Madison County is an area rich in history.
The Cherokee are the first known inhabitants of the French Broad River valley. They called the river "Agiqua" (long man) and it's many tributaries "his chattering children". The section of river Blue Heron Whitewater runs whitewater rafting trips on was known as "Tahkeyostee" (where they race). There is evidence the Cherokee enjoyed the warm, medicinal waters at Hot Springs and there is a Romeo and Juliet type Cherokee legend that involves both the French Broad River and the Hot Springs area.
The beautiful Indian princess, Mist on the Mountain was in love with a tall, handsome brave from a different village, his name was Magwa. She had, however, been promised by her father to the old and disgusting Tall Pine. Magwa's request for the princess's hand in marriage was refused by her father so Mist on the Mountain snuck out of her village to meet Magwa down by the river where they would escape in his canoe. Unfortunately, Tall Pine learned of this plan and killed Magwa whose body fell back into the canoe and floated down stream. Having seen this murder Mist on the Mountain fled up a rock out-crop over the river. Upon reaching the top, with no place to go, her love's spirit calling for her to join him, and the approaching Tall Pine, Mist on the Mountain jumped into the river to her death. There was witness to this tragedy, however, and as a stunned Tall Pine climbed down the rock face he was attacked and killed by a mountain lion. This rock out-cropping is now know as "Lovers Leap Rock" and it is said that on a certain moon-lit June night, if you have had enough moon-shine to drink, you can witness the ghosts of Mist-on-the-Mountain, Magwa, and Tall Pine.
The French Broad River created a natural corridor through the mountains, which the Cherokee were known to travel. Back in the early 1800's, the same route became the Buncombe Turnpike, a trade and stage coach route which connected Knoxville, TN with Asheville, NC. This traffic encouraged drovers' towns to pop up along the river route. The put-in for our whitewater rafting trips is Barnard, which was one of those drover towns. The railroad tracks were laid, completed in the 1880's, then logging and mining operations followed. Some of those towns became significantly larger train stops. Through time, boom, bust, and natural disaster, Madison County has managed to maintain its beauty and become popular for its outdoor recreation opportunities.
During the civil war North Carolina in general, and Western North Carolina in particular was a divided state with many union sympathizers. The steep and rugged terrain of Madison County made an ideal hide-out for deserters from both the Northern and Southern armies. Also hiding out in the mountains were an array of bush-wackers, Tories (Union sympathizers), and other scoundrels. In January of 1863 a band of men raided the town of Marshall to get salt. It is said that the men could not buy salt because of their Union sympathies. Reports of the raid reached Governor Vance who requested aid from the Confederate army in Knoxville. Lt. Col. J. A. Keith and his troops from the 64th North Carolina Regiment captured thirteen old men and young boys and had them shot and buried near the Shelton Laurel creek. This event has become known as the Shelton Laurel Massacre.
Built in 1886, the Mountain Park Hotel was known as one of the most lavish resorts in the Southeast. The hotel was surrounded by landscaped lawns with croquet and tennis courts and was home of the first golf course in North Carolina. The hotel built a bath house with 16 marble tubs over the warm springs and when a higher temperature spring was discovered the town of Warm Springs changed its name to the current Hot Springs. During World War I the hotel was leased to the US govt. and was used as an interment camp for captured German sailors. The hotel burned in 1920 and is now the site of the Hot Springs campground and resort.
In the early 1900's, as western North Carolina's population grew, the French Broad River watershed, which drains most of western NC, was insulted with pollution, both from industry and non-point sources. Non-point source is pollution whose origin is not so easily traced, i.e. erosion, fertilizer run-off, etc. The starting point for revitalizing this valuable natural resource was the Clean Water Act, enacted by Congress in 1972, which targeted industry practices. Wilma Dykeman, author of "The French Broad", was an early visionary, saddened by the trajic condition of the watershed. Her book helped insight citizens to value the French Broad River, and take action to restore its water quality. Blue Heron Whitewater is thankful for the non-profit, community driven organization of RiverLink, which has taken the charge of restoring water quality on the French Broad River. Paddlers, anglers, and river enthusiasts are enjoying the results of many peoples efforts over several decades.
If you'd like to be involved in stewardship of the French Broad River you can become a Friend of the River through RiverLink .
Your guide will share more of the history with you while you paddle your way through Madison County.