Recently, a friend suggested an impromptu road trip to Bryson City, NC and showed me some of her old stomping grounds on the way.
My song for this entry is “Mountains Be My Throne” by Grand Magus:
After an unfortunate amount of time sitting in the cattle call of Gatlinburg traffic, we were in the clear for fresh air and pretty mountain views, and our first stop was in Newfound Gap.
Newfound Gap is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has the lowest altitude of any pass in the park that travelers are able to drive through. It is part of the Appalachian Trail that stretches almost 22,000 miles from Maine to Georgia along the Appalachian Mountains.
Construction on “The AT” started in 1921 and took over 15 years to be complete, though it is constantly updated and maintained with efforts from government agents and volunteers.
We stayed in Newfound Gap long enough to visit the monument and explore the AT for maybe 3/4 of a mile before we headed back.
Adjoined to the other end of the parking lot is the Rockefeller Memorial, in honour of the family’s generous donation of 5 million dollars to the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In 1940, when President Theodore Roosevelt spoke and dedicated the monument to the Rockefellers, that 5 million was the equivalent of over 90 million dollars today.
Next we visited the Mingus Mill in Cherokee, which was a fairly short drive from the Rockefeller Monument.
Time passed quickly due to the lovely mountain views along Newfound Gap Road.
It is rare to find a grist mill built in the 1800s to still be fully-functioning, let alone still selling its wares.
Unlike most grist mills which use water wheels, Mingus uses a water-powered turbine system.
Visitors can enjoy a walk along the structured water flow. I learned that there are quite a few small private cemeteries on the property, mostly for slaves who worked for the Mingus family.
Inside the mill, you can watch the workers grind the meal and read about various processes involved with making cornmeal and flour.
There are live demonstrations, informative plaques, photos from when it was first created, and loads of cornmeal for sale during certain times from March to November.
Oconaluftee Historic Visitor Center and Museum
Our next stop was at Oconaluftee, an area that was formerly a Cherokee Indian village.
The Visitor Center is also a museum with many interactive features, art, clothing, and other relics from the Cherokee tribe and the settlers who lived there.
Outside, the Mountain Farm Museum that surrounds the property is a sort of living time capsule with several structures along the creek.
These structures are set up to demonstrate what life was like for early immigrant settlers. Most of them are from the early 1900s and have been moved from their original location throughout the park to create this mock village.
You can find the old schoolhouse, a church, a blacksmith shed, cabins with large kitchens, and commerce staples of a small Appalachian settlement like grain, produce, and meat storage.
East Tennesseans might immediately recall a visit to the Museum of Appalachia in Anderson County near Knoxville.
My friend regaled me with stories of her time working here at the center, having to use these old cast irons and other primitive appliances, and setting up baking demonstrations for visitors and events.
I really admire her for having so many talents, and she surprises me every time I see her with some unexpected experience from her past. If you don’t have an inside connection like I did, learn more about Oconaluftee here.
Walking or sitting along the creek itself among the trees was perfectly peaceful.
Follow us to our next stop: Bryson City! (Blog coming soon)
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