CherokeeThe mounatain region of North Carolina was inhabited by the Cherokee Indians. Beginning inthe early 1700's the white man slowly pushed westward, first into present day Tennessee and Kentucky then into western North Carolina. Through a series of treaties the Cherokee were slowly pushed westward. In 1839 the Cherokee nation was forcibly removed from the mountains on the infamous "Trail of Tears".
Andre' MichauxOne of the first white men to climb the Black Mountains was Andre' Michaux, a French Botanist. Arriving on the east coast in 1794, Michaux explored Pennsylvania, New Jersy, and Maryland to collect examples of American flkore for shipment back to France. In 1787 he moved to Charleston, SC and in 1789 he made his first trip to the NC mountains. He made 2 trips, one in 1789 and returning in 1794. He left the US in 1796. He climbed on and around the Blacks, Roans and Grandfather mountains. Interestingly, when he climbed Grandfather Mountain in 1794 and he proclaimed it the "most elevated of these (mountains) which form the chain of the Alleghenies and Appalachian."
Elisha Mitchell and Thomas ClingmanElisha Mitchell was a minister and one of the first professors at the University of North Carolina (UNC), appointed in 1818. During his 39 year tenure he taught mathematics, botany, zoology, chemistry, mineralology, and geology at one time or another. Encharged with the North Carolina Geological Survey, he made multiple trips west of the Blue Ridge, where he became interested in the Black Mountains. Over the next 20 years Mitchell returned to the Black mountains to determine their elevations with a barometer.
Thomas Clingman had bee a former student of Dr Mitchell at UNC. Trained as a lawyer, Clingman had been a state represanative, Congressman, and US Seantor. In the mid 1850's Clingman also became interested in the Black Mountains and their elevations. (Here the story can be confusing as almost all the peaks had different names than today. See the accompanying map) Suffice it to say Clingman was steadfast that he was the first to measure the high peaks height, in 1855 (Mitchell had claimed to measure it in 1844.) The convoluted story tragically ended on June 27, 1857 when Dr Mitchell hoped to climb the Blacks to inverstigate and clear up the controversy. When he did not return after 3 days, local inhabitants of the Cane(y) River valley began a search. Regretably, Elisha Mitchell was found dead, drowned, at the base of the modern day Mitchell Falls. He was found by Big Tom Wilson, a renowned guide and bear hunter (see plaque). Mitchells body was taken to Asheville, where it was buried . (The body was reinterred on the summit of Mt Mitchell in 1858.) The Civil War brought a virtual halt to activity in the Blacks. These high peaks remained a wilderness. In the late 1800's expliotation came to the area, first in the form of mining. NC has been a large producer of Mica and the first mine opened in 1869. The environmental damage caused by mining was small compared to its greatest threat, logging.
The 20th CenturyThe mountain was very heavily logged in the early 1900's by the logging companies; the Brown Bothers, Carolina Spruce, Dickey + Campbell, and Perley + Crockett (the largest). The slopes of the Blacks were cleared of most trees as they were transported by RR to the towns Pensacola (west of the Blacks) and Black Mt (south of the Blacks). A narrow gauge RR line had been built up the mountain from both places. The mountain was burned fairly extensively from the sparks emitted by the train engines.
In 1909 John Silcox Holmes (for whom Holmes State Forest SW of Asheville is named); the newly appointed state forester for the North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey, toured and prepared a report for the state legislature on the conditions of the mountain forests. The logging continued unabated. Locke Craig was elected governor of NC in 1913. In the US, momentum was gathering for the preservation of Americas wild lands. Through the work of Holmes and Craig, the state of NC passed a bill March 3, 1995 to establish a park on Mt Mitchell. This was likely the first state (or federal) park in the SE US.
Many of the original names of the Blacks have changed also; Clingmans Peak became Black Dome then Mitchells High Peak and finally Mt Mitchell (Also Mt Mitchell to Clingmans Peak, Haul Back to Hallback, Guyots Peak to Mt Craig, Hairy Bear to Big Tom, Black Brother to Balsam Cone, Black Knob to Blackstock, and Yeates Knob to Point Misery. See map below.)
Even during the logging years, Pearley and Crockett offered visitor access by the RR from Black Mt. After establishment of the park, and logging ended, the train continued to transport visitors to the mountain slopes. The tracks were removed in 1922 and replaced by a toll road, then finally replaced by the Blue Ridge Parkway from Buck Creek Gap to Black Mt Gap in 1939.
Today the state park is one of the crowning jewels of the Blue Ridge Parkway. On clear days the views are without comparison, from the Great Smokies to the far SW and Mt Rogers to the NE. The summit tower (see picture) is currently being replaced.
(This is a brief synopsis of the history of Mt Mitchell. These facts, and much more, can be found in A History of Mt Mitchell and the Black Mountains by Kent Schwarzkoph and Mt Mitchell and the Black Mountains by Timothy Silver. The pictures are taken from the Schwarzkoph book, which I think is out of print.)