The mountains were calling

My love for the mountains goes back to high school days. The first time my family visited mountains was on a Labor Day weekend  in North Georgia. The air was crisp and cold and a great relief from the humid dog days of early September. It was love at first sight for me.  But it was only getting my feet wet as a result of things I’d been told during childhood.
It was Uncle Roy Stroud that started it. After a Sunday meal at Grandma’s house, my cousin and I were engaged in a game of Battleship, and I had managed a couple of hits on my ‘foe’, which appeared to disgruntle my cousin, maybe because girls weren’t supposed to be any good at games like that, or maybe just because of his competitiveness. Uncle Roy stopped in and pulled up a chair. He sat perched on one heel on the chair while the other foot reached to the floor; combined with his lean build, the pose was something like that of a wood stork.
He spoke of places that seemed so magical they couldn’t possibly be real. He assured us they were real.  A road that winds through mountaintops and valleys and curves so tightly it winds back and crosses itself (switch back or ‘The Loop” in  Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains) . Mountains so big that a road couldn’t be made to go around it so tunnels were cut through them instead.  Waterfalls you could drive your car under (Bridal Veil Falls, Hwy 64 Highlands NC), a waterfall you can walk all the way under without getting wet (Dry Falls, Hwy 64 Highlands NC). One day,  I wanted to see these dreamy, magical places for myself.
The next guilty party was Uncle Rollie Portwood. Like Uncle Roy, he could tell you about places and things that seemed too wondrous to be real. Swinging bridges high on a mountain. Bible verses carved into mountainsides (Fields of the Wood, Murphy NC) hoarfrost and rime ice and the eerie sculptures they made in the grasses and trees.
The next time I was to visit the mountains was when Uncle Rollie and Aunt Bobby invited me to go along on their Thanksgiving trip. Uncle Rollie knows all the good places to ride, see, visit and generally gape at.  Never will that wondrous trip be forgotten.
During the 90s I carefully planned a trip up the Cherokee Foothills Parkway in western South Carolina, what some natives refer to as the upcountry of South Carolina due to the escarpment and fall lines and a few mountains in the westernmost part of the state.  The trip went somewhat wrong  when I reached Pickens, SC  and caught sight of the rolling mountains in the near distance. Suddenly, my car forget where it was going and headed straight into those hills, on a road with zero pullouts and places to turn around. The car and I wound up in Brevard NC where I cruised up Hwy 276 in the Pisgah National forest through lush fern meadows, Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock, The Cradle of Forestry and up to the Cold Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the way back home, I paused to look from the heights upon Lake Jocassee and hiked a short trail to Whitewater Falls.
There have been other trips to the mountains but one special one was when my Pa and sister accompanied me. There, we stood in the mists of Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls, that Uncle Roy,  my Pa’s brother, had described so well so many years before.
The last visit to the mountains I love so well was Nov 2004. 12 1/2 years ago.  Which brings me up to date.
The mountains were pulling at me to the point they invaded my dreams. I simply HAD to go visit them, it has been far too long since last we met.  The mountains are calling and I must go is an understatement to how it felt to want to go there almost desperately.
Now, let me tell you about my recent trip to North Carolina.
It almost didn’t happen. Timing between renting a mountain capable SUV, scheduling the best time to go, finding a dog friendly reasonably priced, safe  and quiet place with green space to stay was presenting problems. It just didn’t seem to be coming together. At one point it seemed prudent to just forget it. Then that reaction seemed juvenile. For every angle I tried to work the ‘problem’ another frustration would present itself.  Finally, I focused on what I could do rather than all the things I wanted to do in a short time.  After settling on a brief drive through the Great Smoky Mountains followed the next day by cruising a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, things fell into place. Lined up reservations for an SUV and a hotel I’d researched. All set.
Then,  the forecast called for rain. All day. Both days.
Being too far into it to stop now, I went anyway.
About 45 minutes into the 3.5 hour drive, water plopped on the windshield, then stopped. Then it  a light shower smattered across the glass. Then it stopped. Then it rained steadily for a mile or two. Then stopped. Then it misted rain. Then it stopped. This went on for about 2 hours or so. I took a couple of stops for stretching the legs, flexing the back and giving the boys (my two dogs) a decent but short walk. We kept going. Clayton, Mountain City and Tallulah Falls were pleasantly cool and misty.
Just south of Franklin, NC the skies opened up and bestowed a deluge of rain upon the earth. At least the windshield wipers finally got the go ahead to have a nice rhythmic workout in cleaning the windshield.  Just north of Franklin, events turned again. Hwy 74/441 climbs from about 2100 ft in elevation to roughly 5000 feet in elevation in just a few miles (approx. 3-4). It’s harrowing to someone like me who is not quite accustomed to the steep grade and cambered curves. Add in a very wet road and it made for a few minutes of jaw grinding, steering wheel clenching tense driving.  No matter that it’s five nicely sized lanes-it was nerve wracking!
I kept going.
Then the rain lightened to a  shower. Though the rain slowed, clouds obscured all but the closest mountains and valleys.  Distant views were not to be had. We soon rolled into Cherokee NC,  and the rain stopped. Just like that.
I pulled up and parked at the motel I’d chosen. It’s a simple place that hearkens back to  a time when we as a nation were urged to “see the USA in a Chevrolet” and to “get your kicks on Route 66”.  Just off the street, close to both the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park-  its neon sign, pink bathroom tiles, sunken tubs, family picnic areas perched at the Oconaluftee River was just what we needed.    It was clean, quiet and had the perfect location for me and the boys. The retrospective design of the motel made me nostalgic for those days of Uncle Roy, Uncle Rollie telling me about road trips to the mountains. It felt like home.
After checking in, walking the dogs, checking out the Oconaluftee River, getting a bite to eat, it came to my notice that not only was it no longer raining, the sun had come out!

