Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pitching Cullowhee Mountain


“There is not a cranny in the rocks of the Great Smokies, not a foot of the wild glen, but harbors something lovable and rare.”
-Horace Kephart

“For on this elevated tray of undulating mountainous bliss, with its seductive waterfalls and signature winding roads, lies what is perhaps the Southeast’s – nay, America’s most unusual earthly gem.”
-elizabeth adams

It can be a mighty fine line between writing to honor a place and writing to exploit it. The former tends to be more memorable, but the latter has a long history as well.

We’ve read the 21st century wordplay attracting buyers to the River Rock resort development on Cullowhee Mountain.

But go back in time, a century and a half before those glossy brochures published for Legasus, and you’ll find another little book pitching that very same real estate.

Charles H. Ladd wrote “The Copper Mines of Jackson County, North Carolina” after investigating deposits of the metal on Cullowhee Mountain, Caney Fork and Wayehutta in the summer of 1866.

Prior to the Civil War, English mining expert Francis F. Oram had purchased vast tracts of land in Jackson County on behalf of “several gentlemen of property in South Carolina.” Those speculators invested considerable sums to buy the land and construct mine shafts. But as Ladd explained:

This purpose was frustrated by the war, which has greatly impaired the pecuniary resources of the parties; and I have consequently been able to negotiate with them for a conveyance of fifty-one hundredths of the property.

In his prospectus, Ladd went on to detail the great potential for profitable copper mining in Jackson County:

If but a single mile of the veins carries ore of an average richness of 15 per cent copper pyrites, or say 5 percent of metallic copper, then a more valuable mining property than that existing here is barely to be found in all California or Nevada.

A bookseller’s description of Ladd’s 1867 tract suggests the purpose of the document:

A scientific promotional report of the copper mines found in Jackson County by Charles H. Ladd. Ladd was probably a stock promoter from New York who published this geologic report to promote active and future mining company stock ventures. There are several testimonials from men that Ladd solicited to comment of his findings in the county.

One passage from Ladd’s book portrayed the local residents:

The population are, almost without exception, simple and ignorant farmers, living in log houses, with a rude abundance of the necessities of life, and without much ambition for more. They occupy a sort of middle ground between the “poor whites” of the lately slaveholding sections of the South, and the energetic and industrious rural population of the North. They impressed us as a people who would readily yield to the influences of a higher civilization, could they be brought into contact with it.

This district was strongly for the Union during the war, though, when the alternative came to “enlist or hang,” many of them were forced into the rebel army. We found ourselves, everywhere, kindly received as “Yankees,” and an earnest wish expressed that Northern people would settle among them, and develop the resources of the country.

Fast forward to a chapter entitled “Neighboring” from River Rock, Book One:

Appalachia is known as a place where kinship relations and traditions of neighboring are among the strongest. ‘Neighboring’ is formally described as a network of economic and social exchange among households, grounded in a shared sense of place.

Most common among rural communities, the spirit of neighboring resurrects a sense of solidarity, support, and security widely unknown among the communities of today’s middle and upper classes.

Appalachians point to the prevalence of family reunions, the maintenance of family grave plots, return migration, family care of children and senior citizens, and numerous ways of family based sharing as positive aspects of their lives.

In a wilderness this rugged, human connections historically represented more than simply friendly neighbors —they were ultimately vital to survival, and still are. Technology and modernity have never proved a match for the fierceness of Mother Nature, but human spirit has.

And back to Ladd:

Labor is now easily obtainable at about $1 per day. Water-power exists abundantly on every stream, and the finest timber may be had for the cutting. The most magnificent timber we have ever seen - oaks, chestnuts, black walnut, cotton wood, &c. - would supply fuel abundantly till long after the opening of railroads would bring bituminous coal cheaply from the neighboring mines of Tennessee.

The soil is a deep red loam, like parts of New Jersey, and, in the valleys and lower hillsides, of an almost inexhaustible fertility. The use of manure on the land is unknown; and though, of course, this system is ultimately exhaustive, they still continue to plant Indian corn year after year on the same fields, and with satisfactory results.

The higher hillsides are very steep, but are likewise covered with a rich soil, in which grow magnificent deciduous trees, to the very summits of the mountains. On the very top of Cullowhee Mountain, we measured an oak, among many such, nine feet in circumference, as high up as we could reach. If reclaimed, such land would be invaluable for sheep and cattle pastures.

Whether this was enough to entice speculators to join Charles H. Ladd in his scheme on Cullowhee Mountain, I don’t know.

What became of Charles H. Ladd, I don’t know.

Several parties attempted to mine the site in the decades that followed.

But like the recently failed resort development from Legasus, the results never lived up to the promoters' exuberant prose.

Whatever comprises the next attempt to sell Cullowhee Mountain, it will likely involve some extravagant language to pitch the product.

I can hardly wait.

Addendum - Actually, I didn't have to wait long at all. The one-time sure thing copper mine, the one-time sure thing Phil Mickleson golf course, IS on the market again. But if Jim Lorenz wants to move that real estate, he'd best hire a writer to make it more alluring. This is weak:

Webster Creek
1,085 acres with numerous mountain tops and panoramic views. This land was recently foreclosed on and the bank says sell! $4.95 million Call Jim Lorenz for more information. Call today for more information!!. Call Jim Lorenz at 828-966-4960 or 828-966-9533 (evenings)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting comparison.

Comforting yourself that you are a courtesan rather than a streetwalker runs afoul of Kipling's observation that "the Colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady are sisters under the skin".