If you’re like me, you’ve never had much reason to spend time in Old Fort, North Carolina. Sure, on a long trip back from Raleigh, it’s a good place to pull off the interstate and grab a cup of coffee at Hardees before making that white-knuckle drive up the mountain and back to Paradise.
Last week, though, I had an hour to spare while headed west toward Old Fort. After exiting I-40, I saw a couple of restored log cabins, and an old stone building that housed the Mountain Gateway Museum.
For now, the museum, the library, and several other locations in Old Fort are displaying photographs by Margaret Morley, a fine photographer of early twentieth century Southern Appalachia. This is the same Margaret Morley who rode the Hippie Bus through Cowee (with Horace Kephart!) last summer.
Morley’s 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains, has been reissued in recent years, in two different editions (I thought I was going to recommend one over the other, but looking at both again…I’d say each has its strengths.) The 2002 reissue by Land of the Sky Books is a faithful reproduction of the original edition. In the more recent Historical Images edition, the text has been re-set, and the volume includes dozens of Morley photos that did not appear in the original edition. An extensive introduction and biographical notes make this version indispensible.
Staff at the museum answered all my questions and then some, and recommended places to explore. One thing you’ll notice if you get out and about Old Fort is that it’s neither strictly a piedmont town nor a mountain town, sitting as it does at the base of the Blue Ridge.
In 1566, the Spanish gold prospector Juan Pardo built a blockhouse in Old Fort. And recent archaeological digs confirm that Spanish miners were active in the area through the 1600s.
Though the Western North Carolina Railroad reached Old Fort by 1860, it was another 20 years before the line was extended to the top of the mountain. By 1879, a resort hotel and a geyser next to the railroad (just west of Old Fort) attracted vacationers.
Unfortunately, the train caught the hotel on fire in 1903 and it burned down. Several years later a wealthy New Yorker rescued the geyser, moved it across the creek and renamed it to honor Colonel A, B. Andrews, the first president of the Western North Carolina Railroad.
This was the first recorded instance of someone successfully moving a geyser.
Andrews Geyser is not a geyser at all, but merely a fountain that is gravity-fed by a long pipe leading from a high mountain spring. I call it Andrews Not-A-Geyser.
But don't allow the news that Andrews Geyser is actually Andrews Not-A-Geyser to spoil your trip to Old Fort.
I returned to town and stopped to admire a genuine roadside wonder, the thirty-foot tall granite arrowhead towering over Main Street. It was, in fact, used by prehistoric peoples to slay dinosaurs of the Upper Catawba Valley…
…many years ago.