Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America

Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America

Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America

Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America

Synopsis

Each year, thousands of tourists visit Mount Mitchell, the most prominent feature of North Carolina's Black Mountain range and the highest peak in the eastern United States. From Native Americans and early explorers to land speculators and conservationists, people have long been drawn to this rugged region. Timothy Silver explores the long and complicated history of the Black Mountains, drawing on both the historical record and his experience as a backpacker and fly fisherman. He chronicles the geological and environmental forces that created this intriguing landscape, then traces its history of environmental change and human intervention from the days of Indian-European contact to today.

Among the many tales Silver recounts is that of Elisha Mitchell, the renowned geologist and University of North Carolina professor for whom Mount Mitchell is named, who fell to his death there in 1857. But nature's stories--of forest fires, chestnut blight, competition among plants and animals, insect invasions, and, most recently, airborne toxins and acid rain--are also part of Silver's narrative, making it the first history of the Appalachians in which the natural world gets equal time with human history. It is only by understanding the dynamic between these two forces, Silver says, that we can begin to protect the Black Mountains for future generations.

Excerpt

“Write what you know.” It is an author’s truism and one that I took to heart in writing this book. I cannot remember a time when I did not know something about North Carolina’s Black Mountains. As a toddler I spent a restless night bundled in blankets on the backseat of a 1953 Ford sedan, camping (as we called it then) with my family at Carolina Hemlocks, a U.S. Forest Service campground along the eastern flank of the range. Family lore has it that I awoke before daylight and demanded that my sleepy parents take me to see the South Toe River that flowed nearby. On that or some other such outing, my parents probably told me that Mount Mitchell, one of the peaks looming over the campground, was the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. If they said that, I have no recollection of it. My earliest Black Mountain memories are of summer afternoons spent wading in the South Toe, the distinctive crackle of campfires at twilight, and the not-quite-musty smell of our gray-green canvas tent.

For my family a summer trip to Carolina Hemlocks also constituted a homecoming of sorts. Our German ancestors (who first went by the name Silber) migrated into western North Carolina from Pennsylvania and settled near Kona, a tiny community ten miles or so downriver from the campground. the clan gained statewide notoriety—some might say infamy—in the early 1830s when one of the in-laws, Frankie Stewart Silver, brutally murdered her drunken, philandering husband, Charlie. After splitting his skull with an axe, she dismembered his body, burned the remains in a fireplace, and hid the ashes beneath the floor of their Toe River cabin. Convicted of the crime in 1832, she was executed a year later, one of the first white women hanged in North Carolina.

Although I grew up hearing my grandparents tell that story and visited the Black Mountains often as a child, it was as a college student in my . . .

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