AMERICAN ADVENTURE - MOUNTAIN HERITAGE
FALL - 1993
20 September 1993
After a swelteringly hot, but fun-filled, Leesburg Rally, nineteen Tampa Bay Unit caravanners left for the start of their American Adventure - Mountain Heritage caravan, led by Jerry and Ellen Honaker.
The annual rally at Leesburg was larger than usual, with many first-timers. It was so much fun that we bet some of those first-timers will be returning next September. For those taking the caravan, it was a relaxing prelude to the adventure ahead.
Jerry held the first drivers' meeting on Sunday night, reporting that most caravan duty spots were filled, with the remaining vacancies to be taken by those who would join later. Our destination for the end of the first day was General Coffee State Park in Nichols, Georgia.
The park was named for General John Coffee, a planter, U.S. congressman, and Indian fighter. Seventeen-mile River flows through the park and creates four small lakes as it winds through a cypress swamp. We were in a new section of the park, the first to use that area of the campground. We had a delicious barbecued chicken dinner on Monday night at a camp building and enjoyed an orientation by Park Manager Dave, whose wife and five children were our guests for the dinner.
21 September 1993
After a tour of a pioneer village, made up of old buildings (some dating to 1760) that were moved in from other parts of Georgia, we left on the second leg of the trip to Talisman RV Resort in Madison, Georgia. We passed a contingent of prisoners working on the park grounds. They were dressed in white uniforms with black stripes down their pants legs and were overseen by armed guards.
Most of the caravanners made a sightseeing stop at Rock Eagle, an ancient
Indian Mound of prehistoric origin (6,000 years old). It is believed to have been a ceremonial mound made by the Indians with white quartz rock, according to the plaque. The rock forms the head of an eagle, turned to the east. Its length was 102 feet, and its wingspan was 120 feet. The depth of the eagle's breast was eight feet. Only two such configurations have been discovered east of the Mississippi River. The plaque states:
"Tread softly here white man, for long ere you came,
Strange races lived, fought and loved."
22 September 1993
The caravan arrived in Hiawassee early on the first day of Fall, a gorgeous day in the north Georgia mountains. Our beautiful campground was at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds on the waters of Lake Chatuge. Seven more trailers joined us there.
We were on our own for eating that first night in Hiawassee, then the cooks got to work. The next morning they fed us a delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes and sausage, and a dinner later of chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots. What a treat that was!
After a good night's rest a convoy of Suburbans and vans headed up Georgia's tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald. After parking we were shuttled to the summit in minivans, fourteen at a time. At the top was a ranger station, a fire tower, an observation deck, a small auditorium, and a very nice museum. A special program was presented by David Kuykendahl, a U.S. Forest Service ranger. David told the story of the Cherokee Indians and their relationship to the Hiawassee area.
Hiawassee drew its name from the Cherokee Indians who once lived here and called this land The Enchanted Valley. This area was the heart of the Cherokee nation in the early 1800s which at one time covered the northwest corner of Georgia, western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. The Cherokee story is a tragic one. Of all the groups of American Indians, the Cherokees were the most advanced in terms of the white man's culture. They had their own alphabet and written language. They farmed and lived in houses similar to the white man's. They had schools, a newspaper, and a highly effective system of government. But all of that counted for nought when the white man decided he wanted their lands. When gold was found in Dahlonega, it accelerated the Cherokee demise. The ultimate "solution" to the "Indian problem" came when the U.S. Army came and herded the people at bayonet point into stockades to wait for a forced march to Oklahoma. Of the 15,000 that started the long trek, more than a fourth died en route. The long "Trail of Tears" in 1838 was the most brutal handling of any of the American Indians. Was this an early form of "ethnic cleansing?"
On the way back to camp we stopped by Helton Creek Falls, a beautiful water fall a bit off the beaten path, and walked to the base over a short mountain trail. The dry summer had robbed the falls of some of the water normally seen.
