A Short History of Fines Creek, North Carolina
Fines Creek Township is situated in the northern part of Haywood County, North Carolina. Haywood became a county in 1808 and the Fines Creek Township was formed out of Crabtree Township in 1850. The Township lies along the valley of the creek from which it derived its name, formed from about one hundred square miles of territory. In 1930 the population was 1,327. Long before this, however, Fines Creek was originally called Crystal Creek because that name occurred frequently in old land grants. Later the settlement was called Twelve Mile Creek, because the entire creek length was twelve miles.
It was after the winter of 1783 that Fines Creek Township got its name. In 1783 Indians were stealing horses and cattle from the nearby Big Pigeon settlement. Major Peter Fine helped raise a company of men and followed the Indians across these mountains, where they killed one Indian and wounded several others. The Indians returned fire however, killing Vinette Fine, Major Fine’s brother. There was no time for grave digging, so the ice in a nearby creek was broken and Vinette’s body was placed in the water through the hole. Before Major Fine’s men could return to retrieve Vinette, the creek flooded and washed his body away, never to be recovered. Near the beginning of the 19th Century, the Township name was officially changed to Fines Creek.
It is from this story we have designed a quilt square as the logo for the Fines Creek Community Association. That is the quilt square shown at the top of the page.
History of the Fine Family
Some history on the Fine family is necessary to understand how they arrived in this area of the country. Thomas Fine was born about 1725, probably in New Jersey, and he died sometime after 1794 in Virginia. He was married to Agnes Merchant, who was born about 1730, also in New Jersey, also dying sometime after 1794. They sired nine children: Vinette 1750-1783, Phillip 1751-1825, Peter 1753-1826, John 1755-1829, Weden “Wenden” 1757-1787, Euphremeas 1759-1785/95 (?), Elizabeth 1761, Jacob 1763, David 1764-1845. (This information was taken from the Thomas Fine descendant’s book sent to Lucy Ferguson by Creighton and Lois Fine Depew of Seattle, Washington in December, 1999.)
Before the Revolutionary War, the Fine family was living near the Shenandoah River and New Market, Virginia. After the war they followed the general migration pattern of the time, with each generation pushing further into the “wilderness.” Peter Fine came to the present site of Haywood County around 1780 and settled on the banks of the French Broad River. It was there he operated a ferry and a trading post and traded furs. A tombstone marks his still-readable grave and a historical marker on Highway 411 between Newport, TN and Greenville, TN marks the old ferry site. This information is documented in Tennessee records.
Early on, Fines Creek was one of the most thickly settled townships in Haywood County. It had some of the best farming land in the western section of the state. Its boundaries are well defined, beginning at the mouth of Waterville Creek bordering the Tennessee line, it runs with the state line NE by Snowbird Mountain to Max Patch on the Madison County line to Sandy Mush Bald, where the three counties of Madison, Haywood and Buncombe meet. From there the line follows to Crabtree Bald and the watershed of Rush Fork Gap, to the mouth of Jonathan Creek at the Pigeon River and up the river to its beginning. Cataloochee Township is the only township in Haywood County larger than Fines Creek.
There are many creeks, branches and coves in Fines Creek; James Branch, Gibson Branch, Rainey Branch, Cove Creek, Wesley Creek, Turkey Creek, Martins Creek, Wilkins Creek, Upper and Lower Fines Creek, Marred Cove, Sugar Cove, Jesse Cove, Swiss Valley and the Wiggins Bottom are just a few of the names.
When Haywood County was included with all the territory in six other western counties, there were only two voting precincts: Mount Prospect and Soco. Fines Creek was included in the Mount Prospect precinct. Now we have two precincts just in Fines Creek Township – Fines Creek and Panther Creek.
Much of the northern and northwestern sections of Fines Creek have been taken over by the National Park for wildlife or game preserves. Most of this land is in Cold Springs and Hurricane near Max Patch – the Big Bend.
The Big Bend received its name due to its location in the section where the Pigeon River makes a great wide bend. From the gap of Mount Sterling you can come down into the Big Bend. It lies in the northern corner of Fines Creek Township approximately four miles from the Madison County line, eight miles northeast of Max Patch, and seven miles from Waterville coming up the Pigeon River. The Big Bend area is 35 miles from Waynesville, NC and 25 miles from Newport, Tennessee, and in some places cliffs rise approximately 500’ above the river. Beautiful waterfalls, pools, trees, ferns and vines bearing beautiful flowers accent this area’s wonderful scenery, and it must have been one of the most beautiful sections of the ancient forest.
