Hike highlights unknown soldier, stagecoach route

Trickling between Old Fort and Ridgecrest, Swannanoa Creek is a natural passageway into the Swannanoa Valley. Over the centuries, the storied tributary has led many travelers into Western North Carolina.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will lead a moderate-to-difficult, mostly downhill, four-mile hike down this path on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, shedding light on the natural, social, and cultural history of this once major artery into the Blue Ridge and crossroads for tourism, commerce – and calamity.

During Stoneman’s Raid at the close of the Civil War, the thoroughfare played a critical role in the defense of the region. Using an ingenious and surprisingly simple diversion, Confederate troops were able to prevent the Union Army from using the route to make its way to Asheville. Participants will hear the full tale as they walk the same route used by the troops more than 150 years earlier.

Near the road lies a mysterious gravestone related to the skirmish. The grave’s occupant is unknown, and Confederate veterans told two conflicting versions of the story, which museum historians will share when hikers reach the site. The gravestone, marked soberly “U.S. Soldier,” is visible alongside the creek, sometimes marked with Confederate flags and Old Glory.

Despite the solemnity and mystery enveloping the creekside, during much of the 18th century the Swannanoa Creek formed the backbone of the burgeoning Western Turnpike, the main pathway in WNC. Starting in 1820, a stagecoach line ran along the road from Morganton to Old Fort, and then up the mountain to Black Mountain along the stream.

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