|Cowee´s history recognized|
The Franklin Press
March 30, 2001
Media Provider Information: The Franklin Press
Frances Rickman Bryson’s house is nestled in at the bottom of the hillside.
A small stream flows past the old tobacco barn.
Next to the stone-built cellar sits an old outhouse. People have lived on and around her farm for centuries.
"Lots of things happened on this farm," Bryson explained, holding a century-old picture of the house her husband’s grandfather, James Bryson, built in 1863.
Bryson has plenty of stories to tell about the house she still lives in. On June 9, she’ll have a chance to share her stories as people who live near her farm gather at Cowee Elementary School.
They plan to celebrate the placement of Cowee-West’s Mill Historic District, a community north of Franklin, on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bryson plans to attend to tell about previous generations who lived on her farm. Other descendants of Cowee Valley settlers are expected to tell tales of those early residents.
"Some of the happenings in the homes and how the land was farmed will be told," said Zena Pearl Brogden, a member of the committee that’s planning the celebration.
Other activities are planned, as well.
"The celebration will have several presentations," said Bill Dyar, principal of Cowee Elementary. "There will be an ongoing display in the gym featuring artifacts, photographs and demonstrations."
Organizers plan to demonstrate traditional mountain crafts and display early artifacts. A Cherokee historian is also scheduled to discuss the valley’s significance to Native Americans.
Bryson will demonstrate the craft she says her mother taught her 80 years ago – tatting. Looking much younger than her 94 years, Bryson is still handing her skills down to future generations. That’s important to the organizers.
"The celebration has all the earmarks of being a real fine event," said Dyar, who also serves as a member of the board of directors for The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee.
There is much to celebrate.
Early inhabitants of Macon County found the river valley rich in natural beauty and abundant resources.
Native Americans settled the pristine area, with its wide vistas to the mountainous north and west, more than a thousand years ago.
People have lived in Cowee Valley ever since. Over the span of centuries, it has remained an active part of the entire Southeast region’s history.
Man-made structures still attest to much of that history. Now that a large part of its past has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the community is ready to showcase its past.
On Jan. 8, a three-year-long effort by local property owners and The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee culminated in the designation.
Paul Carlson, director of The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, described the designation as "an important step toward the conservation of the extraordinary heritage found in the Cowee Community."
Entry onto the register recognizes a district’s "significance in American history, architecture, archaeology and culture," according to the National Historic Preservation Act.
"The next step is, how do we continue to preserve and conserve the landmarks?" Dyar said. "We need to build on this and encourage preservation."
Organizers describe the 369-acre Cowee-West’s Mill Historic District, and its more than 30 historic properties, as quite unique. According to Carlson, the area encompasses one of the largest historic districts in the 15 counties of western North Carolina.
While Asheville’s Biltmore district is larger, according to Carlson, Cowee is important because its historical roots run so deep, Carlson said.
The district has been home to generations of mountain people since roughly 600 A.D., when the Cowee Indian Mound is believed to have been built.
The mound served as the hub of the Middle Cherokee nation in the early 1700s. Hundreds of dwellings lined the river, all centered around the council house atop Cowee Mound, according to a 1775 description by William Bartram, a botanist who surveyed the Southeast before the Revolutionary War.
He spent weeks in the Cowee area.
Early traders recognized the riches that the valley contained. During colonial times, Charleston, S.C., merchants thought of it as the largest trade center on the western frontier.
Deerskins and other items were taken from the area to the port at Charleston for shipment to England. Later, the entire Little Tennessee River valley served as a funnel for early settlers and traders who traveled through the area.
Military campaigns targeted a Native American settlement, Cowee Town, twice in the late 18th century – once in 1761 and again in 1776.
Some historians speculate that descendants of those involved in the military campaigns returned to the valley.
Brogden traces her roots to 1812 when her great-great-grandfather, Elder Merit Rickman, traveled from Buncombe County to Macon County. By 1830, he was preaching in Cowee Baptist Church.
The entire district is laid out in two diamond-shaped areas, Brogdon said. It was named for the family of John West, who bought "land and a village from Old Jake, a Cherokee Chief," according to Carlson.
West’s descendants built most of the historic homes on the north side of Cowee Creek.
Carlson said that there are 20 principal historic structures in the district. Of those, 10 are homes, and there are nearly 40 other structures – barns and outbuildings.
There are eight buildings on the Bryson property alone – barns, sheds and the home.
Other 19th-century buildings include the Tom Rickman General Store, the T.C. Bryson house, the William Jefferson West and Lyle West homes and the William Morrison house.
Buildings dating from the early 20th century include the John and Joel Dalton homes, the Frank and Leo Gibson farmstead, the Aunt Vonnie West house, the Clyde West store and the Clara Owens house.
Other structures include: Pleasant Hill AME Church, which was built around 1929 and once served one of the largest rural black communities in the southern mountains; Snow Hill Methodist Church (1929); and the old Cowee School (1914).
Brogden predicted the district’s designation would bolster efforts to preserve its historic structures.
"It will make people aware of what we have," she said.