Sunday, February 26, 2012


One of my favorite National Forest campgrounds here in North Carolina is the Mortimer Campground in the Wilson Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest. It's a heavily forested area that is only lightly populated. Most of the terrain these days is National Forest land and the corridor of Wilson Creek is a protected National Scenic River, so there's not a lot of space for private buildings there, now.

Kayaker on Wilson Creek after the drought of 2009 was finally broken.

However, once upon a time there was a busy town there called, of course, Mortimer NC. The main reason for the town was the commerce created by the Ritter Lumber Company which was the engine of destruction that raped the local mountains and valleys of virtually all the timber that was growing there. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the company skinned the mountains. The timber barons in charge of the concern clear cut everything in sight. In the days beginning in the late 1800s and up until about 1930, just about every bit of forest in the southern Appalachians was scraped off the land. You could stand on peaks and ridges and look in every direction and not see a single standing tree of significant height.

The Mortimer Campground is one of my favorites here in North Carolina.

There were a few other employers in Mortimer, including a couple of inns and a couple of mills, including a cotton mill near the banks of Wilson Creek. It must be said that Wilson Creek is not a small tributary but is, in fact, a fairly impressive river. It drains the eastern side of the Grandfather Mountain massif and moves quite the volume of fresh water down the almost 6,000-foot slopes toward the lowlands. Several times in the history of the town of Mortimer the "creek" flooded in truly disastrous fashion. Earlier, when there was still timber to be moved and plenty of reason to rebuild destroyed infrastructure, the town recovered. However, the last big flood in 1940 sealed the town's fate. By then, there was no timber to be harvested (it had all been cut down to the mineral earth) and the only thing left was a single cotton mill which was inundated and wrecked by the flood waters.

And that was the final nail in the coffin of Mortimer's existence.

These days it's just a spot on the county road where the Mortimer Campground sits, along with the Mortimer Picnic Area. It's still popular with the locals from Morganton and visitors from Charlotte and Greensboro and Raleigh, etc. Wilson Creek is a beautiful spot and quite a good place for recreation, especially for people who don't have a lot of money in their pockets. On a summer weekend the main road along the banks of the river are packed end to end and side to side with cars unloading thousands of people to go swimming, diving, kayaking, and hiking.

My truck and trailer and setup when I went to Mortimer in June of 2009 to finish a novel.

But of the town of Mortimer, there is hardly a sign. A few of the walls of the old cotton mill are obvious beside the main road, and the headquarters building of the old CCC camp is still there. And if you hike into the forest you might chance upon old foundations, sunken cellars slowly filling in with leaves and limbs, odd pipes and cables sticking out of the earth...but that's about it. The forests have reclaimed the coves and summits and in another hundred years it might all look like it did before the first saws and axes began to bite into the trunks of all of that wonderful timber.

Maybe next time the humans won't be quite so cruel.

Inside the remains of the old cotton mill in Mortimer.

The old town of Mortimer when it was still a thriving village with shops, general stores, doctors offices, a post office, a train station, etc..

The timber company clear cut every tree in sight. The mountains had become a wasteland.

The hand of Mankind at work on the mountains. Mother Nature was raped.

The old CCC headquarters (large white building) is the only structure in this photo that still exists and which remains in use.

Another shot of one of the old cotton mill buildings. They put the mill on the flood plains and must have known that it would be flooded again as it had been in the past. By the time of the last flood, in 1940, the town was so far gone and the infrastructure so weakened that the rails were not rebuilt, and so the mill was left to rot away, the workers left to fend for themselves. The town finished dying.

It's fun to wander around in the ruins and imagine what it was like there when the place was a going concern.

What 70+ years of peace and the absence of "development" has given us.

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