Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mountain Region: 1896

North Carolina and Its Resources: Illustrated, North Carolina State Board of Agriculture, Raleigh (1896):


This is so sharply and distinctly defined, and embraces so large a portion of the territory of North Carolina, as to merit a somewhat extended reference to its magnitude, its elevation and its characteristics. Broadly considered it may be treated as a high plateau, bounded on the east by the irregular chain known as the Blue Ridge, extending across the State in a general direction from northeast to southwest, until, reaching the southeastern border of Henderson county, it turns to the west and forms for a long distance part of the southern boundary of the State, passing at length by a southwest projection into the State of Georgia, and again reuniting with the chain of the Smoky Mountains, to which it had made near approach on its entry into North Carolina in the counties of Ashe and Watauga.

The average elevation of the Blue Ridge is nearly 4,000 feet, though on the southern and northern extremities it drops to 3,000 feet, its lower gaps being a little above 2,000 feet over the main level of the Piedmont country. Seen from the east, the chain presents the aspect of a steep and rugged escarpment springing suddenly from the Piedmont plateau to an altitude of from 2,000 to 3,000 feet above it. From the west the appearance is that of a low and ill-defined ridge, in some places, as in parts of Henderson and Macon Counties, presenting almost a smooth, unbroken horizontal line; again uplifting itself in bold prominence, attaining the height of nearly 6,000 feet, as in the Grandfather, and the Pinnacle, the conspicuous summits so attractively visible near Round Knob, on the Western North Carolina Railroad.

The western boundary of this division is that long chain known under the various names of the Iron, the Smoky, and the Unaka Mountains, and forming the dividing line between North Carolina and Tennessee, and enclosing with marked definiteness the plateau of Western North Carolina. The area of this division approximates 6,000 square miles. The plateau is the culminating region of the Appalachian system, and contains not only its largest masses, but also its highest summits. It is divided by a number of cross ridges, and consequently into a number of smaller plateaus or basins, each bounded on all sides by high mountains and having its own independent system of rivers or drainage. It is this connection or interlacing of the outside bounding chains by the agency of the numerous cross chains that gives Western North Carolina its marked mountain character, its alternation of high mountain ranges with corresponding valleys and their attendant rivers, and the numerous lateral spurs, penetrated also by their valleys and their mountain torrents, and all arranged with an order and a symmetry as rare as it is beautiful, and also presenting facilities for communication from the opposite sides of these chains of inestimable value in the construction of works of internal improvement not often possessed by mountain countries.

The chief of these in exceptional elevation is known as the Black Mountains, consisting of a single short ridge extending in a northly direction from the point where it leaves the Blue Ridge. Its total length is only about fifteen miles, but within this short distance there are a dozen peaks that rise to an elevation of more than 6,000 feet above the sea, and one of these--Mitchell's Peak--the highest mountain on the eastern half of the continent, has an altitude of 6,711 feet. Between the French Broad and the Pigeon rivers stretches the long ridges of the Pisgah and the New Found mountains, interrupted by the valley of Hominy creek, the opening of which offers convenient passway to the next parallel ridge, the Balsam mountains, which extends in unbroken continuity from the South Carolina line on the south to the Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee border on the north. This range has a mean elevation of about 5,500 feet, with fifteen summits exceeding 6,000 feet; and across the range are only two pass-ways or gaps suitable to the passage of wheeled vehicles, one of which, traversed by the Western North Carolina railroad, is 3,357 feet above sea-level; the other, Soco Gap, being 4,341 feet high. Then comes the Cowee mountains, extending nearly across the State, and separated from the Great Smokies by the narrow valley of the Tuckasegee river. The mean height of this ridge is about 4,800 feet, the highest summit, at the southern end, being Yellow mountain, 5,133 feet. Then succeeds the massive and very bold double chain of the Nantahala and Valley River mountains, with a mean height of 5,000 feet, the two branches of which lie in close parallelism from the Georgia State line on the south as far as the Red Marble Gap on the north, where they separate, one branch directed westward and known as the Long Ridge, and uniting itself with the Smoky mountains in Cherokee county; the other extending to the northeast, under the name of the Cheowah mountains, and ending without definite connection in undefinable ridges or isolated peaks.

On the east side of the Blue Ridge and extending into the Piedmont region are a series of short and irregular ridges or spurs. Among these are the Saluda, Green River, Tryon and Hungry mountain masses, which are more or less separated from the Blue Ridge by the deep valleys or gorges carved by the river torrents which have cut through them and thus unite with the waters flowing toward the Atlantic; the waters on the west of the Blue Ridge, on the contrary, all directing their courses toward the Mississippi or its tributaries. Two other and more prominent ridges extend into this Piedmont plateau for considerable distances. The South mountains, commencing as foot hills of the Blue Ridge in western McDowell, extend in a general easterly direction, south of the Catawba river to western Catawba county, a distance of some fifty miles. They reach their maximum development near the junction of Burke, McDowell and Rutherford counties, where several knobs have an elevation of near 3,000 feet. The other of these two ridges, the Brushy mountains, cut off from the Blue Ridge at the west by several tributaries of the Catawba assumes definite proportions in eastern Caldwell county and extends northeast more or less parallel to the Yadkin valley and Blue Ridge on the north, as far as the Sauratown mountains in Stokes county, a distance of some eighty miles. In Yadkin and Surry counties these mountains nearly disappear, but they reappear in Pilot, Eaton and Moor's Knobs to the northeast.