Branigan immediately hopped on the bed and made himself right at home

Takoda partaking in his favorite passtime. Have blankie will sleep.

So we climbed back in the car and cruised through the Great Smoky Mountains. Memories of each time I’d been in communion with my beloved mountains filtered through my mind as we drove along. I stopped at the Chimney Tops overlook  to remember those lives lost in the fires of 2016 and take a couple of shots of the crest of the Chimneys.
The next day, we  stopped in downtown Cherokee before heading off onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. The drive was nervewracking.  While trying very hard to focus on the road instead of the steep drop inches from the car tires, memories rose and managed to ease  my  growing tension at the wheel. Remembering the Chimney Tops and standing there with Uncle Rollie, whorls of a cloud dancing up the sharp curve of the road only to dissipate just before it reached us.  Moments after,  morning mists rose from the valley up the mountainside, pausing to hover and twirl just in front of me on the road for a breath of a moment before continuing its ascent to the heavens. Thinking of Aunt Carol speaking of the mountains, one of the places she said she loved and called it God’s green country. Later, at a stop, a gathering of butterflies reminded me again of her.
New memories were made too. A glimpse of a gorgeous sunset reflecting on the dissipating storm clouds  in the Smoky Mountains the evening before. Branigan enjoying the banks of the Oconaluftee, the likely scent of groundhog (I saw it-Branigan didn’t) geese and ducks among the smorgasbord of aromas.
Kodi’s surprise at meeting a fire hydrant for the first time ever.  Judging how he eyeballed it suspiciously while walking a wide circle around it,  I’d say he wants to never see one again. Ever.   Kodi heading to the wrong hotel room every time I took him outside, looking at me with hope sparkling in his eyes and looking for approval-chuffing at me softly when I explained that our room was clear on the other side of the office. Clearly not taking me at my word, he simply walked up to the next door and looked up at me again….surely this one was right! Nope. But it was the same distance from the office as our room, just on the opposite side. Kodi and his jokes. ❤
Branigan prancing around and  drinking in the heady scents of the crips aire in a small high mountain meadow at  Bear Trap Gap. Tiny yellow flowers turned their faces to the sky and the green grass still sparkled with dew.  The aroma of  freshly cut grass drifting up from the valley.  Takoda flatly refusing to exit the car by scooting to the back where I couldn’t reach him.  Seeing the play of light and shadows against a myriad of greens as mists rise to merge with clouds.
Coming around a bend to be greeted by the dramatic grandeur of Devils Courthouse.  The delight of Looking Glass Rock, followed by Graveyard Fields, a place I’d had on my wish list for years.  Paying tribute to Cold Mountain on the approximate 20th year anniversary from that accidental detour from Cherokee Foothills to Brevard NC.  Sights I’d not seen before and sights exactly like that I’ll never see again.
And I’m reminded; not every obstacle is a dark omen. It’s just life.  Faith doesn’t tell us that the road will always be smooth and/or easy. Faith tells us we go ahead anyway.  So we use our judgement and the good sense we’ve been given, decide the best course of action  and go ahead, tired, scared, and/or  apprehensive. Faith tells us we are not alone.
Alternatively,  you can sit and boo hoo and whine about things and never get up, shake yourself off and move forward. And you’ll miss out on some pretty good things.
Overall, it was a worthwhile trip. Admittedly, I didn’t necessarily enjoy the getting there, but the being there was heavenly.
Thanks for reading. Happy adventures beyond the front door.

