Find Rich History in America's "First Frontier"
There’s inspiring history in the High Country—and engaging ways to explore it.
In the Boone Area, museum exhibits, historic sites, even history hikes bring at times surprising insight into how the Southern Appalachians are a key part of our country's past.
The Appalachians were “America’s first frontier.” Native Americans called the High Country home. Later pioneers who explored and settled the area were isolated and self-sufficient.
The Boone Area includes a collection of sites to appreciate this early American phase of exploration. The Blue Ridge Parkway’s stunning assortment of authentic log structures—from cabins, to churches and springhouses—convey a lifestyle of long ago. Brinegar Cabin at Doughton Park employs living history reenactors in summer.
The area’s greatest assortment of ancient dwellings is at Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, again a site with living history during the summer.
Daniel—As in Boone
Boone is named Boone for a reason—Daniel's love of “high, far-seeing places” brought him to the High Country. The real Daniel Boone hunted in the area, maintained a hunting camp and even a cabin that he used on forays from the Yadkin Valley below the Blue Ridge. The Watauga County town of Meat Camp is the namesake of that hunting camp.
Daniel Boone's nephew Jesse Boone lived in a log cabin in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Price Park. Logs from Jesse’s cabin were used to construct what is now known as the Squire Boone Cabin—that can still be seen at Hickory Ridge Homestead near Daniel Boone Native Gardens in Boone. Between the presence of Jesse and Daniel, the stream that feeds Price Lake is called Boone Fork.
Visit the Appalachian State University campus in Boone to see a statue of Boone and his hunting dogs. There’s also a monument to him nearby that is said to contain a chimney stone from his hunting cabin.
As the British feared, the early mountain settlers cultivated a sense of independence and when the Revolution came—local mountaineers played a key role in winning the war in September 1780 at the Revolutionary Battle of Kings Mountain, SC.
The patriot militia gathered and marched through the High Country—the route if now part of the Overmountain National Historic Trail, the first National Historic Trail in Eastern America. An important portion of that path fits into a great tour of the area.
In fact, a number of original sections of this trail in the High Country are actually colonial roads that felt the tread of patriot militia. One of those walks crosses the Appalachian Trail. Another is on the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Museum of NC Minerals where exhibits include a full-size figure of an Overmountain militia man wearing the buckskin garb typical of the Appalachian frontier. Talk about history hiking!
This stirring story, with a bit of Daniel Boone’s story too, is the topic of Boone’s popular summer outdoor drama Horn in the West. This more than 60-year-old historical spectacle is a must-see experience of summertime in the High Country—and a great way to add to your exploration of history. The Horn runs June 15th to August 11th, 2012.
The Civil War
In the mountains of NC, the divisions of the Civil War pitted families against themselves and their neighbors. The independent mountaineers were generally not slaveholders, and there was significant pro-Union sentiment in many parts of the Appalachians.
There was much informal fighting and civil strife as “home guard” militias formed and fought. Many people from both sides used the wild mountain fastnesses as places to escape the war. Caudill Cabin in Doughton Park reflects that past. Some of the original settlers of Basin Cove (another great history hike) were deserting from the war.
This story is told figuratively in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, where his protagonist finds his way through the Boone Area High Country. That book is great reading prior to a High Country history trip, as is William Trotter’s classic, Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina: the Mountains.
One of the last large troop movements of the Civil War occurred in the High Country. Many historical markers note the passage of 4,000-man Union army during Stoneman’s Raid, including one in Blowing Rock and another near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Deep Gap (where the army descended the Blue Ridge to Wilkesboro). The troops blocked a possible retreat by Lee, hastening the end of the war. The 150th anniversary of this final foray by Union forces through the mountains occurs in 2015.
The Raider’s actually engaged Boone’s Confederate home guard in a skirmish within the current city limits!
Birth of Travel
Visitors started coming the mountains to escape the heat in the late 1800s. You can check-in to this heritage at classic accommodations such as the Green Park Inn (1882) in Blowing Rock. Visitors reached the hotel from Lenoir and Hickory by stage coach.
Linville became one of the nation’s first planned resort communities in the 1880s, and the Eseeola Lodge opened in Linville in 1892. The resort was easily reached from Johnson City, Tennessee to the west via the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad. Its shrill whistle earned it the beloved nickname "Tweetsie." To connect Eseeola to Blowing Rock and access from the east, the “Old Yonahlossee Road” was built as a stage coach road connecting Linville from Blowing Rock. You can still drive this early “best road in the mountains” as US 221 today. It makes a great loop with the famous Linn Cove Viaduct part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Both of these historic hotels are still welcoming guests and have been in continuous operation since the 1800s.The 20th Century
By the early 1900s, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, had reached beyond Linville to Boone.
The virgin forests of the area were logged, and boom towns like Shulls Mill were born in what is today the community of Foscoe. These now empty fields once contained Watauga County’s biggest town—which almost beat out Boone to be the county seat! Today, the river rock walls of the old Shulls Mill hotel can still be seen on the roadside on the way to Hound Ears Lodge and Club from NC 105.
In 1940, a huge flood wiped out the Tweetsie Railroad tracks. Though D.D. Dougherty, the chancellor of Appalachian State Teacher’s College (later Appalachian State University), tried to negotiate its rebuilding, the railroad was gone for good—almost.
In the 1950s, Grover Robbins brought the historic train back to Boone as a still popular, still landmark Wild-West themed attraction Tweetsie Railroad. Today, rail fans flock from all over the nation to see and ride Tweetsie behind “Old # 12”—one of the original train engines, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Cowboys and Indians aside, taking a spin on Tweetsie is the real thing, a look back at a time when the mountain people relied on steam locomotives for their primary link beyond the mountains.
The Parkway Arrives
By the 1930s, the Blue Ridge Parkway was underway, offering another way for visitors to reach the beauty of the Boone Area.
Parkway construction had already started in North Carolina just north of the Boone Area, heading south from the Virginia state line in September 1935 at Cumberland Knob.
By 1970 the road was complete save for a short section at Grandfather Mountain. This “missing link” wasn’t closed—and the Parkway completed—until 1987, two years after the Parkway’s fiftieth anniversary. As the Parkway turned seventy-five in 2010, today’s Parkway motorists and hikers enjoy a seamlessly scenic journey that started, and completed, in the Boone Area.
The Boone Area is the perfect place to savor the most popular unit of the National Park System. Explore the Blue Ridge Parkway!