Later in the evening we convoyed to Young Harris College for an interesting lecture and demonstration of astronomy in the school's planetarium. We watched the stars overhead move across the "sky" as the amazing projector recreated the night sky over Young Harris on 23 September 1993. We learned how to locate the North Star. We heard ancient stories based on imaginary creatures and patterns formed by the stars. Our lecturer, James Burgess, had been teaching astronomy for over thirty years. And this was all free!
Young Harris College is a two year college founded just over 100 years ago as a school to provide instruction to the young people of north Georgia. It derives its name from Young Harris, a lawyer and judge, who made the school possible through a large financial gift. With a current enrollment of about 500 students, the school is now sponsored by the Methodist church.
24 September 1993
Cherokee, North Carolina
Each morning before the start of a move to another campsite, we met for a short devotion and prayer for the road. A different person led this special time at every stop. From Hiawasee we moved north across the North Carolina border through Hayesville, Franklin, Dillsboro, and on to Cherokee. The road through the mountains had long sections of 7% and 8% grades that taxed everyone's equipment. The views were spectacular, and everyone made it into camp safely. The North Carolina State Rally for the local WBCCI clubs was being held at the same campground, and we were greeted by a number of friends.
On the following morning we divided into two groups and loaded onto tour buses for a day-long drive through Smoky Mountain National Park. Despite clouds, fog, and occasional rain showers, we enjoyed the trip through the park. We stopped at Newfound Gap, Sugarland Visitor Center, the "Sinks," Cades Cove, Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, a pioneer homestead, and had lunch under a pavilion at the Cades Cove Campground. Among other things learned was the fact that this is the only national park that doesn't have an admissions charge. When land for the park was being acquired back in the 1930s, they lacked 5 million dollars to complete the deal. John D. Rockefeller donated the money, but with the stipulation that no admissions fee would ever be charged.
Our guide told us an Indian story which had two Cherokee braves contesting over a beautiful maiden. The braves were called Running Bear and Falling Rock. The maiden's father preferred Falling Rock, but Running Bear won every contest. As a last test of their abilities, he sent both men into the forest with a bow and arrow. The one to return with the largest deer would win the beautiful maiden. Running Bear returned with a big deer, but nightfall came and Falling Rock did not return. The old man had no choice but to give his daughter to Running Bear, but as the days passed and there was no word from Falling Rock, he grew concerned and sent word to all the Cherokee villages to send word back if they knew anything of Falling Rock. No word came, and to this day, signs are posted throughout the land to "Watch For Falling Rock."
We saw wildlife, a dozen or so deer, a bear, some wild turkeys, and a groundhog. Folks in Bus Number Two made a dubious claim of seeing mountain goat and buffalo, but closer questioning revealed those claims to be domesticated goats and black angus cattle.
26 September 1993
Our drive to Abingdon included a stop at historic Greeneville, Tennessee, the home of President Andrew Johnson. After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we walked around town to see his old home, his tailor shop, the Greene County Courthouse, the building thought to house the old capitol of the "lost" State of Franklin, several churches dating to the late 1700s, many old homes and cemeteries. The town and the county are named for Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene. Local citizens boast that their city is the only Greeneville in the country that retains the "E" at the end of the Green. In the late 1700s, the local politicians rebelled against the state of North Carolina and declared themselves a separate state, calling it "Franklin." They established a legislature, a set of civil laws, a courthouse, and a land office, but it only lasted 3 years. The old Harmony cemetery contains the grave of Abraham Lincoln's cousin, Mordecai Lincoln.
Andrew Johnson was a tailor from Greeneville who upon the death of Abraham Lincoln became our seventeenth president. Elected first to the U.S. Senate, he became an ardent Unionist despite his Southern roots. He was the only senator from a seceding state to remain in Congress. His reward for loyalty was to be elected Vice-President in Lincoln's second term. The responsibility fell on his shoulders to reconstruct the union after the disastrous Civil War. In his fight for reconstruction he made enemies on both sides and sadly became the first and only president to endure an impeachment proceedings. He was saved from impeachment by one vote in the senate. The most noteworthy event of Johnson's presidency was the acquisition of Alaska in 1867, an event unappreciated by the nation until long after his death.
