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

By Timothy Silver | Go to book overview

THREE
Mitchell’s Mountain

MAY
CHAPEL HILL

According to a relief map that hangs near my writing desk, the University of North
Carolina stands roughly 180 miles from the East’s highest peak. But today, as I battle
morning commuters in a frantic search for downtown parking, the mountains seem
a world away. At 8:00 A.M. the temperature on Chapel Hill’s main street hovers near
eighty degrees. Deciduous trees are already in full leaf, providing a powerful visual
antidote to the still-gray oaks and budding maples I left behind in the Blacks two
days ago. The contrast between the regions is more than climatic. In recent years
the explosive growth and urbanization of the North Carolina Piedmont have trans-
formed this college town into a bustling city. Shopping plazas and upscale subdivi-
sions spread out from Chapel Hill into the surrounding countryside, turning what
was once prime farmland into an asphalt maze of residential streets, cul-de-sacs,
and access roads.

Walking toward the university, though, I feel the rush-hour pace slacken a bit.
Spring semester classes ended two weeks ago; most of the students have long since
departed. I pause briefly at a two-foot-high stone wall that marks the boundary be-
tween town and campus. “The Wall” (as the students call it) is a nondescript but well-
known Unc landmark first erected nearly a century and a half ago. Today it serves
notice that even in this urban atmosphere, the Black Mountains are closer than they
seem. The geologist who commissioned the original stonework was none other than
Elisha Mitchell, university professor of science, ordained Presbyterian minister, and
legendary explorer of the East’s highest peaks.

-77-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations and Maps ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • One - Origins 1
  • Two - Footprints 37
  • Three - Mitchell’s Mountain 77
  • Four - Modernity 121
  • Five - Government 163
  • Six - Murphy’s Law 209
  • Conclusion - Stories from Four Thousand Feet 257
  • Notes 271
  • Index 309
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