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|GRAHAM COUNTY FORESTS IN 1905
By Marshall McClung
There are some interesting remarks about the forests of Graham County contained in a report entitled "Southern Appalachian Forests" in a U.S. Geological Survey Profile compiled by H.B. Ayers and W.W. Ashe in 1905. This is of special interest to me since that is the year both my parents were born.
In speaking of the southern U.S. in general, the report stated that thousands of acres were gullies and worthless as the badlands of the western U.S. The three main influences on the changing of our forests was said to be forest fires, logging, and clearing of land for farming. Evidence of forest fires was found on 80% of the land in the south.
Mountain forests such as ours here in Graham County were protected to some extent by the sheer difficulty in just getting to them. As the price for timber rose, remote areas of the forest began to be logged for lumber, some of which was shipped to Europe. One mill located at Nantahala was capable of cutting 50,000 board feet of lumber per day. Tanneries such as the one located at Andrews used chestnut, oak, and hemlock bark.
The clearing of land continued slowly in Graham County, mostly along bottom land near streams, and ridges and slopes generally below 4,000 feet in elevation. In addition to logging for lumber, timber was also used to construct homes, farm buildings, fences, and for firewood. Cattle were allowed to range freely through Graham County forests at this time.
Ayers and Ashe felt that as Graham County became more accessible, that it could become popular as a vacation and resort area, with the home market for farm products increasing. Sound familiar today?
In writing about specific parts of Graham County, Ayers and Ashe mentioned Santeetlah Creek and spelled it "Santeetla". At this time, there was less than a square mile of the Santeetlah Creek area cleared. Santeetlah was described as having very steep, rocky mountainsides, with narrow, rocky, stream bottoms. Belding Lumber Company had cut timber as far as the mouth of Indian Creek. Evidence of forest fires was prevalent. The price of land on Santeetlah ranged from 50¢ to $3 per acre.
Little Santeetlah Creek which includes the present day Joyce Kilmer Forest, had only about one tenth of a square mile of cleared land. It was described as having steep mountain slopes with almost no bottom land. Signs of forest fires were very common in the area. Land within our Joyce Kilmer Forest was valued at $3 to $4 per acre then.
Atoah Creek spelled "Atoa", had less than a square mile of cleared land on it. The upper portion of the Atoah basin was described as very steep with the valley bottom being about a quarter of a mile wide. The American chestnut tree, later decimated by a blight, made up 15% of the timber base on Atoah in 1905.
What if your relatives had bought all of Big and Little Santeetlah which now includes Joyce Kilmer Forest for the few dollars per acre it was valued at in 1905, and later willed it to you? You would now own the area that the scenic Cherohala skyway passes through. But then again, had that been the case, it might have been sold, divided into subdivisions, and covered with houses with no trespassing signs everywhere. Who can say?
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These pages are from the people of Graham County, North Carolina.
For additional information on Graham County Adventures
the Travel and Tourism Authority or
go to the Visitors Information Center of the Travel and Tourism Authority Webpage
or call 1-800-470-3790 or 828-479-3790 Fax 1-828-479-4733
This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina