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THE CEDAR TOP CROSS
By Marshall McClung
Cedar Top Mountain rises to an elevation of 4,008 feet and is located near the communities of West Buffalo, Straight Branch, and Huffman Creek, called Hooper Mill Creek on the map.
Sometime around 1985, the late David Stewart and his son Chuck, scaled the rocky summit, and erected a cross near the top. When the cross was first erected, it drew quite a bit of attention. The cross is visible from several points including West Buffalo, Hardslate, from the bridge across Santeetlah Lake near the entrance to Blue Boar Inn, and as you travel down from Santeetlah Gap toward this bridge.
The cross is about twelve to fifteen high and is made of locust, a wood known for durability. The wood is covered by metal roofing tin giving it a "shiny" appearance. Chuck said they found a natural hole in the rock about two feet deep. Here, they decided to place the cross. They carried cement and water with them and mixed it up and poured it into the hole. The cross is facing toward Straight Branch and Mayapple, where David lived and his son still resides. Appropriately enough, the cross is pretty much facing east, the direction Christ is expected to appear on his return to earth.
Chuck stated that his dad said little about why he wanted to put the cross up, other than that he "believed in the Lord." Another relative, Lonnie Stewart said he asked David once why he decided to put the cross up. David replied that so many people in the community had died, including a lot of the "old timers", and also a number of his relatives, that he decided to put up the cross as a memorial to them. He said he chose Cedar Top for the location because it was a landmark for that area.
I had been to Cedar Top on other occasions, doing work on the trail that ran from Santeetlah Gap across Cedar Top and on to Hooper Bald. The U.S. Forest Service maintained the trail until construction of the Cherohala Skyway took portions of it. Several years ago, I participated in a search for Gil Stewart who was fourteen at the time. Part of the search area included Cedar Top, and I remember searching among the rocks on a bitterly cold winter night.
I used part of this trail as access to Cedar Top. I encountered a flock of wild turkeys including several young ones on my way up. Up is the correct word, especially for the last portion as the trail climbs about a thousand feet in elevation from the Skyway to Cedar Top. The red paint marks and signs of the National Forest Boundary line run along the right side of the trail most of the way up. A lot of mountain laurel and rhododendron has died from the recent hot, dry weather where the soil is so thin on the rock cliffs.
I reached the cross and realized that David and Chuck had done a lot of hard work in placing it there. The footing is treacherous around the foot of the cross, as the rock face drops off rather abruptly. I was reminded of the cross on Mt. Lyn Lowry which is lighted at night and is visible as you travel from Waynesville to Balsam Gap on the four lane highway, U.S. 19-74. The story about this cross was featured in the February 29, 1996 edition of the Graham Star. I was also reminded of another cross that was erected on a lonely hilltop centuries ago. The story of this cross is featured in the timeless edition of the Holy Bible.
Several varieties of wildflowers were growing among the rocks including the yellow Tall Coreopsis, Turk's Cap Lily, False Spikenard with it's purple berries, even the common ragweed was growing here. Here and there were a few cedar bushes. Cedar Top got it's name from the fact that numerous cedars used to grow from the crevices of the rock cliffs on it's face. Just above the cross in another rock, a U.S. Geological Survey marker has been implanted bearing the date 1934, with the word "Cedar" stamped on it.
The view was good despite an abundance of summer haze. Ravens were soaring about the summit, uttering their coarse cry, as was a red tailed hawk, and a turkey vulture, locally called a buzzard. Santeetlah Lake was visible in several places, as was portions of West Buffalo, and Hardslate, with Straight Branch and Mayapple lying underneath. If you are familiar enough with the area, you can pick out several homes you know, including the new home of Heath and Tracy McGuire in it's prominent location on the point of a ridge top near Hardslate Gap.
As I admired the view, I wondered what it looked like as the first Stewart stood here looking out over the landscape. The Stewart family is one of Graham County's early families and like many others, their ranks have been thinned considerably by cancer. Chuck named a number of his relatives that cancer had claimed. The family of Brodus and Juanita Stewart in particular has lost many family members and relatives to cancer including John Dillard, Burl, Gary, David, and Hazel. One only has to participate in Graham County's Relay for Life and see all the lighted luminaries around the track to realize what an impact cancer has truly had on Graham County's residents. Most of the above named Stewarts were laid to rest in Carver Cemetery with the exception of John Dillard who is buried in Wiggins Cemetery near Frank's Creek.
On Christmas Eve, 1999, cancer claimed David Stewart, some fourteen years after he had placed the cross on Cedar Top. May his efforts in erecting the cross on Cedar Top inspire us to also "lift up the cross of Christ" in our daily lives.
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