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Layers of history at Cowee June 14, 2012

Posted by Jenny in conservation, history, nature.
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A mosaic of conserved lands at Cowee

Last week Brent Martin and Jill Gottesmann of the Wilderness Society took me on a tour of a place on the Little Tennessee River called Cowee, located north of Franklin.  It started its life as a large Cherokee village centered around a mound created c. 600 A.D. However, much of the village was destroyed in conflicts with English settlers and soldiers during the period between the French and Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. A large council house that stood on the mound was burned. And a few decades later, of course, most of the Cherokees were forcibly transplanted to Oklahoma.

The mound and several large fish weirs on the river are not all that obvious to someone who doesn’t know what to look for. Some of the weirs weren’t recognized as such until a drought lowered the water level to the extent that the V-shaped structures became clearly visible. I thought of an old Charles Addams cartoon in which two scientists with pith helmets are standing inside a gigantic footprint. One says to the other, “It must have been just a wild rumor.”

The dangers now come in the form of development and suburban sprawl rather than marauding settlers, but it’s heartening to see that conservancy organizations such as the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) are working with the state of North Carolina and private landowners to preserve this historic area of green, secluded valleys and forest-clad mountains.

For instance, LTLT conserved a parcel between the river and NC Highway 28 that had been targeted for development as riverfront RV lots. This parcel will provide a place with interpretive signboards where people can pull off the highway for a good view of the mound.

A major preserve was created in 2004 with the state’s purchase of the Needmore Tract, which fronts 26 miles of the Little Tennessee. It’s a corridor that connects the Nantahala and the Cowee mountain ranges—important for linking different locations of plant and animal species. Brent and Jill and I walked over one of several swinging bridges across the river.

View of the Little T from a swinging bridge

The bridge bounced as we walked on it—fun!

We experienced another period of Cowee history when we visited the Pleasant Hill Church, the place of worship for a thriving African-American community that existed after the Civil War.

Pleasant Hill Church

I liked the way the pews were decorated

Pulpit and piano

One of the members of the congregation, Escomoe Howell (1908-1987) owned quite a bit of land in the area. He built shacks on it where people could come for various forms of recreation—it’s said they were sometimes visited by “ladies of the night.”

One of Escomoe’s shacks

There are many old houses and farms in the area. This house needs repairs, but its construction out of huge beams is impressive.

This house looks to be a hundred years old at least.

Another interesting structure in the area is the Rickman General Store, built in 1865 and operated by Thomas Rickman from 1925 until 1994. It now hosts weekly music jams on Saturday afternoons over the summer. During the Christmas season, the store sells locally grown Christmas trees and wreaths.

Rickman Store (Photo source: rickmanstore.com)

We visited the Tellico Oak, a champion as measured by the volume of its wood.

Brent and Jill at the Tellico Oak

All in all, an area that has a wide variety of attractions. I feel that I just barely scratched the surface, and I look forward to returning. I would also like to revisit Alarka Laurel, a bog in the Cowee Mountains that has the southernmost population of red spruce.

Rosebay rhododendron on the lower Little Tennessee