attached to the barn. The tall concrete or metal towers were used to store “silage” — fermented cattle feed. Everyone knew that “contented cows” gave better milk.

In 1943, when Andrew Earl built this barn on his East Alarka farm, he enclosed his twin silos within the structure, creating one of the most unusual barns in the Smokies.


Around the bonfire — Tales of Cherokee folklore

For centuries, tales of Cherokee history and folklore have been passed from generation to generation in spoken form, most likely at day’s end by the light of a campfire. And that tradition is carried on today at the Friday and Saturday evening bonfires at Cherokee’s Island Park.

Above, storyteller John John Toineeta entertains his audience with a scary story. He and other storytellers and dancers teach traditional dances and Cherokee legends each Friday and Saturdays starting at 7:00pm. There are free marshmallows to roast and you might be invited to join in a Cherokee dance. Storytelling runs through October 1 and then takes a few weeks off before moving to the Haunted Indian Village October 21-31 with all scary stories.

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That’s no Soda Jerk. She’s a Friend of the Library.

Above, Christine Obert, a visitor from Denver, Colorado, pays Teresa Maynard for her purchase. But she’s not buying a root beer float or a cherry coke or a chocolate malt. She’s buying a book at Bryson City’s Friends of the Library used book store at 32 Everett Street.

With proceeds going to Bryson City’s Marianna Back Library, three blocks south, the all-volunteer Friends of the Library sell previously-owned books, magazines, and DVDs as well as photography and art by local artisans. The bookstore is open 10-5 Monday thru Thursday and 11-6 Friday & Saturday.

The antique marble soda fountain remains from an earlier time when the store was part of the old Bennett’s Drug Store. The fountain has a marble topped counter from Italy with six stools; the lighted back bar with stained glass murals and marble columns is also from Italy. Bennett’s Drug Store was founded in 1905 by A.M. Bennett, who was both a physician and pharmacist. Three generations of the Bennett family served Swain County as pharmacists.

The bookstore is only half of the former drug store. The other half is now Calby’s Antiques, next door. When you drop in, ask to see the photos of the original Bennett’s Drug Store.

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Strawberry Jam Draws Draft Horses and Antique Plows

Farmers from all over Western North Carolina brought their work horses and antique plows to last week’s Strawberry Jam festival at Darnell Farms, just east of Bryson City. R.A. Luker (above) of the Tuckasegee Community took part in the plowing demonstrations using this 19th century Oliver #83 plow pulled by his two Belgian Draft Horses, Dick and Don.

Jeff and Nate Darnell stage the festival each spring at the peak of the Strawberry season to celebrate the delicious berry …and possibly, as someone laughed, “to get the field plowed.”

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New GSMNP Visitor Center Celebrates Mountain Heritage

The National Park’s new 6,300-square-foot Oconaluftee facility is much more than a mere Visitor Center. Its centerpiece is an impressive museum dedicated to the Smokies’ cultural heritage, beginning with the Early People — the Cherokees. It follows the influx of European settlers in the late 1700s and documents many facets of their often hardscrabble life in the mountains — including ‘moonshining’.

The museum complements the Park’s other museum at Sugarlands Visitor Center, just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which highlights the natural resources and biodiversity of the park.

Located two miles north of Cherokee, NC at the park entrance, the new facility includes a much larger and more convenient comfort station. The spacious bookstore is run by the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The old Visitor Center, built in 1941, will now house office space for park staff and meeting space for park functions.

No tax dollars were used for this Visitor Center. The Great Smoky Mountains Association provided over three million dollars to finance the construction of the buildings. Friends of the Smokies spent more than $500,000 for the information and cultural resource exhibits.

The Visitor Center opens at 8:00 am every day except Christmas. Closing times vary with the season — from 4:30 pm in mid-winter to 7:00 pm in mid-summer. For more visitor information, visit the GSMNP website.

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Once, Spring’s First Flowering Tree Was The ‘Sarvisberry’

Like the ubiquitous Bradford Pear, most of today’s early blooming tress and shrubs are non-native transplants. But in the early days, the Smokies’ first tree to bloom was known as the “Sarvisberry”. The blooms not only signaled the arrival of Spring’s first traveling preachers, they provided the year’s first decorations for weddings, funeral wreaths and Sunday church services. Thus the name “sarvis” — the colloquial pronunciation of “service”.

serviceberry treeThe serviceberry tree above is on the Zack Beasley homesite – now a pavilion on the old highway 288 Riverside Park where the Tuckaseigee becomes Fontana Lake.