The Barter Theater in Abingdon occupies a building originally built in 1831 as a church. The theater itself began operating in 1933 in the heart of the Great Depression, bartering tickets for farm goods. It is across the street from the elegant Martha Washington Inn. We watched a play called "Other People's Money." The story was about a high stakes fight for control of a company, a company in a dying industry whose assets were worth more on the salvage market than the price of its stock. The "good guy" was the son of the founder, fighting against the odds to keep the company going for the sake of the town and his employees. The villain was a Wall Street takeover artist called "Larry, the Liquidator." Each of the characters had a stake in the outcome. There was the boss's secretary and girl friend, and her daughter, the lawyer. There was the general manager of the company who saw his position evaporating. The actors did an excellent job with their parts. As the takeover game played itself out, there were many revealing insights into the issues and stakes involved. The BIG criticism was the bad language. The consensus of the audience, made up mostly of us caravanners, was that the story could have been told with equal force without the vulgarity.
Monday was a free day to explore the town of Abingdon, do laundry, or just relax. Despite a steady rain, our cooks managed a delicious breakfast of western omelet, fried potatoes, and other trimmings.
Filled with history, Abingdon is the oldest incorporated town west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has served as the seat of Washington County, Virginia since 1778. It is located in the valley west of the mountains just north of Bristol, the town that straddles the Tennessee/Virginia border. Abingdon contains many 200 year old buildings, the oldest of which is the 1778 Tavern. The most prominent of the old structures is the Martha Washington Inn, originally built as a private residence. Those of the caravanners who ate lunch there found it to be an elegant place with excellent food and reasonable prices. Other landmarks were the White's Mill, the Cave House, the Pierce- Penn House, as well as the Barter Theater and Playhouse.
Wolves from the cave below the Cave House once set upon and killed dogs belonging to Daniel Boone while he was camped nearby. He named the little community Wolf Hill as a result. Later, after the construction of fort to protect the townspeople from Indian raids, the town was called Black's Fort. It was incorporated as Abingdon in 1778. Located on the principal route to the west in Tennessee and Kentucky, Abingdon became something of a staging area for westward migration in the late 1700s.
In a more modern setting, five miles west of Abingdon, many caravanners found the Dixie Pottery and reported it to be a shopper's dream with bargain prices on all sorts of goods. And of course there were numerous antique, craft and gift shops around to browse in.
28 September 1993
Beckley, West Virginia
The drive through the western tip of Virginia into West Virginia was gorgeous. With the coming of a cold front, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees and all pollution was flushed from the sky. The mountains with a hint of fall color under a clear blue sky made an outstanding scene.
The night before we left for Beckley, Jerry gave us a good idea of what life was like growing up in a company town in the coal mining region of West Virginia. With that preview, we had more insight into what we were to see and hear in Beckley. Jerry's memories of his growing up years were vivid. The miners were immigrants from Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. They came directly from Ellis Island to the coal fields around 1910 and were at the mercy of the coal company. Before the unions came on the scene in the late 1930s, the men were paid on piece work - so much per ton of coal loaded. They worked under difficult and dangerous conditions in long dark mine shafts. There was a constant threat of an explosion. Literally hundreds were killed in mine accidents, and more died of the black lung disease. There were no death benefits for the surviving families. By the time the company deducted all the charges for rent, utilities, and supplies, there was little cash left on pay day. All the young men, including Jerry, were well motivated to get an education as their ticket to get away from the mines.
In Beckley we rode the rails 1200 feet down a shaft and through an "Exhibition" mine, once a working mine, but now used to show the public what the old miners went through to get the coal out. What a horrible job! Some of the veins of coal were only 32" thick, and the mine shafts were only slightly larger. The men literally crawled in to get to the end of the shaft. There, while lying on their sides, they used a hand pick to break out a space beneath the vein. They then bored holes into the coal and set off a charge of dynamite. The blast broke up the coal and let it fall into the hollowed out space underneath. The men then shoveled it into cars that were pulled out by dogs or goats, or mules if the shaft was large enough. The miners were paid so much per ton and were expected to produce at least 10 tons per day for $2.00, barely enough to subsist. Conditions improved after the union came in the 1930s, and mechanization has now changed the procedure drastically. Using today's machines, production is up to 500 tons per day per man. That, of course, means that fewer men are needed, and West Virginia has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
The absolute darkness in the mine is astonishing. They have electric lights in the mine shafts now, but to show us how it used to be, they turned off the lights. Imagine the sense of hopelessness and panic if you were caught in a mine shaft, by a cave-in for example, with no light, poor air, and no sense of direction as to which way to go to look for a way out. It was a horrible job!
