Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Gold Spring of the Tuckasegee

It was a chilly day, but not too chilly to load up the mountain bike and head for Panthertown, especially with a specific destination in mind. When I got there and signed in, it struck me as odd that I’d have the entire valley to myself, but it sure looked that way. And this on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

It wasn’t long before surprise gave way to the expected. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Panthertown, it’s this: you can arrive with a measure of confidence bolstered by a decent map and a compass, and soon enough that confidence will erode to ambiguity, then uncertainty, and finally confusion. I’m not complaining. On the contrary, I consider it a useful exercise. I wandered around to places I’ve been and places I haven’t been, circling in on the place I wanted to find.

I should start at the beginning, though. The other day, I was paging through John P. Arthur’s 1914 book, Western North Carolina, A History from 1730 to 1913, when I spotted a passage I’d overlooked before:

The late John B. Love lived near Webster, and kept a store, W. H. Thomas being a partner for a while. Mr. Love owned much of the land in that section, and his sons settled on Scott's creek from Addie to Sylva. He also owned the famous "Gold Spring," near the head of Tuckaseegee, in the basin of which a small amount of gold was deposited each morning; but a blast ruined even that small contribution.

This sent me on a search for John B. Love (1791-1873), which turned out to be easy. He’s sleeping behind the Sleep Inn in Sylva, across the road from Walmart.

Of course, the real point of interest in this passage is the famous "Gold Spring" itself near the head of the Tuckasegee. I didn’t have to search my topo map for long before finding Goldspring Branch and Goldspring Ridge. Could it be?

I turned to Henry Scadin, a long-ago photographer, for confirmation. Scadin kept a journal of his thousands of miles of foot travel along the Blue Ridge Divide from Toxaway to Sapphire to Cashiers and Highlands. And sure enough, an entry from 1897 was what I hoped to find:

Monday, January 18
Mr. McGriffin & I took a tramp today. We took our lunch & went to the Panthertown Valley. We explored along the foot of the great cliff of Green Mountain & found some places that were almost caves. We came back by the "Gold Spring" & got home before 5 o'clock. My express package of plain paper from Chicago came today. It is quite cold.

This told me I was on the right track. Entering the valley at Salt Rock, I’d only be a mile away from the point where Goldspring Branch runs into Frolictown Creek. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly.

It is easy to find the Falls on Frolictown Creek, and from there it's not very far to Goldspring Branch, but getting there is another matter. After meandering around the valley looking for a clear route to Goldspring, I returned to Frolictown Creek.

One of the points of confusion in Panthertown is not the lack of trails, but the abundance of them, all unmarked, of course. That said, one place you won’t find a trail is along the banks of Frolictown. So I had to start bushwhacking. Before long, I was almost face down in the galax, fighting my way out of a tangled thicket of laurel bushes, while the sun was dropping fast.

It seemed a fitting end to this day.

Winston Churchill said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." So I'll be back. By now, the famous Gold Spring near the head of the Tuckasegee could be spilling over with gold. Or maybe not. Either way, I want to see it.

I could treat the tale of Love’s fleeting gold as a fable, and tease out any number of morals from the story. But why belabor the obvious? Why retell "the goose that laid the golden egg"?

Before I left the valley, I thought I heard the drone of the wind, blowing over the ridge and through the pines. Instead, it was the sonorous voice of Carl Sandburg:

There was a ring of gold
kept its circle around the moon
five hours one Tuesday night.
When the ring went away
it was gone in an eyeblink
and the moon stood alone.
And I folded away in a little album
a pattern of moving gold haze
ready to fade in an eyeblink.


kanugalihi said...

the gold in panthertown has scales and lives in the creek.

i naively bushwhacked down a laurel hill for 1500 yards with an 8 foot fly rod. there was a trail along the creek when we got there. arrrgh.

it didn't make it any less fantastic. all of the remaining high coves along Tanasi are desolate primeval cathedrals visited but not penetrated by men. ravens own hundreds of acres of vertical real estate which they patrol with gargles and gurgles.

it begins at the granite prison of judacullah and trails away somewhere beyond blue valley or toccoa. oh great fold of the earth, scar left by the angry heated geothermal orgy which lifted the ocean and put this wonderful little spring in the middle of paradise, with a daily gift of yellow useless beauty.

Western North Carolina Writer's Underground said...

And I heard tales of a spring of gold way back hidden in the hills.

Just what was it I was searching for, did I need help to pay the bills?

And if I look oh so hard, back in amongst the leaves,

Would I find what I was looking for, or just another tease?

Yet I was searching oh so long, my spirits dropped so low.

To find a spring of gold you say, a simple thing or no?

It turns out it 'twas only a dream,
a wondrous fantasy too.

My search has ended empty-handed, the way they always do.

Anonymous said...

Gold AND topo maps in the same post? Impossible not to reply.

Not long ago I replaced most of my topo maps of the Uwharrie area, and it was tough to let those old tattered, stained and annotated friends go. Walks there lead through plenty of places where gold mining took place, and there are still placer hobbyists at work, as the note "sluices" with an arrow shows on more than one spot on my old maps.

Also, I find it harder and harder to find the signs of abandoned farming from the 1920's and 30's. Back in the 70's you could usually easily see the furrows patches of trees of the same size, not to mention a few stragging structures or a rusted-out Ford. I think about the enormous effort this took with mule, axe, saw and prybar and how awful it must have been to have to abandon the farm and go work in the mill at Denton, Liberty, Asheboro, or Albemarle.

Class of '74

GULAHIYI said...

I think you're better situated to find some gold in the Uwharries than I am up here in the Smokies. I haven't seen Eldorado on my maps, but I know it's on your maps.

I know what you mean about the fading traces of those old places. On the other hand, it always surprises me when I do get to explore that Uwharrie countryside and see just how much does remain from the long-ago.

I can see how, in some ways, those mill jobs looked like a better life. Of course, without the benefit of hindsight, a mouse looks at a mouse-trap and only sees "a better life."