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THE JOHN DENTON FAMILY
By Marshall McClung
Most people are familiar with the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the part it has played in the history of Graham County. Many people, though, may not be aware of the history of the area long before it became a part of the National Forest System, and how the John Denton Family played an important part in our local history.
The John and Albertine Denton Family are the only known white family to have ever lived in what is now the Joyce Kilmer Forest. Some time around 1870, John and Albertine Denton and their five children moved from East Tennessee to Little Santeetlah Creek in Graham County. It is thought that they came from an area near Benton, Tennessee since the Denton's had relatives living in that area at the time.
Upon arriving at Little Santeetlah Creek, John set about selecting a site to construct a log cabin for his family. John selected a site less than a mile from the present day Joyce Kilmer Picnic Area on a dividing ridge between what is now known as Rattler Ford and Joyce Kilmer. There was a spring nearby which came to be known as Denton Spring. This same spring is the present day water source for the Joyce Kilmer Picnic Area.
Near the cabin site was a huge chestnut tree that had fallen. In order to provide shelter for his family while he was building the cabin, John hewed out a space in the log large enough for two rooms for his family to stay in until the cabin was completed. To give you an idea of how large the chestnut log was, John Denton was said to be six feet and four inches tall, and that he could stand to his full height in the hewed out section of the tree.
Four more children were born to the Denton Family while living at this cabin1 making five boys and four girls. The Denton Family had several acres cleared around the cabin including an apple orchard, a peach orchard, a grape vineyard, and fields for crops and hay. They kept a wide assortment of livestock including cattle, horses, hogs, sheep, and turkeys.
The Denton Family occupied the cabin until around the turn of the century. Several of the children lived in nearby areas of the county. Forrest Denton lived on Little Snowbird, "Cub" Denton lived in the Farley Cove section. Cub Gap in that area is named for him. Charlie Denton lived in the Slaybacon Branch area of Sweetwater. One of the daughters, Mabel, known as "May", was the mother of Oleta Nelms who today serves as a hostess at Joyce Kilmer.
When the cabin was abandoned, it began to fall into disrepair, and the fireplace became unsafe to use. The Forest Service was concerned about someone using the fireplace and causing a forest fire to break out, so they directed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members to tear the cabin down. They discovered that each log had a two inch hole bored into it and was secured with pins made from locust wood. So well constructed was the cabin, that it literally had to be pried apart one log at a time. Today, all that remains of the cabin is a portion of the stone chimney and fireplace. Where there were once cleared fields, today there is a forest thick with trees which serve as a silent reminder that once man has made his mark upon the land and is gone, nature reclaims what we have used in our brief span upon this earth.
John and Albertine Denton are buried in the Denton Family Cemetery on Little Snowbird near the Forrest Denton Farm. Having made their mark upon our local history, and blazing a path for the present day generation of Graham County, they were laid to rest in this beautiful, peaceful valley.
Their headstone reads: John H.G. Denton, May 1840 - September 27, 1913; Albertine Meroney Denton, September 1843 - November 10, 1912. I would like to give special thanks to Oleta Nelms for her contribution to this story.
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina