For those who are experiencing “COVID 19 Cabin Fever,” taking an old fashion automobile ride could be a nice diversion.
If you stay in your car, you will still be practicing social distancing.
Some of the most notable scenic highways around here are experiencing more traffic than you might expect, proving this is not an original idea. Now is a perfect time to explore lesser known backroads.
Our area is crisscrossed with country roads that wind past fields, creeks, meadows with wild flowers, old farmhouses and interesting barns. But there is more to be found than scenery.
An observant explorer will notice clues that hint of interesting back stories.
For example, Meigs County road signs that say “Blythe Ferry Road,” “Armstrong Ferry Road” and “Cottonport” conjure up images of what life might have been like along the Tennessee River in Meigs County a century ago.
It calls to mind ferry boats carrying traders, as well as river ports with cotton bales stacked high. Sadly, it also reminds us of that awful time in 1838.
The time when thousands of Cherokees encamped at Blythe Ferry while waiting for the river to rise so flatboats could carry them to the other side where they continued west on the infamous Trail of Tears.
Driving alongside the Hiwassee River in Polk County will get you up close and personal to nature’s beauty, but a watchful traveler will spot clues to an earlier time in the Hiwassee River Valley. You’ll cross over “Tieskie Creek,” named for a Cherokee man who farmed the valley before the Cherokee Removal.
As you cross the river at Reliance, a quick glance upstream reveals a diagonal line of stones that runs from bank to bank. Before the stones were reconfigured for a grist mill and sawmill, native people arranged the rocks in a “V” shape to act as a fish weir (trap).
Archeologists tell us fish weirs predate white settlement by centuries.
I hear the road from Tellico Plains to Bald River Falls is currently crowded, but there is a quieter alternative. Tellico Plains takes its name from Great Tellico, an important Cherokee town that sat on the Unicoi Turnpike (Unicoi Path).
The old trade path linked the Overhill Cherokee Towns to the coastal ports in Georgia and South Carolina.
You can closely follow the old path from Tellico Plains to Vonore on Highway 360. If you go, take the little side trip off Highway 360 to travel through Belltown. This historic little community was named for Bell Rattle, a Cherokee man whose house sat beside the old road.
Across the road from the old Belltown Mill, a homemade sign sits next to Caney Creek. It memorializes the British soldiers who were killed there while leaving Fort Loudoun after it fell to the Cherokees in 1760.
While this event has been characterized as a massacre, Cherokees considered it retaliation for an earlier killing of Cherokee hostages at Fort Prince George in South Carolina.
Suffice it to say, it’s complicated.
I’m fond of riding around the Columbus and Patty area of Polk County. Columbus was the first county seat for Polk County and a prominent stop on the Old Stock Road.
Columbus is long gone, but since much of the land remains undeveloped, the open fields and creeks provide a glimpse of what 19th century travelers saw as they headed to the old county seat to conduct business.
Recently, I noticed a sign near Columbus that says “Athens Road.” I wonder if it was part of the old Stock Road that joined the Old Federal Road somewhere south of McMinn County?
And then, there are the interesting place names that make us wonder who named them and why the particular name was chosen.
We know Nannie Chestnut chose Englewood as the new name for Mortimer because it reminded her of Inglewood Forest, the mythical place described in the Robin Hood legend.
Sarah Reed Vaughn is credited with naming Reliance and remarking that the name “has a reliable sound.” We don’t know who named Etowah. It was once thought to be a Cherokee word that means “muddy waters.” And given the nature of the swampy bog where the town was built, it sounded reasonable.
The truth is, the word Etowah is not Cherokee.
Scholars tell us it is a Creek word that means “town” or “tribe.” We still have no idea who picked the name.
Lora Creasman once told me she always wondered how Dry Go School got its name. After years of puzzling over it, an older person told her the location selected for the school did not have a good water supply. So, when construction started on the school, someone said, “They’ll have a dry go of it.”
Our area is dotted with crossroad communities, creeks, knobs and landscape features with interesting names.
I would love to know more about Mount Harmony, New Salem, Corn Tassel, Lane Town and others.
Each place has stories to uncover and histories worth knowing.
This might be a good time to slow down, explore and learn about our corner of the world.