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Topography of Macon County

W.A. Curtis Bio
The Topography of Macon County

The Topography of Macon County

By W.A. Curtis (ca. 1900) Wayah Bald from Gillespie Hill, Near Franklin, by Frank Smith

The topography of Macon County is an interesting study. I do not wonder that the late Dr. C.D. Smith loved so well to write of these mountains and their wonderful productions. I propose chiefly in this article to devote my attention to the numerous knobs in, and on the borders of, Macon that raise their heads majestically towards the heavens. In doing this it is difficult to decide where to commence, and just how the subject should be handled. But the great Creator in the formation of these grand mountains seems not to have had a starting place so far as human minds can discern, but that he created the whole simultaneously and the mountains grew up together.

Macon county embraces two large and interesting valleys mostly within her borders, the Tennessee and the Nantahala, and these are separated by a grand range of mountains an off-shoot from the Blue Ridge, the Nantahala range. Of course there are numerous smaller valleys tributary to these, all of which are not lacking in interest and importance.

The Cowee Mountains: Macon's Eastern Boundary

Cowee Range, viewed from west of Franklin., NC.Commencing at the State line between North Carolina and South Carolina west of Chattooga river, the line between Macon and Jackson counties follows the Cowee range of mountains in a northerly course — the watershed between the Tennessee and the Tuckaseige valleyes.

The altitudes I shall mention in this article are approximately correct, and are taken from the latest topographical maps published in 1897.

The first high peak we encounter on this boundary line is Black Rock, due east from Highlands, altitude 4,500 feet. Next comes Wildcat Cliffs, 4,200 feet, and a short distance east is Whiteside Mountain, 4,931 feet.

An attractive feature of Whiteside is an escarpment of perpendicular rock 1,800 feet high on the south side.

Leaving Whiteside and following the Cowee range northward we come to Shortoff, 5,000 feet, Yellow Mountain, 5,132 feet, Black Mountain, 4,900; Hogback, 5,100; Cedar Cliff, 4,824; Turkey Knob, 4,400; Corbin Knob, 4,400. Then we dip down to the Watauga Gap where the road from Franklin to Dillsboro crosses the Cowee range at an altitude of 3,100 feet.

Proceeding we reach the top of Rocky Face, 4,500 feet, and further on Cherry Mountain, 4,600; and next the Cowee Bald, 4,979 feet. We are now at the corner of Macon and Swain counties with Jackson adjoining on the east.

On the Line with Swain

We now take a westerly course on the line between Macon and Swain still following a watershed several miles until near the Tennessee river. We pass over Raven Knob, 4,700 feet; Little Bald, 4,800; and Davis Bald, 4,500. Here we gradually descend until within 2 1/2 miles of the Tennessee river where a straight line commences between the counties of Macon and Swain, running in a direction a little south of west, crossing the Tennessee river about 13 miles below Franklin and continuing in a straight line across the Nantahala range and Nantahala river just above Jarrett's station.

Red Marble

Just after crossing the river, the line makes a right-angle turn to nearly north until it reaches the railroad, thence an irregular line a short distance to the Graham county line, then southeast to a point opposite Red Marble Gap, the corner of Cherokee county.

The line then runs southeast with the Cherokee line, passing the Red Marble Gap at an altitude of 3,100 feet, thence with the Valley River range irregularly following the watershed, passing Junaluskee Gap, 3,700 feet high, thence over Rich Knob 4,300 and to Beal's Knob, 5,000 feet, at Clay county line, thence southeast to top of Tusquittee Bald, 5,200, thence northeast to Niggerhead 4,900, thence eastward to Nantahala river at the mouth of Clear creek.

The Nantahala River, with its Meanderings

The county line then follows the river with its meanderings up to the mouth of Buck creek. It then leaves the river and follows the watershed of a spur of the Blue Ridge, passing Black Gap at 4,000 feet, then climbs to the top of Penland Bald about a half mile at an altitude of 5,000 feet, thence onward to Standing Indian 5,500 feet, and a short distance further we reach the Georgia line on the Ridge Pole.

As the southern boundary of Macon follows straight lines, I will notice it further on.

