Clay County

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Located in the Nantahala Wilderness Area, Standing Indian Mountain is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail south of the Smokey Mountains. Views from the top can be spectacular regardless of the time of year.
Located in the Nantahala Wilderness Area, Standing Indian Mountain is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail south of the Smokey Mountains. Views from the top can be spectacular regardless of the time of year.
Photos courtsey
Standing Indian Mountain
Summitpost .org


Lake Chatuge was founded in 1942 when the Tennessee Valley Authority finished construction on a 2950 foot earth-fill type dam across the Hiawassee River. Originally for the purpose of flood control and to bring affordable electrical power to the area, the unsurpassed beauty of the lake that was created has an allure all its own.
Courtsey Clay County Chamber of Commerce
Lake Chatuge
Clay County Chamber of Commerce



A Brief History of the Formation of Clay County

Source: Clay County Chamber of Commerce

According to the late J.V.A. Moore, a local historian, the first white man to settle in what was to become Clay County, was John Covington Moore. This was wild country in the second and third decade of the nineteenth century, abounding with dangers arising from sheer loneliness, from wild animals, and rough terrain, to say nothing of the fact that unfriendly Indians roamed across the length and breadth of the land. It would be impossible to document this episode, but it seems that no one has contested the distinction awarded to Mr. Moore.

The first emigrants moved into this section, which at the time was a part of Macon County, in the early part of the 1830s with only the protection they could afford for themselves.

In 1837 General Winfield Scott was commissioned to "round up" all the Indians throughout this mountain regions, detain them in improvised stockades and take them to the Oklahoma Territory, which had been set apart by the United States Government as an Indian Reservation.

A Captain Hembree was sent to this section of what was to become Cherokee County (in 1839) and constructed a stockade about a mile south west of the present town of Hayesville, where the Indians were held until they had all been captured and the infamous "trail of tears" began.

This stockade was called Fort Hembree and around it grew up a business and civic center where the people would have the protection of the fort against the few Indians who had escaped the grasp of Captain Hembree's soldiers.

Exact dates are not available, but about 1838 there were three churches built in that vicinity. The first one was erected by the Presbyterian congregation on ground now known as the Presbyterian Cemetery and/or the Baptist Cemetery, just south of the town limits of Hayesville; the second was built by the Baptist on almost the exact spot where now stands the Church of God building and in short order the Methodist built a church about the center of what is now the Hayesville Methodist Cemetery.

The first post office in the southeastern end of what was then Cherokee County, was established in this general area and called Fort Hembree. It was opened January 8, 1844 with Jason S. Hyatt as the first postmaster. Others who succeeded Hyatt in this office were: William A. McCrary, William M. Sanderson, Joel Bowling and Robert B. Chambers (in that order). The Fort Hembree post office was discontinued as of December 6, 1866.

Counties do not beget counties; the State Legislature just takes a "rib" from one county and creates another. This process has been going on in North Carolina, in rather a haphazard fashion ever since 1791, when a sizable "rib" was carved out of Burke County, out of which the county of Buncombe was created.

As the white man moved farther and farther west, the population became more remotely located with reference to the center of government and the reach of protective agencies such as sheriffs' departments and the state militia. So, in 1808, in order to meet some of the urgent needs of the rugged pioneers, adolescent Buncombe suffered the loss of a "rib" under the legislative scalpel from which was created Haywood County.

A constant stream of people, hardy people, brave people, people looking not so much for fortune; but for a place where they would carve out for themselves a likelihood and a home, free from the dictates of circumstances that had followed them from distant shores, flocked to his region. Thus in 1828 another operation set up the chartering of yet another new county, which was called Macon.

With the head of steam already built up in the great Westward movement, it is understandable that it just took Macon eleven short years to "out grow their britches" to the extent that in 1839 the General Assembly whacked off a considerable portion of Macon County's territory and called it Cherokee County.

Growing pains had already set in and in 1861 Clay County, N.C. had its birth. Back in the middle of the nineteenth century most of the area which now comprises Clay County, North Carolina, was a part of Cherokee County. Probably the most pressing argument for the forming of a new county was the fact that people living in the far eastern end of the county (Cherokee) could not travel to Murphy, the county seat, transact legal business in the courthouse and return home in one day's journey. It must be remembered that the only methods of travel were afoot, on horse-back or in a horse drawn vehicle.

Mr. George Hayes, who lived in the general area of Tomotla, was running for Representative from Cherokee County in the Fall election of 1860. It seems that he was having an uphill fight in his home territory; but when he brought his campaign to the southeastern end of the county, he found that his constituents here wanted separation from Cherokee County and a county seat of government of their own. By promising them that he would introduce legislation to form a new county, he captured most of the votes in this area and was able to swing the election. So in February of 1861 such legislation was introduced and passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

In recognition for his services in helping create the new county, the county seat was named Hayesville in honor or Mr. Hayes. The new county was named in honor of the great Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay.

