Historical Currents

Students in my first-year writing seminar at Wake Forest University spent the past two weeks researching some aspect of regional history that’s been shaped by the Yadkin River. Some traced the history of Native Americans back more than 12,000 years. Others picked up the story with Daniel Boone and other frontier people, who were drawn to the Yadkin Valley by abundant game and water.  The Yadkin played a role in the Revolution and later in the Civil War. It fueled the industrialization of this part of North Carolina by providing power for aluminum smelters and textile mills. And when storms came and the water rose, the river destroyed the very communities it nourished. The students have researched those stories too. Join us below for an historical journey along the Yadkin. Phoebe

The other day, while I was searching through the shelves of the seventh floor of the ZSR library, I found a thesis documenting the dental records of an archeological dig back in the 70s. After flipping through the 300-plus-page thesis, I was amazed at how much time and effort the author put into trying to piece together the river’s history. He spent years digging in the river beds at the Donnaha and Parker sites, documenting every bone and artifact that he found. These artifacts ranged from the Paleo-Indian Era that began in 10,000 BC all the way to the Woodland Era that ended in 1,700 AD. Through this close attention to detail and his complete infatuation with the project, he was able to dig along the Yadkin River and provide us with the history of the river and the people who depended on it for survival.  Payton Leech

Students and professors from Wake Forest University have extensively excavated sites near the Yadkin River that are known to have been occupied by Native Americans thousands of years ago. Over the years, students have been able to identify the sex and approximate age of the remains of individuals they have found. They have also found a plethora of ancient artifacts, prehistoric architecture, and many burials. Professors and students were even able to unearth a shelter near the Little Yadkin River. Materials that were analyzed suggest Native Americans occupied these sites between 1000 and 1500 A.D. Many items that were found have been curated at Wake Forest University where they will remain in the Museum of Anthropology.  Jazmune Thatch

When I chose the book The Road to Salem for my research paper on the settling of Salem, I never thought it would become such a personal experience. How can the story of one woman’s life be so real and relevant almost 300 years later? Anna Cathrina lived in an era so different that it’s like an entirely different world. Yet…I identified with her. I cheered for her. I laughed at the anecdotes she shared and mourned when sorrow swept into her life. Her world and her life became real to me. She really existed and her life contained every part of the human experience: joy, hope, sorrow, trials, heartache, happiness, and new life. The reality of her life made the life of Salem real too.  Ashelyn Myers

It’s an enthralling experience to visit a historical place when you have some sort of idea about it beforehand. After studying the historic town of Salem, I felt as if I was my own private tour guide when walking down the main street. I constantly surprised myself when I saw the fourth house and Salem College where I thought they would be was exactly where it was described in the texts. I had a sort of instinct of where everything should be based on my readings and it was fascinating to see where everything was in relation to perceived images. However, what I wasn’t prepared for when walking through the cobblestone streets was the peacefulness and beauty of such a small area which has clearly maintained its old-world charm. Brandon Rus

In the Yadkin River Valley, it seems that many things bear the name of one man in particular, and that is Daniel Boone. Through my research into the time Boone spent in the Piedmont and the Yadkin River Basin, I have tried to explain why he became so important to the people of this area, and what he did to deserve such praise. By and large, I have found that it was no one particular action that made Boone the subject of lore, but it was what Daniel Boone has come to represent, and what he represented for the inhabitants of this area for centuries. He represents the wild spirit of adventure and discovery, the love of conquering then unknown terrain. The history of what made Boone great is a spirit that people of the Yadkin River Valley have long identified themselves with, making Boone a more personal hero, and drawing people to his lore long after he had ventured west.  Chris Caliguire

The Yadkin College was founded in 1856 as part of a movement in North Carolina during which the Christian Church started many religious colleges. It was a classical school and became quite popular, and was one of the first co-educational schools in North Carolina. One of the main reasons the school ended up closing down was because the tobacco industry in Winston Salem drew people away from the school. Timothy Upper

It is April 13th, 1865, at the dusk of the Civil War. As part of his famous raid through the South, Union General George Stoneman has just seized the city of Salisbury. He now moves to take a key railway bridge located over the Yadkin River close to the town. He approaches the bridge to find it guarded by 1,200 Confederates that claim they can, “hold the works against 10,000 Yankees.” After five and a half hours of fighting, Stoneman finds himself retreating, giving the Rebels their last victory in the state, and their last major victory in the Civil War. Larkin Allison

In a world where people wrap leftover food with frail aluminum foil, rarely do they consider the metal’s passage to relevance.  With a value in the 1800s surpassing that of gold, commercial aluminum came to life thanks to a young scientist who would later create a global empire in Alcoa Inc.  Its worldwide reputation hit close to home in the early 1900s when Alcoa bought tracts of land along the Yadkin River.  Today, Alcoa’s Yadkin Project nears its 100 year anniversary.  Besides providing hydroelectric power for years, its dominating presence continues to fuel mixed emotions from the community. Bridger Mahlum