After emerging from the mine, we went through one of the three-room company houses where a miner, his wife and six children had lived. A privy in the yard was the bathroom. There was no electricity and no running water. Life around the mines could not have been pleasant. No wonder the young people wanted an education so they could get out of there.
Jerry had arranged for the caravan kitty to pay for lunch at a local smorgasbord. After mining all morning, we were ready for lunch. Afterward we carpooled to the New River Gorge. The bridge crossing the gorge is the world's longest steel arch (3,030 feet), 876 feet above the river. It is the nation's second highest, and would tower over the Washington monument by 325 feet. A 52 mile section of the river has been designated a National River, one of eight such rivers administered by the U.S. Park Service. The scenery is wild and beautiful. We watched a slide show at the Visitor Center, walked a boardwalk out to the rim of the gorge, then drove down into the canyon to look up at the impressive bridge.
Some of the caravanners took a boat ride on 300-acre Lake Stephens upon our return to camp, reporting that the views of the mountains were outstanding from the lake. Others took a scenic drive around the mountains. Then, at 7:00pm we gathered around to hear a mountain man, Glen Simpson, pick a guitar and play a banjo with songs he had written about the people of the West Virginia mountains. But it was cold sitting out, and one by one the audience began to disappear. Still, it was an interesting and different style of music.
30 September 1993
Boyer, West Virginia
The drive from Beckley to Boyer was beautiful _ mountains and rolling meadows. Each day brought more color to the trees. Some of the caravanners stopped at the famous Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs. It is a place of utter elegance, with gracious lawns and flowers. The rich and famous of the early 20th century came there to bathe in the natural pools.
It turned cold with a vengeance on Thursday night. We were parked in a field with only minimum utilities, so water hoses were strung out all over the place. When the temperature fell to the mid-twenties, all the hoses froze, and no one had water. But this is what caravanning is about, making do with what we find, and we survived.
On Friday we bundled up and rode the open cars of the Cass Scenic Railroad to Whittaker and Bald Knob, an all-day, uphill ride through scenic forest land. The tracks zigged and zagged 2,000 feet up the mountain for eleven miles. The train was pushed by two Shay steam locomotives that burned four tons of coal each to get us up that eleven miles. The train left from the old town of Cass, a lumber company town that once housed several thousand people. Lumbering was big business in Cass for the first half of this century, at its peak employing some 3,000 men. When it was no longer economically feasible, the company sold most of their equipment for scrap and abandoned the site. The State of West Virginia has now turned it all into an interesting state park, utilizing the old locomotives to pull tourists instead of logs through the mountains. The eleven miles of track from Cass to Bald Knob are all that is left of the 3,000 miles of logging railroad that once made West Virginia the leader of the nation in rail logging. The train ride is now an authentic operating museum of lumber railroading. Unlike the traditional steam locomotive, the Shays are driven by direct gearing to every wheel. "The smooth, even flow of power enables the engines to negotiate twisting mountain grades effortlessly," so says the brochure. The operators spend their summers running the trains and their winters maintaining them.
The buildings in the town of Cass are essentially unchanged since its heyday, just no people now. White two-story company houses with white picket fences and boardwalks line the streets. The old general store still functions. The post office still operates. The church and school have been restored to their original condition. Several of the old homes are available as tourist cottages.
Our campsite hosts at Boyer Station arranged for a country singer to entertain us for the evening, and Vicki King did an outstanding job. She sang songs that told folk stories of families and love until we were all on the verge of sleep from our vigorous day.