The Linville mountains, though a distinct spur from the Blue Ridge, are so coincident with it in perspective and in general characteristics as to need no mention as a distinct ridge.

The above embrace the whole mountain system of North Carolina, and in the western section unmistakably present the culmination of the great Appalachian system, as illustrated by the highest summits lifted up in all the territory of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, and also as the source from which many large rivers radiate to flow towards the opposite directions of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi river and its tributaries.

Along the Blue Ridge, along the Smoky mountain range, and along the cross chains are found the following summits which exceed 6,000 feet in elevation:

IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS--Mount Buckley, 6,599; Clingman's Dome, 6,660; Mount Love, 6,443; Mount Collins, 6,188; Mount Alexander, 6,447; Mount Henry, 6,373; Mount Guyot, 6,636; Tricorne Knob, 6,188; Raven's Knob, 6,230; Thermometer Knob, 6,157; Luftee Knob, 6,232; Cataloochee, 6,159; Roan (High Knob,) 6,313; Roan (High Bluff,) 6,287; Grassy Ridge, (Bald), 6,220; Cold Spring, 6,015.

IN THE BALSAM MOUNTAINS--Enos Plotts' Balsam, 6,090; Jones' Balsam, 6,224; Rockstand Knob, 6,002; Brother Plott, 6,246; Amos Plott's Balsam, 6,278; Rocky Face, 6,031; Double Spring Mountain, 6,380; Richland Balsam, 6,370; Chimney Peak, 6,234; Spruce Ridge Top, 6,076; Reinhardt Mountain, 6,106; Devil's Court House, 6,049; Sam's Knob, 6,001.

IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS--Blackstock's Knob, 6,378; Potato Top, 6,393; Black Dome, 6,502; Mount Gibbs, 6,591; Mount Hallback, (or Sugar loaf,) 6,403; Mount Mitchell, 6,711; Balsam Cone, 6,671; Black Brother, 6,619; Cattail Peak, 6,611; Hairy Bear, 6,681; Deer Mountain, 6,233; Long Ridge, (middle point,) 6,259; Bowlen's Pyramid, 6,348.

IN THE CRAGGY RANGE--Big Craggy, 6,068.

In all forty-three peaks of 6,000 feet and upwards. And there are eighty-two mountains which exceed in height 5,000 feet, and closely approximate 6,000, and the number which exceed 4,000 and approximate 5,000 are innumerable.

The general contour of all these mountains is gentle, the summits generally presenting smooth rounded outlines, occasionally rising into sharp pointed peaks, and, except on the southern border, presenting but few precipitous slopes. There, some of the most stupendous cliffs or precipices east of the Rocky Mountains present themselves, such as C├Žsar's Head and Whiteside Mountain, the latter presenting a sheer perpendicular front of naked rock eighteen hundred feet in height.

Otherwise the mountains are covered with deep rich soil, clothed with massive forests to their tops. To this general condition there is the remarkable exception presented by the locally named balds, natural meadows found on the rounded tops of many of the highest mountains. Their elevation is generally near, or above, 6,000 feet. The heavy forest growth of the valleys and lower slopes of the mountains is gradually dwarfed towards the bald summits, so that these are surrounded by a fringe of stunted, scrubby oaks, beeches, &c., the balds themselves being covered with a rich herbage of grass, pasturage to which large herds of domestic animals are annually driven to remain until the return of cold weather.

The great elevation of these mountain heights is indicated by the botanical features of the vegetation, which shows a predominance of firs, hemlocks, white pines, and other trees of high latitudes.

In respect to those timber trees found here, in common with the other sections, the Mountain region has the advantage of possessing an unbroken forest. In comparison with the extent of forest lands, the clearings here are mere patches.

There is little hazard in saying that there is nowhere in any of the States an equal area of land covered with timber trees of such various kinds, and of such value. The walnut, tulip trees, (poplars), and oaks attain a size that would hardly be credited by one who had not seen them. The preservation of this magnificent forest is due to the fact that it has hitherto been inaccessible to transportation. Within the past few years much of it has been brought into connection with the markets of the world. One railroad line passes entirely through this section, and another branching off at Asheville and leading to the extreme southwest of the State, is now completed. Into the northwestern part of the State also a railroad has been completed and others projected.

The cultivated productions of this section are the same as those of the Piedmont Plateau region, cotton and rice excepted. Its garden vegetables are the same, but the cabbage and the Irish potato grow here to a degree of perfection that cannot be excelled anywhere. Among the fruits, its apples are noted for size and flavor. Peaches and grapes grow well generally; but, for their highest perfection, nature has made provisions by a suspension to some extent of her ordinary laws. Throughout the mountains, in certain localities and at certain elevations, there are horizontal belts where frost is seldom known. Such localities are found not only in this section, but in the South mountains and in the Brushy range.