{click on the photos for a larger view}


 




 

 



 

 

 

 

 

Looking for the Key Part II: The Road There

the-road2

It was a welcome contrast to the gauntlet of winding gravel road that wove its way through the dark and green tunnel of doom I had passed through. Not only was it gloomy but it seemed to  threaten to feed me to the old  rusted bridge suspended over the creek far below.

For the most part, the forestry service road appears to be reasonably maintained, scraped by dozers, trees held back by selective cutting and vegetation kept at bay with periodic controlled burns. The relative ease of navigation should not be allowed to lull one into overconfidence; rough spots require the driver to be keenly observant and patient.

Sandy dirt with a light mix of gravel was packed from recent traffic and rain. Said rain also resulted in sections of washboard soil; the forest corsets the road like a 19th century lady and the shoulder melts some 5-10 feet into the forest floor.  Travel too fast and one might find themself looking at the ground upside down. A bit further on, there is a puddle. A big puddle. Muddy and who knows how deep it goes? Might a catfish or two survive there? Surely crawfish would. Fortunately the road is wider here with room to ease slightly to the side and slowly splash one’s way through the ghastly murky depths. Which turned out to be a only couple of inches or so.

The road changes fairly frequently, but again, navigation is relatively easy for the careful driver. It narrows, then spreads out, the shoulder frequently melts to a dropoff of several feet in a few places,  then becomes more level with the sides of the road, and there are a couple of slight hills and curves.

After a bit of rolling on, an open meadow peeks through the pines. There in the center stands a massive tree, branches reaching to the heavens.
the-meadow

Having an fondness for trees, I parked the car to take in the serenity of this space so open to the sun and sky. A closer look reveals this to be a cluster of trees. I don’t know what kind. But it was magnificent.

Two smaller trees trailed behind the glorious tree, looking for all the world as if following their elder to an ENT moot.  They were moving too quickly for me to get a clear photo of them. 😉

Wandering around the edges of the meadow, this friendly little one showed its colors to me.


Returning to my vehicle, I moved on. There were places deep and dim in the woods that seemed to resent passing tourists. There were sunny places with grass that seemed as welcoming as the sun and blue sky.

The road continued forward and I along with it.

After traversing some 2 miles into the forest, the road ended in a turnaround. I had reached my destination. Now, to get to the business of meeting my self challenge…..find the homesite and to pay my respect in the cemeteries of Henry Key and the slaves that had lived and died there so very long ago.

to be continued…..

Looking for the Key Part I

It was the old family story that caused me to come across the story of Henry Key. Internet searches in efforts to discover what, if any connection of my family  to Francis Scott Key frequently brought up the name of Henry Key, or his son’s name Tandy Clarke Key.  Any possible lead seemed reasonable to follow up on , and in my genealogy beginner’s innocence,  my research often took me in quite a few  different directions. (It still does, on occasion)  Often they wound up at dead ends or irrelevant to my family tree.

In this case, this particular Henry Key apparently is not connected to the Key family from which I am descended. That would be Warren Key, who moved from South Carolina to the Adrian Ga area in the very late 1700-early 1800s and the founder of Key’s Methodist church, Adrian GA. A son, Burrel Key changed the spelling of his surname to Kea and some family members followed suit while others continued the original Key spelling.