For one hundred years following the first settlements, lack of transportation and communication isolated the Fines Creek area from business centers and limited the strictly rural people to slow business growth. There was no piling up of great fortunes, but a spirit of thrift and rustic enterprise possessed the staid and tried inhabitants of the hills. Unlike today, it was a perilous task to get a load of produce to market over the rough mountain roads and wealth was typically measured in undeveloped mountain land.
Tobacco and beef cattle were the most important industries when Fines Creek was first settled and for many years afterwards. Apple, pear, peach and cherry trees were plentiful. Grapes, blueberries and strawberries grew wild. Nearly every farm had from one to five milk cows, and every family raised hogs for meat and lard at one time. Food was usually plentiful. Now only one dairy remains in the area, and there are very few hogs.
Prior to World War II, trade was mostly by barter because money was hard to obtain. A cradler would earn the sum of one dollar, the highest farm wages paid, for 10 hours of work a day gathering crops. Ordinary labor was 50 cents per day. In the fall when hogs were killed, a man would kill and dress a hog for the hog’s head.
Original Land Grants
Flourishing settlements were built in Fines Creek prior to the 19th Century. Among the earliest settlers were David Russell, Hughey Rogers, John Ray, and John Penland. David Russell secured large grants on Twelve Mile Creek in 1796. Hughey Rogers opened up large boundaries in the same area. John Penland bought lands on the west fork of the Pigeon River a few years before obtaining land grants in Fines Creek. John Ray came from Wilkes County and occupied a large grant on Panther Creek a year or two before the settlements in that section were made. These four men at one time owned most of the land in Fines Creek Township.
Wesley Yarborough was one of the early settlers of Panther Creek. He and his son Billy were the first tobacco growers at the Yarborough place on Upper White Oak, when it was separated out of Jonathan Creek Township. About 1918, Billy Parkins of Panther Creek was one of the first tobacco growers in the Fines Creek Township. Tobacco was hauled in an ox wagon and took three days to get to the Asheville market. Bright tobacco averaged 18 to 20 cents per pound near the close of the 19th Century. After that tobacco prices got so low many quit growing it.
The first land speculator on record is Sam McGaha, who obtained a deed for 100 acres in February of 1857. His settlement was reached on foot or horseback by two rough, steep trails – one came across the mountains from Big Creek and the other was down a ravine from Hurricane. The Pigeon River gorge was the roughest, most isolated, and inaccessible section of Fines Creek until Interstate 40, finished in 1968, cut through the area. Some families settling in this area before the Civil War were likely squatters on the Love speculation land, also known as the Allison Grant.
Education Comes With The 20th Century
At the turn of the 20th Century, there were about 35 to 40 people in the Big Bend. After the power company came that number increased to 50 or 60 people, or about 12 families; among them the Brown, McGaha, Packett, Grooms, Price, Henderson, Gates, and Hicks families. Although conditions were tough the people living in the Big Bend remained. The number of families increased until there were about 75 to 80 children. Many of these people grew up without any knowledge of the law. They had no roads, no store, no church or Sunday school, except for Miss Odum, a missionary of the Salvation Army. In the early 1900s, there was a school for four or five weeks a year located on the side of the mountain on the trail leading to the gap of Mount Sterling.
After Boyce Lumber Company moved out, a school was held in their Commissary building. Hunters also used this building until 1940 when it was torn down. The school property was auctioned off on Haywood County Courthouse steps to Harry Clay, Glemi Hipps and Jonathan Woody in 1940. They sold shares to five additional people: Mark Ferguson, Faraday Green, Charles McCrary, Fred Safford, and Jack Messer. All of these people are now deceased. Of those who did not sell their share, heirs now own this property.
About twenty schools were scattered over Fines Creek Township and their locations have been identified, but the schools no longer exist except in the minds of those still living that attended them. They were the forerunners of the modern schools and gave way to changing needs and changing times.
In 1926 Fines Creek Township and a portion of White Oak were consolidated into a special school-taxing district. The new district gave pupils access to one of the five standard high schools in Haywood County. Districts were numbered without regard to Townships. At the same time a bond issue of $30,000.00 was voted to erect a high school in Fines Creek, and that school opened in the fall of 1926.