Following the Nantahala Range

We will next take the peaks of the Nantahala range commencing at the Swain county line. First we find the Wesser BaldWayah Bald and Nantahala Range from east of Franklin, NC., 4,800; Black Bald, 5,100; Tellico Bald, 5,200; Copper Bald, 5,400; Burningtown Bald, 5,200; Burningtown Gap, 4,000; Wayah Bald, 5,400; Wine Spring Bald, 5,500; Wayah Gap, 4,158; Little Bald, 5,000; Wallace Gap, 3,900; Cartoogechaye Mountain, 4,300; Pinnacle, 5,200; and Pickens' Nose, 4,822.

Interior Mountains of the East

Now, we visit the interior mountain peaks east of the Tennessee river, commencing near Highlands: Mt. Satulah, 4,490; Fodderstack, 4,300; Brush Mountain, 3,800; Scaly, 4,769; Fork Mountain, 4,200; Dog Mountain, 4, 100; Bear Pen Mountain, 4,000; Jones Knob, 4,600; Fishhawk, 4,684; Lamb Mountain, 5,100; Houston Mountain, 3,800; Ammons Knob, 3,700; Lyle Knob and Onion Mountain, each 3,500. Other detached peaks west of the Tennessee river are Dobson Mountain, 3,500; Jarrett Knob, 4,400; Rocky Bald, 5,300, and Trimont, 3,700.

Forty-four Peaks Over 4,000'

Thus it will be seen that Macon county has 17 peaks that rear their heads 5,000 feet and upwards, the two highest contending for the mastery being Standing Indian and Wine Spring Bald at 5,500 feet. As the contour lines of the topographical maps show the elevations as divided into intervals of 100 feet, it is impossible to ascertain from them the exact altitude in intervening feet except where noted on the maps. There are 27 peaks 4,000 feet and upwards to 4,999, making the total number of peaks 4,000 and upwards, forty-four. From most of these elevations can be seen the grandest views of landscape and topographical features to be found east of the Mississippi river. From some of these, portions of four states, possibly five, can be seen in clear weather.

Georgia Line: Is It Wrong?

It has long been accepted as a fact that the southern boundary of Macon and Clay counties, constituting the state line between North Carolina and Georgia is located on the 35th parallel of latitude. This is either a mistake or else the latest topographical charts are incorrect.

According to the charts a straight line starts from the top of Indian Camp mountain on the southern boundary of Transylvania county 6 3/4 miles north of the 35th parallel, and dips somewhat south of west until it reaches the Endicott (Ellicut) Rock at the corner of South Carolina exactly on the 35th parallel, and instead of turning due west at this place it continues on in a straight line for about twenty miles, or to 83 1/2 degrees west longitude, which is near the top of the Ridge Pole close by the southwest corner of Macon county, then it turns due west, running parallel with the 35th, and about one mile south of it on towards Alabama.

One peculiarity of this survey is that Estatoa, or Mud Creek Falls, which has long been considered as being in Georgia are, according to the map, in North Carolina. Mud Creek crosses the state line a few yards above the Falls into North Carolina, and about half way between the Falls and the Tennessee river passes back into Georgia. But, by examining some old records belonging to the State library at Raleigh in 1881, I am convinced that the line between the states of Georgia and North Carolina has never been correctly surveyed.

Lower Spots

Now a few words about lower altitudes down in the range of civilization. The lowest point in Macon County is the place where the Tennessee river crosses the Swain county line at an altitude of 1,900 feet. The range of altitudes from this to the top of Wine Spring Bald, 5,500, is 3,600 feet. Every other point in the county lies within this range. Rabun Gap is 2,168 feet, and the Tennessee river heading near the gap flows, with its meanderings, about 30 miles before reaching the iron bridge at Franklin where the altitude is a little less than 2,000 feet, giving a fall of less than 168 feet. Franklin is 2,100 feet; Highlands, 3,817 feet; Aquone, 3,000; Cullasaja, about 2,100 feet.

Elevations of Nearby Towns

Hayesville (Clay County) is about 1,850 feet; Webster, 2,188 (Jackson County); Dillsboro, 2,006 (Jackson County) and Bryson City, 1,753 (Swain County).


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