It also turns out, according to other descendants who had a Y-DNA test done, that our branch of Keys are NOT related to Francis Scott Key.  Not even distantly. Research through documents supports this.

Sigh. Another cherished family story ripped apart and dashed to the ground.  Oh look, I’ve already recovered from the shock. 🙂   After all, folks in search of facts and truth in genealogical  research must learn to adapt and absorb what they find, whether it is what they think they want to know or not; good, bad, ugly and in between.

But I digress.

Henry Key was the son of John Key and Martha Tandy of Albermarle Va. He married Mary Clark and together with their children,  moved to Old Ninety Six District of South Carolina part of which later became Edgefield County.  He purchased some 2000 acres of land over time and built his family’s home on a high bluff  overlooking a large creek. Nearly every account I have found on this names Turkey Creek as the watercourse, while maps show it as Stephens/Stevens Creek.

Malinda Key Letcher (1755 – 1780)
John Alfred Key (1757 – 1840)
Henry Junior Key (1759 – 1810)
William Key (1761 – 1803)
Tandy Clark Key (1763 – 1801)
Mary Polly Key Martin (1765 – 1805)
Mary Isham Key Martin (1765 – 1855)
Naomi Key (1770 – 1775)

Tandy Clark(e) Key lived for some time in Jefferson County Ga. His name drew my attention while searching my Key family as well as my Stroud family. I have found no connection linking Tandy Clark Key to either of my family lines other than a recent mention of a man whose exact name  doesn’t come to mind but memory prompts me to state Tandy Clark Stroud. Additionally the particular passage mentioned a connection between T.C. Key and T.C. Stroud, who later moved to Alabama  Texas during the early 1800s. It is perhaps possible this may be a connection to my Stroud brick wall associated with my mysterious 3 great grandparents who first show up in records in Jefferson County GA about 1815.  Time and research will or will not show further evidence of this possibility.

Fascinated by the history of the locales and the families, it came to my attention that the Key homestead is not far from that of my current location.  Armed with details and information gleaned from the internet, I set out on a Sunday drive to attempt to locate the site and the rumored cemetery that remains there, both of the Key family and their slaves’ final resting places.

It’s not a long ride, nor a difficult one. Traveling from North Augusta Sc on Hwy 230-Martintown Rd, Key Road is on the left. Pastoral landscapes filled with gently rolling hills, dotted with cows, bordered with creeks and lined with open farmland and horse pastures. Once you cross Hwy 23 the landscape changes. Residential dwellings are non existent. There is little to no traffic.  For a short time, the road wanders atop a ridge.  A bit further on and the road narrows. The gravel is coarse and roars through the vehicle cabin as if  to warn you away.  Trees are tall and close, pushing the light away, making the traveler feel unwelcome and claustrophobic in the resulting gloom.

Doubts might begin to tease the back of one’s mind at the increasing gloom of the area, perhaps this is not the best choice of afternoon drives. Just as you begin to realize turnarounds are few, far between and rather sketchy looking, the descent begins. As if from childhood nightmares, the road curves and seems to disappear over the crest of a  hill.  But it continues downward and the further it descends, the deeper the gloom. When it seems the road can’t go any lower it levels out, but you’re not “safe” yet.  For the road has bottomed out at the precipice of a high bluff over a creek, spanned by one of the most unpleasant bridges I have ever seen.

key-bridge
The Key Road Bridge.

I stopped.  I weighed the value of my personal quest  against the menacing appearance of the rusted old construction straight out of my gephyrophobic nightmares. Knowing the road in question was less than two miles ahead I pushed forward.  Around the curve and up the next hill, the trees retreat and the daylight returns. There is an old ranger  – road maintenance station on the left. Just beyond that lies an unassuming dirt road on the left. At the end lies a popular recreational creek, walking and biking trails, two cemeteries, and an old historic home site.

But what would I find?

~ to be continued

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Home of the brave

In the 1730s, an Indian path from Fort Moore to the Saluda ridge was used by traders going to the Cherokee Nation. Later, a wagon road from Ninety Six to Augusta followed the same route. Named for the Martin family who lived beside it and served well the cause of the Revolution, it was widely used during that conflict by Patriots, Tories, and British.

