Rural Destruction

1940 Flood in Cullowhee, NC. Photo courtesy of: digitalheritage.org

The photo above is a picture taken after one of many floods that occurred in the Western part of North Carolina in 1940. During this time, the Great Depression was still occurring, and many people were still struggling throughout the nation. If the economy was not bad enough already, the flood of 1940 in Cullowhee, North Carolina made it worse for the local Jackson County residents. This photo is more than just the image of pin-point chaos after a massive flood; it is a representation of what was happening all across Western North Carolina in 1940, the destruction of rurality.

The photo is taken on Old Cullowhee Road, right next to Western Carolina University. The flood was so powerful that it uprooted the bridge which allowed primary access for local residents and students alike to the surrounding areas. At the point when this picture was taken the water had subsided and was on the decline, however, the damage done is clearly evident. Despite all the technology of the time, even in this rural town, nature had its way and won this fight. This is just but one instance of the destruction that was usurping local rural towns through Western North Carolina.

The river shown in the photo is known as the Tuckasegee River, or more commonly referred to by its residents and students as the “Tuck.” The Tuck runs through most of Western North Carolina and it is a favorite for local residents and tourists for white water rafting, kayaking, and tubing. Today, a newer stronger bridge is set in place on old Cullowhee Road. Many residents still live right alongside the river, hoping that it will remain calm, however, residents are always on alert to the dangers that the Tuckasegee River presents. If residents or students ever forget, they can always look to the photos from 1940 as a reminder of what nature can do. Hopefully the Tuck will remain calm, and this tranquil, peaceful, and beautiful rural town of Cullowhee, North Carolina can remain unchanged, incased in all of its rural splendor.

-John Temple

2 Responses to “Rural Destruction”

  • WLemay:

    This flood destroyed almost all of the “downtown” area of Cullowhee. There were once many homes and stores behind the photographer where this picture was taken. All were wiped out by the flood. The bridge was built in 1938 and replaced an earlier Iron Truss Bridge, dating from the late 1800s. The present bridge was completed in 1941 and will be demolished upon completion of a newer, larger, taller bridge upstream in 2014. The buildings in the photograph still stand, though modified. The smokestack from the University Steam Plant is visible, as is the Cullowhee Baptist Church Cemetery. Almost of the buildings in the picture were built in the 1920s of brick, which ensured their survival during the flood. Since the flood, five dams have been built across the East & West Forks of the Tuckasegee River at Glenville (1941) in Hamburg Township, Wolf Creek (1952), Tanasee Creek (1952), Bear Creek (1953) and Cedar Cliff (1954) in Canada Township. The flood is unlikely to happen again, and the floods of 2004 weren’t quite as bad due to the dams (though Bear Lake Dam almost burst, which could have led to the wipeout of Cedar Cliff Dam and all development in the valley below) but they were worse for the major creeks in the county. The present future plans for the area around the bridge are a new bridge with bike lanes and sidewalks, a new roadway from the University’s Back Entrance to the old Pizza Hut, a new downtown area along the new roadway, relocated side roads, improved intersections, a river park, greenway, river walk, and a mix of homes, mixed-use retail, residential and office buildings, apartments, townhomes and possibly some civic structures. The town is looking to incorporate and the university is looking to help with revitalization of the Old Cullowhee Road area. At the time of the picture, the main North-South thoroughfare in the county, North Carolina Highway 107, started in Cherokee and followed old US 19/23 through Qualla, Barkers Creek, Dillsboro and Sylva before becoming its own road. The roadway was in a different location in some places, including Old Cullowhee Road. It originally followed the river the whole way and the original course near Cane Creek was present-day Riverbend Road, but the highway was relocated East in the 1950s and now crosses over a hill above the original roadway. It then crossed the bridge and went up the hill before turning at Moss General Store (not visible in the photograph, the last remaining historic wooden storefront in the area), and it went through the middle of the Western Carolina University Campus on present-day Central Drive before entering Dicks Gap. It was relocated in the 1950s to the East of the campus on the other side of the Hill upon which the “old” section of campus is located, and continued to be used in this format until the NC 107 Cullowhee Bypass, a four-lane road, opened in 1980. NC 107 is still two lanes and on its original course, however, from just north of East LaPorte to Shoal Creek Mountain, where it takes the “new” route blazed in the late 1930s as Glenville Dam blocked the original route. It has also been straightened & widened around the Glenville-Cashiers area. As you can see, there is a lot of history in this area.

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