At an altitude of 2,150 feet, the little town of Robbinsville has a natural beauty that is still unspoiled by crowds and is truly a rare find in today’s world.
Located in North Carolina, Graham County is closely aligned with the Nantahala National Forest and borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail winds through the county on its trek from Georgia to Maine.
The county was originally named for William A. Graham who was Governor of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator and was formed in 1872. A sparse population coupled with a rather small land area, Graham County only has three communities: Lake Santeetlah, Fontana Village, and Robbinsville, as the county seat. Located in the SW area of North Carolina, Robbinsville township is nearer to the capitals of six other states than it is to Raleigh.
Some time between 1840-1843, Thomas Cooper and Colonel William H. Thomas established a trading post on Rhea Hill on the present Robbinsville school site. A little later Wiley King moved in the area and replaced Thomas in the enterprise, as the store became the King-Cooper.The first post office was established in 1843, and was housed in the King-Cooper Store with Wiley King as the first postmaster. The post office was originally listed as Cheoah Valley, changed to Fort Montgomery in 1849, and still later in 1874 the name was changed to Robbinsville.
Robbinsville’s first court house was built in 1874, but met disaster soon after a sensational murder trial was held and attracted so many spectators that the court house floor collapsed. Court was adjourned and reconvened in the J. W. King Store. A larger wooden courthouse was erected and dedicated in July 1895 and this building remained in use until it made room for the present native stone building, which was first used in 1942. The old wooden courthouse was the last wooden one to be used in
the state of North Carolina.
Graham County is practically enclosed by rugged towering mountains on all sides. The western range of the Great Smoky Mountains separating Graham from Tennessee is called the Unicoi Mountains. The southern boundary is the Snowbird Mountains circling to Red Marble Gap, then swinging northward to Cheoah Bald. The northern border is the Little Tennessee River inundated by Fontana Lake. The Cheoah range and the Yellow Creek Mountains traverse the northern part of the county completely boxing in Graham County on all sides with the exception of the rocky gorge of the Cheoah River below Lake Santeetlah where the Little Tennessee
The town of Robbinsville was duly incorporated in 1893 with N.M.E. Slaughter as the first mayor. His son, R. B. Slaughter later served for twenty-two years as Robbinsville mayor and growth of the town was slow during its early years.
Soon after the county was formed Captain N. G. Phillips came to Robbinsville from Valley River near Andrews and built the first hotel. This hotel was operated for several years and known as the Junaluska Inn. Another hotel built about 1880 was the Love Joy Hotel operated by W. F. Cooper and just before the turn of the century the Slaughter Hotel was constructed.
Transportation throughout the history restricted development of commerce and industry. The roads of today follow many of the paths used by the Cherokee of this once wilderness area. The Higdon Ferry even operated in the early 1900’s until the coming of Fontana Lake to help in carrying lumber and goods to settler’s. The first highway actually was an improvised road through Tatham Gap and was used in evacuating the Indians in 1838. The first Topton road was literally dug out of the mountainside with pick and shovel. The road was widened in the years 1922-1925 and was to proved to be a tremendous improvement over the old Andrews road over which the mail had been carried by wagon for years.
In 1926 the little town experienced considerable growth with the purchase of the Graham County Railway by Bemis Lumber Company and the beginning of a common carrier line connecting with Southern Railway at Topton. The extension of the Tallulah road to Topton, thus gave access to the Murphy Branch Railroad.
One of the greatest celebrations was in 1930 of the new highway connecting Robbinsville with Maryville and other towns of Tennessee. Then Graham County began to emerge from it’s former isolation as more roads were constructed in the 1950’s of the present Robbinsville to Stecoah and Hwy. 28 was built from Stecoah to Fontana Dam. In the late 60’s the highway down Santeetlah Lake was rebuilt as exists today.
Graham County’s economy at one time had deep agricultural roots for county farms that provided chickens, corn, cheese, tobacco, and even Christmas trees. In the early twentieth century, small industrial manufacturers moved into the region with textile plants furniture, and lumber factories that dotted the valleys.
By the late twentieth century, a booming tourism industry replaced agriculture’s importance. Tourists came from near and far to view the county’s mountainous countryside. A popular natural attraction is Fontana Lake with some 25 miles of water to explore. The entire north shore of the Lake is located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Fontana Dam, the highest dam in the eastern United States, was constructed between 1942 and 1944. The various natural and man-made attractions not only lures tourists, but also reels in enraptures filmmakers. Portions of the movies The Fugitive and Nell were shot in Graham County.
Two-thirds of Graham County is National Forest Lands that is home to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and Slickrock Creek Wilderness Area. Lake Santeetlah’s shoreline is more than 75% National Forest and many visitors enjoy the solitude of the lake even on the busiest of summer weekends. Some of the trout streams boast a national reputation and the Cheoah River has first class rapids for the white water enthusiast. Tsali Recreational Area attracts both mountain bikers and horseback riders.
The County has three of the best motorcycle/sports car roads in America. The Tail of the Dragon will challenge even the best riders/drivers with its 318 curves in 11 miles. The 50 mile-long Cherohala Skyway is tamer but offers unsurpassed views of Joyce Kilmer and the Cherokee National Forest. Moonshiner 28 might bring-up an image of the old rum-runners of the past and there are many other roads to explore in every direction.
Robbinsville’s biggest celebrations of the year are the annual 4th of July Heritage Festival and the Graham County Rescue Squad’s annual Ramp Fest scheduled for the last week of April.
The Junaluska Memorial Site & Museum is located at the burial site of Cherokee Leader Junaluska near Robbinsville. His grave is marked with a memorial stone surrounded by monuments representing the seven clans of the Cherokee. The museum is dedicated to preserving Cherokee history and culture with displays that include: arrowheads, spear points and other artifacts found in the Cheoah Valley. Finely crafted artwork by Snowbird Indian community tells a story about the valley, its people, and place in American history as the starting point of the Trail of Tears.
Experience the arts and culture of the mountains year round at Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. Housed in a restored 1926 native rock schoolhouse, the Center hosts many events and enrichment programs for all ages, including the summer concert series, a high-end retail artisans gallery featuring the fine craft of over 150 artists, two annual festivals, classes and much more.
No matter if you stay in a cabin, lodge, hotel, or camp, Robbinsville and Graham County offer fine lodging to stay and enjoy the many adventures you will find on your visit.
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