Cataloochee Valley is a fantastic destination for the day hiker. The valley is remote, filled with history and wildlife and almost countless hikes of all difficulties and lengths. The valley is littered with homes, barns and churches from the turn of the century before the land was a park. The structures and fields are still maintained by the park system for all to enjoy. Early morning and late afternoon is the best time to see the elk grazing in the open fields. But don’t stop there. Park and hit the trails to experience a glimpse of the past.
History of Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cataloochee 1809 to 1860
Cataloochee is located in Western North Carolina in Haywood County, west of Asheville, northeast of Waynesville and east of Maggie Valley. The county was created in 1808 so that the people living in Western North Carolina would not have to travel all the way to Asheville (Buncombe County) to conduct their business.
The County Seat was Mt. Prospect, later named Waynesville. Settlement in Western North Carolina was slow because of the threat of Indian attacks and the fact that the land was mountainous and thick with forests, under brush and wildlife. Despite this, a few saw the potential of the land and went into the forests, cleared the trees for fields, built houses, barns, and called the fruits of their hard earned labor home.
The first land entry in Cataloochee was made on January 20, 1814 when Henry Colwell claimed 100 acres on Cataloochee Creek. Fourteen years later, on June 24, 1828, the second entry was made by William Colwell for 100 acres on Cataloochee Creek.
Most of the early claims were used for a base camp for hunting or ranging livestock. Steps toward permanent residence in Cataloochee were not made until 1835 when James Colwell, his son, Levi Colwell, and Young Bennett came to Cataloochee and began clearing the land. The work was done on the the 100 acres of Henry Colwells’ (the first land entry).
The fruits of their labors paid off in 1837, when Levi and Young moved their families into their new homes in Big Cataloochee.
The next residents came in 1838. They were George Palmer and his wife Polly Surrett (from Virginia). (The house that George built now houses the museum in Cataloochee.) Twenty years later, George and his family owned approximately 750 acres in Big Cataloochee.
In 1839, Evan Hannah married Elizabeth Noland and Elizabeth’s father, William Noland, moved to Big Cataloochee at the lower end of the valley on the south side of Cataloochee Creek. A note of interest is that Noland Mountain is named after William.
The first settlers in Little Cataloochee were Jack Vess and Elizabeth Palmer (daughter of George). This was in 1854. The next settlers came in 1856. They were Harriett Colwell (Levi’s daughter) and, her husband, Daniel J. Cook. They lived on Coggins Branch in Little Cataloochee.
Louisa Matilda, Harriett’s sister, married Creighton Bennett (Young’s son) and they moved next to Harriett and Daniel.
Now that Cataloochee was becoming populated, the need for a road was apparent. The present road was little more than a drover’s road. Therefore, in 1825, the county authorized a toll road to be built from Cove Creek to Cataloochee. A note of interest is that the fees are only for a man and a horse (183⁄4¢), an extra pack horse (61⁄2¢), hogs (1¢ each) and cattle (2¢ each) – – – evidently the road was not greatly improved from it’s original trail.
1854-1856 work was begun on what was to be known as the Cataloochee Turnpike in 1856. It started behind Palmer’s Chapel, went across the mountain to Ball Gap, and down to Little Cataloochee. From there the road went toward Mt. Sterling.
– 1888 to 1930 –
Because of the remoteness of Cataloochee, the valley was hardly affected by Reconstruction. The residents more or less resumed their pre-Civil War way of life and did well in their wonderful valleys. The children were educated in the little one room school houses from grades 1 through 7. Circuit riding preachers helped to feed the already spirits.
As a new century came, the people of Cataloochee still farmed, raising their crops and livestock and performed the chores that maintained their existence. Post Offices kept them in touch with the outside world.
In the 1920s, work was begun to modernize the Cataloochee Turnpike which was first completed in about 1861. With the help of dynamite, the improved road, only wide enough for a wagon in most places, was completed. The new road was a vast improvement from the old road used for sixty years.
An influenza epidemic struck the world in 1918 and reached Cataloochee in 1920. Many were sick and recuperated. Others were not so fortunate and are buried in the cemeteries in across Cataloochee.
In the late 1920s, the beautiful timber in and around Cataloochee turned money green. Lumber companies bought properties, built camps and railroads, hired the workers and logged out the mountains. The once beautiful forests were turned into a wasteland.
Cataloochee had four post offices. The first one was in Young Bennett’s house, then it was moved to Frank Palmer’s house. From there it was moved to Jarvis Palmer’s house. Maria Palmer was the postmistress. This post office was referred to as the Cataloochee Post Office. When this post office was closed, it was replaced by the Nellie Post Office which was named after Turkey George Palmer’s daughter amd was in a general store.
The Ola Post Office was in Little Cataloochee. It was named after Will and Rachel Messer’s daughter. This post office was also located in the general store.
The mail carriers were Hub Caldwell and Mercius Hall. Their substitutes at one time or another were Myrtle Sutton, Ella Hall, and Pearl Valentine.
The first church/school building was called the Schoolhouse Patch and was built in 1858 on land donated by Julia Ann Palmer.
– 1888 to 1930 –
The End of Cataloochee, as they knew it, began in 1928, word was received that the U. S. Government had plans to buy Cataloochee from the residents and establish the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The Government did pay them for their land. Most cashed their checks without argument, but a few sued and got a litte more money. Regardless of how they felt, the they pack up
The Cataloochee of old is no more. The people moved out and the National Park Service took over. Many of the homes and buildings were burned; some were moved to other sites in the park; but a few were left for us to see today. The fields that yielded a variety of crops have either been reclaimed by the forest or are now grass fields. The beautiful streams and creeks still run through the valleys. The once logged forests have now regrown. Many believe that if it wasn’t for the Park that the forests and trees would have been destroyed by the logging operations. their belongings, said their good byes and left Cataloochee in tears.
Most bought farms and worked hard to make the land become productive. Having farmed in the rich fertile soil of Cataloochee, it was disappointing and frustrating to work dried up soil. But, they did the best they could.
Today the Valley is alive agien with the reintroduction of Elk to the Park.