“Southern white trash.”  “Lintheads.”  These are only some of the names and stereotypes associated with the mill hands who worked in the Cooleemee Mill along the Yadkin River during the 1900s.  It is true that when most people are first presented with the idea of mill towns, they immediately think of the poor working conditions, minimum wage, child labor, and lower class people; however, this is only one interpretation.  Jim Rumley, a resident of the town of Cooleemee, stated that “the mills were the flowers sprouted up after the rain.” After the devastations of the Civil War, the mill towns helped restore the southern economy and also brought a sense of community to the people.  For them, the mill wasn’t just a job; it was a way of life.  Katie Esler

Many people overlook the ultimate powers a hurricane possesses.  A hurricane brings excessive amounts of rain and turbulent winds, but more importantly it brings devastation to lives of the people that survive the storm.  During the month of July in 1916, a hurricane swept through the Yadkin River valley.  This flood destroyed not only many people’s homes, but the places they worked and their livelihood.  The Yadkin River area experienced the wrath of the hurricane first hand, along with the entire Southeast region and nation.  Jasmine Linville

NASCAR’s earliest roots can be traced back to stock car races during Prohibition. These stock car races were started by men who were used to driving fast cars. During Prohibition, it was necessary for bootleggers to have fast cars for transporting their moonshine and escaping the police. Soon the cars, nicknamed “moonshine runners,” were manipulated for better handling around the winding turns of the Appalachian Mountains. The Wilkes County area was known for producing large amounts of moonshine from the 1920s to the 1950s. The young men from that area delivered moonshine to cities all over the country. One of the most famous of these men was Junior Johnson, a NASCAR driver who learned his notorious driving skills from being chased by the police. Katie Cooke

The 1940 flood of the Yadkin River was the effect of a category one hurricane that hit the region of North Carolina very hard.  Citizens who live along the river rely on it very heavily.  They use the water to irrigate their crops if they are farmers; also there are many fishermen who use the plentiful fish population for food.  Whatever the case may be, the river provides many things to many diverse people.  Everything the river gives can be taken away just as quickly.  In one night, a whole year’s tobacco crop can be lost to the churning flood waters of the Yadkin River. Matt Marsh

The Kerr-Scott Reservoir in Wilkesboro was built in response to the floods of 1899, 1916, and 1940, as a way to reduce flood damage.  I was surprised to find that the citizens of Wilkesboro waited until the flood of 1940 to prevent the recurrence of these floods.  As a result of the massive destruction caused by flooding on the Yadkin River, I thought citizens would have been more prompt in taking actions to protect their city.  Molly Rozeboom

I was shocked and appalled when I learned about the collapse of the Siloam Bridge in 1975, in part due to the negligence of the government. The bridge was nearly forty years old when its steel support was hit late one night by a car driving through dense fog, and it collapsed into the Yadkin River below. Due to weather conditions, cars continued to pass over; the drivers and passengers had no idea that the bridge was destroyed. One man who died in the accident, Hugh Atkinson, was involved in numerous efforts to improve or rebuild the bridge; he went to Raleigh and brought petitions in an effort to make the bridge safer. But when the bridge was inspected only a few months prior to its collapse, it was deemed safe enough for use after minor repairs. Locals recognized the dangers of the bridge, yet the State Department of Transportation declared that there was not enough funding to replace the bridge. When it was replaced after the collapse, it was too little too late. Siloam resident Howard Miller said, in a 1975 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, that the bridge had “just borne too many burdens. No little car could knock it down if it was sound. That would be a lot like a snowbird flying into the front of my house.” Cameron Johnson

How important is a river? To the Whittington Family, the Ararat River made their farm possible. Without the Ararat the Whittington Farm’s survival would have been unlikely; the river watered the field and revived their lives. It was also  a sacred place, filled with memories for the Whittington family. The Ararat was the farm’s breath that allowed the farm to thrive for many decades. Karen Sawyer

~ by yadkinriverstory on October 5, 2010.

2 Responses to “Historical Currents”

  1. Trying to find information on the Yadkin River Flood of 1889…Can you point me in the right direction? How did it compare to the Floods of 1916 and 1940? Was it the result of a Hurricane like the other two? Thanx in advance.. Russ Pearson, Journalist for The Record of Wilkes.

    • Dear Russ,

      This is so way overdue that I am almost embarrassed to reply, but we have been neglecting the blog. I don’t know know anything about the flood of 1889. I would try Wilkes Communty College or the NC Room at Forsyth County Library.

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