The climate of this Mountain region differs less from that of the Piedmont Plateau region than would be inferred from its higher altitude. The difference is more perceptible in summer than in winter. In the former season, its cool and bracing air, together with its varied scenery, its mineral waters--sulphur, chalybeate and thermal--made this section one of the favorite resorts of the people of the South and Southwest when it could only be reached by private conveyances. Since it has been penetrated by railroads, the influx of health and pleasure-seekers has increased an hundred fold, and in future will add very largely to its resources.

The soils of the basins of the great rivers of this section, and its mountain valleys, are noted for their fertility. The capacity for the production of cereals and hay grasses is equal to that of any lands. As might be inferred from the heavy forest growth with which the entire surface is covered, the mountain sides are susceptible of profitable cultivation up to their summits.

Among the valleys most noted for their beauty and extent are the upper French Broad and Mills river valleys, of Henderson and Transylvania; the Swannanoa, in Buncombe; the Pigeon river, Richland and Jonathan's creek flat lands, in Haywood; those of the Valley river and Hiwasse, in Cherokee; and portions of the upper Linville, in Mitchell.

The entire transmontane country is well adapted to stock-raising. The cultivated grasses flourish everywhere with even ordinary care. But it is in the north-western counties--particularly in the counties of Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga, Mitchell, Yancey--that all the conditions are found necessary for its perfect success. The soil throughout these counties is a deep rich loam, up to the summits of the mountains. The whole country is covered with a dense vegetation, amongst which will be found some of the largest timber in the United States, and as yet the forests are comparatively unbroken, because they have been inaccessible to market. The clearing of the timber is a work of some difficulty, but when that is done the labor of the farmer is rewarded with the richest crops. After two or three crops are taken off, the land, if suffered to lie at rest, springs up spontaneously in timothy, herds grass, and other rich pasture grasses; and once established, the grass perpetuates itself upon the land. Nor is an entire clearing necessary to establish the land in grass. If the undergrowth is removed, the trees thinned out, and the surface stirred and sown in orchard grass (Cocks foot,) it flourishes luxuriantly even while the forest trees are left standing.

Its capacity as a grazing country has long been known. But formerly the cattle were left to the resources of nature, which indeed, in such a country were abundant and rich. "Horses and horned cattle," says General Clingman in one of his publications, "are usually driven out into the mountains about the first of April and brought back in November. Within six weeks after they have thus been put into the range, they become fat and sleek. There are, however, on the top and along the sides of the higher mountains ever-green and winter grasses on which horses and horned cattle live well through the entire winter. Such animals are often foaled and reared there until fit for market, without ever seeing a cultivated plantation." Of late, attention has been turned to the breeding of fine stock, and some herds of cattle and flocks of sheep are found there which will compare not unfavorably with those of any country. This country is already penetrated by one railroad, and others are in course of construction. When fairly laid open to railroad communication it will offer--besides its rich mining interests and timbers--one of the finest fields for cattle and sheep breeding and for dairy products that the Union presents.

Apart from its forests, nature has been prodigal to this section in shrubs and flowering plants. It has always been a favorite resort of the botanists. It is a field that has been assiduously cultivated by many of the most distinguished professors of that science. It was from these mountains that Bartram, the Michauxs--father and son--Fraser, Delile, Lyon, Nuttall, Von Schweinitz, Mitchell, Gray and Curtis, drew much of the material of their valuable contributions to botanical science. It was here that some of the most beautiful flowers that adorn the gardens of Europe and of this country were first discovered. It still yields rare flowers to the explorer, which though not conspicuous for their beauty, are deemed rare treasures by botanists.

This section has also been one of the chief sources of supply of medicinal herbs. Immense quantities are gathered and shipped to the northern cities and to Europe. In travelling through the mountains bales of these herbs may be seen collected about the country stores as bales of cotton are seen in the middle and eastern regions. Ginseng in great quantities is shipped to China. The trade in medicinal herbs has grown into a large business.

Corundum abounds in Macon, Clay and many other counties. Mica is abundant in Mitchell and Yancey, and those counties yield a large part of the world's supply. The largest and finest sheets of it seen at the World's Fair at Vienna were from the Ray Mine in Yancey.

This section is rich in iron ores of the best grade. That of Cranberry possesses such excellence for making iron for special purposes--steam boilers for example, and steel of the finest quality, such as is adapted to making surgical instruments and the like--that a railroad forty miles long and costing more than a million dollars has been constructed through one of the most rugged parts of the mountain territory to reach it. Copper also is prominent among the metals of this region. The most noted mine is that of Ore Knob, in Ashe.

The effect of these mining enterprises upon the prosperity of this section has been marked. Labor has found employment, a home market has been furnished to the farmer, and there has been some appreciation of property of every kind.

The past few years have been remarkable for the success with which the difficulties presented by the want of transportation in this State have been grappled with and overcome. These achievements at once great and beneficent, will make this period a memorable one in the history of the State. Railroads are now entering the northwestern part of the State in several directions. The completion and connection of these, and the opening up of this region, so rich in elements of undeveloped wealth, is now regarded as the first and most imperative duty of the statesmen of North Carolina.


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