Thanks to George Ellison for suggesting this week’s Postcard.

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Hammer Branch – A Beautiful Little Mountain Stream

Just below the third bridge on the Deep Creek Trail, little Hammer Branch bursts out of the thick Rhododendrons and tumbles into Deep Creek. Writer and Deep Creek historian Jim Casada tells us that this spot was once the home of Sam Hunnicutt, a legendary mountain sportsman and author of the extremely rare book, Twenty Years Hunting & Fishing in the Great Smokies. Casada added “You can still see the yellow bells (forsythia) blooming there about this time of year. Old Sam was a mighty bear hunter. He always wore high boots, thanks to having been snake bitten at some point in his life.”

Click here for a PDF map of Deep Creek’s trails and waterfalls.

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In Bryson City, You Can See a “See a Rock City” Barn

This creaky old barn is a piece of disappearing Americana — a relic of the depression and a Bryson City landmark.

Working for the Chattanooga tourist attraction, sign painter Clark Byers traveled the nation’s highways for three decades offering to paint farmers’ barns in exchange for letting him include just three simple words: “See Rock City.”

Byers began his project in the 1930s and continued until his retirement in 1969. In the 60s, more than 900 “See Rock City” barns dotted American roadsides from Michigan to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, fewer than 100 remain, including this one that greets motorists entering Bryson City on Highway 19 just east of town.

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Cold Springs – A Popular Gathering Place For Centuries

Christina Smith and son Aiden fill a container with pure mountain spring water from the historic Cold Springs — just as Bryson City area residents have been doing for many generations.

It was because of the spring’s popularity that early residents established the Cold Springs Baptist Church there in 1851, when the area was still part of Macon County. When the new Swain County was carved out of Macon and Jackson counties in 1871, the Cold Springs meeting house served as the new county’s first courthouse and later doubled as a schoolhouse. The original 19th century wood frame church was later replaced by the brick structure above.

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In the Smokies, Life Will Imitate The Movies

In the popular film, “Night At The Museum”, all the animals and characters in the exhibits come to life. In the Smokies next week, another museum will come to life when the Mountain Farm Museum hosts the annual Mountain Life Festival.

The Mountain Farm Museum is a collection of 19th Century farm buildings moved from different sites throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and assembled in a grassy field alongside the Oconalufee River near Cherokee. Throughout the summer, the museum is a sleepy 19th century farm, with crops such as squash, corn and tomatoes cultivated in the garden and live farm animals grazing in the fields.

And on September 18, the farm will come to life with live demonstrations of soap making, hearth cooking, hominy, apple butter and cider, plus a working cane mill and wood-fired cooker used for the making of sorghum syrup — activities that typified rural life in the Smokies during harvest time.

Mountain Life Festival (free)
Saturday, September 18
10 am – 4 pm
Mountain Farm Museum
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Oconaluftee Visitors Center
Cherokee, NC

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Cherokee Children Learn To Fish Like Their Ancestors

For centuries, the Cherokee built their villages near the streams and rivers that flow out of the Smokies, largely for the bountiful supply of fish that the waterways provided. And to harvest large quantities of fish, they built fish weirs — “V”shaped constructions of rock that start from the banks on either side of the river and come to a point downstream. Men would line up across the river above the weir and roll bundles of river cane downstream, gradually forcing the fish into the apex of the weir. Nets or traps caught the fish, which were dried or smoked as a food supply for their nearby village.

Even though weir fishing is no longer practiced, many of these rock structures still remain. And a group of Cherokee youngsters from the Birdtown Day Camp recently had an opportunity to learn the “old way” of fishing in a demonstration conducted by WATR — the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River — with help from Blue Welch (foreground, above) of Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management.

The program — a partnership between WATR, US Fish and Wildlife and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation — focused on the river ecosystem and the importance of water quality. Roger Clapp, executive director of WATR, sat the children on the riverbank to eat their lunch, and gave them a lesson on what he calls “mudology.” Runoff of soil disturbed by developments, road building and bad streamside planting practices, creates sediment in the river, which is unhealthy for fish, insects and other wildlife which depend on the river.

Photo by Bill Lee

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Decoration Day is a Mountain Tradition

Above, Peggy Medford places flowers on a grave in the tiny Conner Cemetery deep in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ‘Decoration Day’ is a heartfelt Southern ritual that’s repeated annually in dozens of family cemeteries in the Smokies.