When the school opened, Marion M. Kirkpatrick, Norman C. James, Cauley Rogers, Herman Holder, and Joe L. Teague were the first school committee. School committees were appointed by the Haywood County Board of Education. They served as an advisory group to the Principal, local school staff, Superintendent, and the Board of Education. This group looked after the buildings, assisted in routing the buses, and offered advice on maintenance problems and other business affairs of the school system. Approximately 75% of the students were transported to school on a bus. Bus drivers were responsible for discipline on the bus.
In 1947 Mark M. Ferguson replaced Norman James and Jim McElroy replaced Herman Holder on the committee. At that time, 496 students were enrolled. Of those students 114 were high school and 381 were elementary students. There were 19 classrooms, including a library. The faculty was composed of 15 teachers, ten of whom had finished high school at Fines Creek in the last ten years, graduated from college, and then came back to teach at the school. All but one of the teachers had earned an “A” Certificate.
Fines Creek school survived until 1966 when the high school portion was incorporated with Tuscola High School in Lake Junaluska. One grade at a time was relocated to Waynesville Middle School until, in 1994, there were only four grades left. At that time new elementary school in Crabtree serving Crabtree, Iron Duff, Fines Creek, Panther Creek and White Oak was completed and the four remaining grades in Fines Creek were moved. The Fines Creek community now has a twenty-year lease from the Haywood County Commissioners on the two remaining school buildings and the cafeteria.
An in-depth description of these schools can be found in “Haywood County Schoolin’: A Rich Heritage”, published in 1991. That book can be found in the Haywood County Library system.
Industry and Fines Creek Water Power
The use of the water in Fines Creek has always been an important part of life in the community. Waterpower was developed on many of the creeks to run gristmills in the early part of the 19th Century. The roller mills displaced the old rotary stone process of grinding before 1890. Most commercial mills used them at that time. The use of rotary stone mills for small unit and custom milling continued into the 20th Century. In Fines Creek this old process of milling was in use for at least one hundred and fifty years until the introduction of roller mills. The bottom stone was stationary and the top stone was rotated at proper speed by waterpower or other mechanical means. In the 1920s and the 1930s there were two mills in Fines Creek. One was below the converging of Cove Creek and James Branch, where Ferguson Supply is now located. The millrace that carried the water to turn the wheel had fallen in disrepair and was abandoned. The other was on Fines Creek in the curve above the Fines Creek High School. It belonged to, and was operated by Mr. Gaston Ferguson. That mill continued to serve the citizens of Fines Creek into the 1950s.
In 1905, B.J. Sloan and others built a hydroelectric power plant on the Pigeon River. That power plant furnished electricity to Waynesville and Canton until the Phoenix Utility Company built the dam called Hepco near the mouth of Big Cataloochee Creek.
The Walters Dam was started in 1927 and was completed in 1930. The project was started by Carolina Power & Light and was completed by its affiliate Phoenix Electric Co. The Carolina Power and Light Company established the community of Waterville at the mountain’s northern base, near the confluence of Big Creek and the Pigeon River. Waterville provided the labor force needed to operate the company’s Walters Plant, which housed the powerhouse for the Waterville Lake reservoir further upstream.
The concrete arch dam is 180 ft high by 800 ft long, impounding the Pigeon River, near Interstate 40. The brick powerplant actually stands 6.2 miles from the dam. A tunnel 6.2 miles long stretches north from the dam to the power plant, near the state line. The dam is now owned and operated by Duke Energy as an active hydroelectric facility, producing an average of 112 MW annually.
In 1980, Walters was designated a N.C. historic civil engineering landmark for its unique and pioneering design.
More than 130,000 people annually use the scheduled water releases from the plant for recreational activities such as white water rafting and kayaking.
This added many thousands of dollars to the prosperity of Fines Creek Township. In 1935, Fines Creek was not only the largest township in Haywood county, but was one of the wealthiest and most progressive. The tax valuation at that time was $3,201,940.
When World War II began, many young people left Fines Creek to find work and did not return. In 1947 several families moved away: Norman and Nellie James, Steve and Thelma Ferguson, D. Reeves and Lucile Noland, John and Martha James and others who had been the mainstay of the school, church and community.
Since 1995, people have been moving to Fines Creek faster than we can learn their names or where they live. Fines Creek Township today continues to grow, and with the help of the local community, as well as state and corporate grants, also helps its local families. Every year in late summer the community hosts one of the finest Bluegrass Festivals in the country, drawing visitors and viewers from states near and far. Fines Creek Township is a great place to visit and to live.