For the most part, Clay County was taken from the then Cherokee County. However, there was a small area taken from Macon County, moving the Macon County line from the crest of Chunky Gal Mountain to the divide between the Buck Creek watershed and that of the Nantahala River.

Probably due to the unrest and uncertainties growing out of the Civil War together with a lack of initiative on the part of would-be leaders and office-seekers, a formal government for the new county was not organized and a full slate of officials elected until 1868. This same year, May 7, 1868, a post office opened at Hayesville. Prior to this there had been post offices serving what is now Clay County at: Fort Hembree (1844), Tusquittee (1848), and Shooting Creek (1849).

Neighborhood post offices sprung up in rapid succession, until there was a total of 17 other offices established within the bounds of Clay County. They were usually operated from a corner in a cross-road store or even in the dwelling house of the post master. These small post offices served the people for several years, until the advent of the Rural Free Delivery Service which was brought to this area in 1903, when Route Number One from the Hayesville office was established. Within a year there were four rural routes going out from the Hayesville office. The small rural post offices were discontinued one by one, until, today (1976) there are only three post offices in the entire county: Hayesville, Brasstown and Warne.

In order to have not only the conveniences of life; but the bare necessities, on which to even exist, a people has to either grow their products, manufacture them or transport them. Until well after "the turn of the century", as the "old-timers" used to speak of the year 1900, everybody grew most of their food stuffs on their own farm. They made their furniture from lumber cut in their own forest and their clothes from cloth woven in their home looms from wool garnered from sheep that they raised in their own pastures.

Every house-hold had a milk cow, fattened hogs for their meat supply and maintained a flock of hens for eggs and meat. Until about 1920, most of the county had "open range" for their cattle. By that is meant, farmers had to build fences around the fields on which they expected to raise cultivated crops and they turned their cattle, hogs and sheep loose on whatever other land was available, whether it was their land or someone else's. Many larger farmers and cattlemen would drive great herds of cattle, hogs and sheep to the mountains during the summer months, where they would grow and stay fat on wild vegetation. The mountains were covered with chestnut trees and the hogs would fatten on chestnuts and acorns from the mighty oaks. Each farmer would have a certain mark they would use in order to identify his stock. Usually this mark consisted of certain kinds and numbers of nicks in the right or left ear.

They would fasten a bell on their "lead cow" in order to find the herd more easily. In a frantic effort to increase their acreage for cultivation and because there was no ready market for their timber, it was a common practice to cut down entire forests, pile up the logs and burn them. In many cases there would not be time for a complete clearing, so they would cut a ring around the biggest trees in order to kill them. It was a common sight as late as in the 1920s to see a big field of corn with giant oaks and poplars scattered over the field that had been killed and left there to decay.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century and before, the citizenry of this mountain region came to realize that there were many items of necessity that they could neither grow on their farms nor make from their crude products. Among these such items as: farm tools and machinery, tools with which to build homes, clothing and shoes of a finer quality than they were able to make in their homes, salt, sugar, sewing thread and a few occasional nick-nacks.

Some of the tallest tales to be heard by the "golden age club" of the early 1900s were reminiscence of those long hard wagon journeys "across the mountain" to Clarksville, Toccoa and even as far as Gainesville, Ga. Their load "going down", as the pioneer would say it, consisted of: dried apples, dried beans (better known as leather britches), clay peas, dried pumpkin, country cured hams and side meat, and rations enough to last them and their "stock" for three weeks.

On their return trip they would bring back such items as green coffee beans, sugar, salt, enough calico cloth to make each of the family's women folk a new Sunday dress. Except for one nice Sunday dress, the women of the house made their dresses as well as the men's clothes from rough cloth made on their home loom. More often than not among the items purchased on these long hard treks across the mountains would be a few small tools; a crosscut saw or hand saw, a new ax or drawing knife and toward the end of the nineteenth century it might even have been a sewing machine or cook stove.

No one was so wise or foolish as to start this journey alone; not so much for the possible dangers anticipated but due to the rough terrain, steep a muddy roads there was always a need to help each other over rough spots. Each wagon was equipped so that four horses could be hooked to it; otherwise the entire load might have to be unloaded before the wagon could be pulled to the top of a hill or through a deep mud hole. By two or more wagons traveling together, they could haul almost twice as much with two horses since they could have the assist of the second team on the rough spots.

Most of the horses owned by Clay County farmers prior to 1900 were of the light weight variety; either saddle horses or coach breeds. However in the early 1900s several people purchased stallions that were either pure bred or part Percheron and Belgian. By the time, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the horse was replaced by farm tractors and trucks, the quality of horses had improved considerably. The oxen were employed extensively in the early days of the county, especially for pulling dead weight like logs on the ground or heavy equipment and grain thrashing machines and steam engines. They were not suitable for ordinary farm and road use due to their lack of speed.

Practically every reputable farmer was his own blacksmith. He could take a pile of scrap iron and make his own plow point or fire shovel. He could repair his wagon out on the road and when in his shop could make his own wagon including the wheels. He could shoe his own horses and sharpen his tools.

Source: Clay County Chamber of Commerce


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