Peggy and husband Cledus gathered with friends Christine Proctor, Margy Trehern and Wendy Meyers for maintenance on what was once Peggy’s family land (her parents, Arnold and Meeter Bradshaw and family had to vacate their land in May of 1946). More than the cleaning, re-mounding and decorating graves  — one dates back to 1873 — it was a day to reflect and honor their ancestors who once called this area home.

Decoration Days are held throughout each summer along Fontana Lake’s North Shore and the mountains above. Because many of these once-accessible cemeteries were made ‘remote’ by the creation of the Park and Fontana Lake, which flooded old Highway 288 in the 1940s, the National Park Service provides a passenger ferry service across the lake for Decoration Days. You can find a schedule on the Swain County Genealogy Society’s website.

A visit to one of these remote cemeteries reveals some old-time traditions that some might find surprising. One is the orientation of all the graves — the graves face toward the Holy Land so that the deceased may rise to meet the Lord, who will be coming from the East in the Second Coming. Another is the ‘mounding’ of the graves, which author Alan Jabbour explains in his book, Decoration Day in the Mountains

Mounding is a Southern practice, widespread till recent decades, in which all grass and weeds are removed from the gravesite and dirt is heaped up into a long mound running the length of the grave above the body — short mounds for infants, perhaps longer for older children, and a standard adult length for adults. Mounding is conventional at the time of burial to compensate for the anticipated natural settlement. But in the South, this burial practice became an annual ritual associated with Decoration Day. The mounds symbolize the body beneath, and their annual renewal is both a reenactment of the burial and (because of similarity of decorated mounds to the mounds of spring gardening) an evocation of resurrection.

The book Decoration Day in the Mountains (2010) is available for purchase at the Swain County / Bryson City Chamber of Commerce and on the author’s website.

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Legendary Outdoorsman Lived and Worked in Bryson City

Much has been written about Horace Kephart’s camps in the wilds of Deep Creek and Hazel Creek, but relatively little is mentioned about his time in Bryson City. Yet it was in his Everett Street office that he completed his novel “Smoky Mountain Magic” in 1929, two years before his tragic death. Kephart’s manuscript was preserved by his heirs and finally published — just last year — by Great Smoky Mountains Association. Fittingly, the book’s proceeds benefit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which Kephart helped to create.

Although written eighty years ago, “Smoky Mountain Magic” has received positive reviews. In Smoky Mountain News, Gary Carden wrote “Is Kephart’s novel entertaining? Yes, it is. … What better topic than a journey into a forbidden realm, complete with witches, robber barons, noble savages and a winsome lady, all wrapped in a cloak of mystery and myth?”

Great Smoky Mountains Association has produced an excellent video about Kephart (below) and how his love of Deep Creek comes to life in the pages of “Smoky Mountain Magic”. The five-minute film is partly narrated by Libby Kephart Hargrave, the author’s great-granddaughter.

Kephart’s Bryson City office — he called it ‘”my den” — was on the second floor of the Waldroup Building (above) overlooking the Tuckaseigee River, with a view of his beloved Smoky Mountains. In 1929, the smaller barber shop building had not yet been added, and a flight of outside stairs led to the second floor balcony. Part of that balcony — Kephart’s porch — still remains behind the barber shop and can be seen from the bridge.

Horace Kephart Days, April 30 — May 2
Next weekend marks the second annual celebration of Horace Kephart Days with special events, hikes, music, speakers and storytelling in various locations around Bryson City and Deep Creek. You can find more information at HoraceKephart.com.

Previous Postcards devoted to Horace Kephart: January 2009 and January 2010.

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A Different Kind of ‘Bank Rescue’ For Bryson City

One of Bryson City’s oldest landmarks has been rescued from near obscurity to become the town’s newest showplace — the Bryson City Cork & Bean Wine Bar and Coffee House.

Owner Ron LaRocque, shown above with Rollon and Sherry Smith, completely renovated the historic Bryson City Bank, restoring many of its original architectural features. Even the original walk-in bank vault was converted into a wine vault where customers can peruse the restaurant’s selections.

Located at 16 Everett Street next to the old Courthouse, the structure was built in 1904 to house Swain County’s first bank. It was established by Stanley Black with just $5000 and was notable for having survived the Great Depression. Once it outgrew the space, the bank moved in the ’60s. Most recently, the building housed the Swain County Chamber of Commerce from 1987 to 2008.

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