(Historic Marker) Erected by Martintown Road Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution – 1972

Marker ID  DAR 2-6 :on SC 230, 2 blocks S of intersection of SC230 (Martintown Rd.) and US 25 (Georgia Ave.), North Augusta

                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some years ago  on one my Sunday afternoon larks, about 15-20 miles past I-20 out of North Augusta SC, I came upon a marker beside Hwy 230. It appeared to be a large headstone for a grave.

“Now who,” I thought ” would be buried beside a rather well known if not major, road in the area?”  Indulging my penchant for history and historical markers,  the car naturally turned itself around, found a good spot on the shoulder of the road and parked so that I may have a better view of the granite sentinel. It turned out to not be a grave marker, but rather, a marker indicating the settlement of Martintowne.

martintowne-marker-front      olde-martintowne-marker

The Martins were Scots Irish who migrated to America in the 17th century. They later migrated to various places;  Abram Martin married Elizabeth Marshall and they had seven sons and two daughters. Abram Martin was killed by American Indians in 1773 while he was surveying land.

Abram Martin-Elizabeth Marshall Martin at Rootsweb

All of the sons signed up to fight for America’s freedom from British rule. Mrs. Martin was a fervent patriot and when sneered at by a British officer who, learning that all of her seven sons fought the British, told her she’d had or sent enough. She answered she only wished she had more to send. Some stories tell that the British assailed the Martin women and their homesteads several times, destroying their belongings such as feather beds and pillows. Perhaps they were looking for silver or other treasures suspected to be hidden, or perhaps their deeds were intended to  serve as a demoralizing campaign.

All sons survived the war with the exception of William, who was killed during the siege of Augusta Ga in 1781. Family tradition tells that an English officer, while British held the fort at Ninety Six, (SC) road out one day (to Martintown) and asked the elder Mrs. Martin if she had a son who fought at Augusta. Daughter in law sitting nearby, she replied that she did. “Well I saw him get his head shot off” he told her while smiling maliciously. ” He could not have died in a better cause.” she responded.

Siege of Augusta

Steadfast patriotism and courage ran deep in these women, as in so many others.  Mrs. Martins’ two daughters in law lived in the home with her, as the men were all away at war. One day, the women heard that a courier along with British escorts would be passing through on the road near the homestead. Determined to intercept the courier, the two women, barely out of their teens, dressed in their husbands clothes and set off  on their mission. When the men  approached, the ladies stepped from their hiding place behind the rail fence and Grace Martin demanded the papers in the deepest voice she could conjure. Taken by complete surprise the courier and the escorts surrendered. Their captors generously paroled their prisoners after confiscating the papers.

The two women took a shortcut through the woods back to the house, just ahead of the British and changed back into their regular clothing.  The British men shortly thereafter stopped at the homestead asking for food and shelter. The elder Mrs. Martin asked why they returned so quickly when they had just passed by the home. The men showed her their paroles telling her of the two rebel men armed with rifles who had appeared so unexpectedly the British could not defend themselves. The men stayed the night  and went their way the next morning, never the wiser as to who had waylaid them the previous night.  The dispatches had been sent forward to General Nathaniel Greene.

Elizabeth, Grace and Rachel Martin, Women of the American Revolution.   

There are areas in the woods that look a bit different from the rest; trees seemingly planted in particular patterns, as if encircling homes that once stood in their shade. Everywhere one can look there are gentle slopes, dips,  and hills, good positions for a house to stand and to spot . Good spots to see passersby on the nearby road, or on their approach to the homestead, well in time to reach for Miss Brown Bess if need be. It is a place of serenity and simple beauty scattered with bits of wild forest standing ready to reclaim the forest if we should allow this place of importance to slip into memory.

martintowne-marker

martintown-sunset

martintown-woods martintown-knoll
pano-martintown

Lick Fork Lake campground in the Sumter National Park is a short ride from the Martintown Marker. Information on Find a Grave indicates the Martin family cemetery lies between the marker at Martintown and Lick Fork Lake Roads. Provided the map is accurate, it could be surmised the house stood near the cemetery as people living in rural frontier areas often had their burying grounds close to their home.