On Saturday before driving to our next stop we toured the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the nearby town of Green Bank, West Virginia. This unique facility is an undertaking by a number of cooperating universities to make high tech explorations of the universe. High powered radio telescopes (receivers) monitor signals from outer space. This remote spot was chosen in 1958 because it was so remote. With the help of the FCC, it is now the only spot on earth free of manmade radio interference.
2 October 1993
The drive to Winchester was the steepest of the trip. The narrow winding road (that the state calls scenic) had some grades as steep as 11 percent. The views were nice, and all made it into the Candy Hill Campground without mishap. Our campground host owned an elaborate trolley in which he took all who wanted to go on a tour through the old historic section of Winchester, and then to supper at the Golden Corral.
On Sunday we carpooled to Harpers Ferry, the old town in West Virginia that played such an important part in Civil War history. Located on a strategic point of land where the Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac, Harpers Ferry became the nation's center of armament production and storage during the first half of the 19th century. Old John Brown saw those storehouses full of rifles and ammunition as an opportunity to arm the slaves and set them against their masters. His ill-planned raid on Harpers Ferry, which resulted in his capture, conviction and hanging, made him a martyr to the abolitionist cause. That was 1859. When war broke out two years later, those stockpiles of weapons made Harpers Ferry a coveted spot for both sides of the conflict. The town changed hands eight times during the course of the war and remained under military control by one side or the other for the duration. The 3,000 civilians who lived there prior to the war fled. When the war was over only 100 residents remained. Today, there are still only 300 residents. It is administered by the National Park Service, and many of the old buildings have been restored. Interpretative programs tell the story of John Brown, the Civil War, and the part Harpers Ferry played in it all. (There once was a ferry to cross the river, operated by Robert Harper.)
On Sunday evening our cooks outdid themselves with a big pot of vegetable beef soup, dumplings, and pie. The dinner and vesper service to follow was held in the campground pavilion away from the evening cool. Thoughts expressed in the service were very appropriate to caravanning. How much we miss in our journeys if we don't take time to see and feel the pulse of the places we visit!
On Monday we drove to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where the most decisive battles of the Civil War took place. When the South lost at Gettysburg it was the beginning of the end. When the North won, it marked a turning point and started the nation on the road to rebirth. It was at Gettysburg a few months later that President Lincoln dedicated the cemetery as a National Shrine with his now famous Gettysburg Address:
"... that these men shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Some of us took the tour of Eisenhower's Gettysburg farm close by. This was the only home that Ike and Mamie ever owned. They bought the 189 acre farm in 1950 for $44,000, land that adjoins the Gettysburg battlefields. They remodeled the old farmhouse to suit their needs and enjoyed their later years there. Ike raised prize-winning black Angus beef cattle. Two years before his death, he deeded the place to the National Park Service which now maintains the property and conducts the tours. Mamie survived Ike for ten years and was allowed to live out her life at the farm.
The final banquet of the caravan was hilarious. In the upper room of the Best Western Motel in Winchester, we had a private buffet then entertainment by our own talent that was great. From the rubber ducky song, to the singing dog, to Minnie Pearl, to the cowgirls, to the car salesman, to the man in a hurry, to the bathing beauties, it was all an incredible display of raw, but great talent.
Telling each other good-bye at the end was tough, sort of like saying good- bye to family. A great time was had by all, and it was sad to part company. The Airstreamer greeting was heard all over the room, "See you down the road!"
Perhaps the caravan can best be summed up like this:
Our twenty-five Airstreams had a time to remember. With Ellen and Jerry those days in September. We started the trip with the mountains still green, But as we went on, some fall color was seen. We saw country homesteads and company towns, Heard songs of the hills that brought forth sweet sounds. There was wildlife aplenty with deer here and there. There was even in Cades Cove a lonely black bear. We heard about Indians, we heard about gold, We learned of the stars, and the mining of coal. We rode the Cass Railroad up through the hills, Where earlier timber was hauled to the mills. At Harpers Ferry we saw an old town, Whose claim to fame is tied to John Brown. Then came Gettysburg where grim battles were fought, And we saw with what cost that our nation was bought. Once more came the truth that there's much yet to see, In this country of ours that's the land of the free. When touring this land, it is also quite true, That it's more fun when shared with old friends and new.