Roads and Development
Every American child grows up learning about Davy Crockett and the Alamo. But unlike Fairview residents, not many outsiders know about Davy Crockett and the Bridle Trail (now Old Fort Road).
In the Creek Indian Wars of 1813-14, Davy Crockett fought under the command of General Andrew Jackson. Fellow militiaman James Patton, dying on a Georgia battlefield, charged Crockett with returning his personal affects to his wife Elizabeth, which he did. A year or so later, after Crockett’s wife Polly died in 1815, Davy “kidnapped” the widow Patton (the term for eloping in those days) and settled with her on Patton land in the Swannanoa Valley.
Crockett knew Fairview well. The first settler, Adam Cooper, had served in the Revolutionary War under Isaac Shelby, who was a close friend of Crockett back in Tennessee. In 1826 Crockett visited Cooper’s daughter, Elizabeth Hill, who wrote that she “fiddled while Davy danced.” And, when a tollbooth was set up at the Swannanoa Gap, Davy decided to circumvent the toll by cutting out a new road from Old Fort, along what is now the Crooked Creek Road, and on to the Fairview road that led to Asheville.
In early Fairview, walking and horse travel meant that links and commerce with outside communities were far different than we know them. Throughout the South, rural areas developed without any thought to town planning. Rather, roads were built and maintained by crews of neighbors as needed, usually under the supervision of County Courts and an appointed local notable. Cane Creek was no New England village surrounding a white steepled church; there was no orderly plan imposed by the elders of a religious sect such as Salem or Bethania, North Carolina. Mitigating the isolation of each individual farm were the extensive friendships and blood relations and the few churches that tied together most of the early families. Little community nodules grew up along these roads, but no central town or village.
The communities in the Swannanoa Valley and along the Old Fort Road had extensive traffic across Flat Top Mountain. Soon after founding the Cane Creek Baptist Church in 1806, Rev. Humphrey Posey and James Whitaker, Sr. moved to the Swannanoa Valley, but continued to lead the Fairview church for many years afterwards. (The Swannanoa Valley was dominated by the Presbyterians, while Fairview was strictly Methodist and Baptist.) Another connection, surprising today, was the link between Fairview and Bills Creek in Rutherford County. Except for courthouse affairs, Asheville, the county seat, was of little importance to the residents of Fairview. Driving a wagon north to Asheville over Mine Hole Gap was an arduous journey compared with the trip to Fletcher through the Cane Creek valley. Rutherfordton, to the south, was much larger than Asheville and offered more goods and services at lower prices. The nearest shipping port was Augusta, Georgia, to the southeast, and families took turns driving a wagon the 185 miles there to purchase necessary supplies and even goods from overseas. Local newspapers typically quoted Augusta prices until 1880, when the railroad reached Asheville.
In 1827, eastern Tennessee was linked to South Carolina, through present-day Madison, Buncombe and Henderson Counties of North Carolina, by the Buncombe Turnpike, a private toll road supported primarily by cattle and hog drives. Appalachian farmers as far away as Kentucky could raise their livestock cheaply on acorn and chestnut mast. (In these “open stock” days farmers fenced cropland to keep the animals out rather than pastures to keep them in.) Labor scarcity drove the business decisions of plantation owners, and buyers for plantations in Augusta and elsewhere in South Carolina found it cheaper to purchase their meat from open stock farmers than to raise it at home. For the mountain region residents, cash for the meat and for corn sold to travelers along the road, and the cash (or the occasional lame pig) from the drovers in exchange for overnight boarding was an enormous stimulus to the economy.
After the death of Nancy Ann Ashworth, in 1834, twenty-three year old Bedford Sherrill purchased her place at Hickory Nut Gap. He married Elizabeth Harris, whose family managed the Harris House (built circa 1800) near what is today Lake Lure. His father-in-law, Dr. John Harris, had procured money in 1823 from the N.C. General Assembly to improve the road from Asheville to Rutherfordton, the worst section of which was across Hickory Nut Gorge. Seven years later he reported to the General Assembly, to justify the funds expended, that the road was now “much traveled,” and that “the rich romantic valley of Hickory Creek and Rocky Broad River here to fore locked up by the impassable towers of rocks and mountains is now beginning to develop its resources and present to the way worn traveler a good road through an exceedingly rough country, rendered doubly interesting by the bold and majestic mountain scenery.” Soon thereafter the Great Western Stageline began service from Salisbury to Asheville.
Bedford Sherrill’s vision was to own the stagecoach known as The Flying Cloud, secure the mail route, and deliver patrons to his inn at Hickory Nut Gap. The stage driver always tooted a horn at the bottom of the mountain to tell the cooks at Sherrill’s Inn how many places to set for supper. In 1841 Sherrill, Harris, and four other men from the Buncombe and Rutherford counties were appointed as commissioners for the purpose of “keeping” the turnpike road. The Hickory Nut Turnpike Company had the power to sell stock and keep the road in good repair, as well as charge a toll: in 1859, the stagecoach fare from Charlotte to Asheville was $9.
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August 18, 2005
John C. Ager
This essay is a kaleidoscopic collection of stories reflecting the early history of the Fairview section of Buncombe County, NC. In large part, the writer is more journalist than researcher. I am indebted to Bruce Whitaker for his lifetime of effort to document the history of families in my community, and freely credit him as the source of the material that follows