This is a good place to wander the forest and ponder a dark night when two young ladies bravely captured enemy soldiers in support of forming a new, independent nation. Let us never forget their courage and the sacrifice of the many without whom the United States of America would not have been founded.

Map from Find a Grave

Turn around and go back

The grey, wet skies lowered a chill to the earth on this day.  The raw Carolina countryside lured me down this road. Looking for a safe and inconspicuous place to turn around, this old homestead appeared around a curve. Its architecture and obvious age fascinated me, and so the jacket, hat and camera left their cozy spot in the passenger seat and joined me in braving the rain for a few snapshots.

Information on the old place seems nonexistent as I have found nothing thus far. It is well maintained property so it apparently has meaning for someone. Not to mention someone who wanders the random roads with camera and k9 companions.

It was a good place to stop, taste the raindrops, feel the damp chill, ponder a few moments, and turn around.

~B.L. Stroud
musings from the leery traveler

 

Raindrops on a tin roof.

 

There were no visible signs of steps having ever been at the side porch.

 

You can clearly see the old road bed, the house sits just below the line of the old road. Behind the little out buildings to the left is a small pond.

 

The old road cut.

 

Out building and old road cut.

Please, Get Lost!

“Even after 400 generations in villages and cities,
we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls,
like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.”
~ Carl Sagan

                  photo courtesy https://bossfight.co

 

Many years ago, I journeyed to the mountains of Northwest Georgia. After a short visit to Amicalola Falls, the road began to wander through miles of apple orchards. Noticing the fuel gauge dropping, I stopped at the next decent gas station and refueled. Perhaps a bit of near empty tank anxiety clung to my psyche for shortly after I took a wrong turn. At first it made me nervous and I was downright frightened of becoming lost. Soon however, the rolling hills and gentle curves began to soothe my spirit and so the road beckoned me onward.
It was early morning and the mountain mists were still flirting with the dew kissed meadows. The road wound itself around the base of a mountain, straightening for a brief moment beside a pasture. As the sun peeked through the mists a white horse lifted its head amidst the sweet grasses and wildflowers. It may have been curious about the car, its creeping slow speed, the human at the wheel with mouth gaping open in amazement.
The serene moment was quickly stolen by the restless road, curving around yet another mountain base. It doubled back on itself and eventually ran back into the main road that funneled me onto the valley road. I hadn’t gotten lost. The road had gently teased me into going forward and gifted me with scenes peppered with little delights so perfect and so fleeting it would be easy to pass them off as a dream.
It was not a dream. Cruising down that mountain valley road had been very real, leaving me with images burned indelibly into my mind. I was grateful, for it had refreshed my weary soul at a time when it was thirsty for such respite.
Metaphors come to mind, so cliché and yet so relevant. Roads and paths sometimes present themselves to us and we are not sure which direction to go. Barring recklessness or apparent danger, last-minute decisions can sometimes be wonderful. The road may be difficult and it may only get you from point A to point B, it may be shorter and easier, it might have delights waiting just around the bend.
Trust your angels. Trust your instincts. Take the random road. Expect the unexpected. Enjoy the surprises and treasures waiting for you. Be curious but not reckless. Navigate carefully the obstacles and pot holes that can be lessons. Don’t let fear make all your decisions for you.
And always have a back up plan. Like an auto club membership, GPS or a good old-fashioned map.
Go ahead, get lost in your surroundings once in a while.
You may just find you’re not so lost after all.

~ B.L. Stroud
Musings from the leery traveler

Down the road and around the bend

There’s a place at the top of a ridge where you can see for miles.

Not far from Clarks Hill, SC and the Clarks Hill Dam and lake
(Thurmond lake on the South Carolina side of the border)

Some people liken these gentle hills of South Carolina to Ireland.

I’ve never been to Ireland, so I cannot speak to that.

But these hills are lovely, and I can attest to that.

Two minutes after these photos were taken, the colors slipped from the sky and
fell into dusk.

~B.L. Stroud
scenes from a Sunday drive

 

 

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