Last fall, we went to Canton for Mamaw’s funeral. While we were home, I caught myself playing tour guide for the girls and my cousins. I feel like Mamaw would’ve liked that. She loved the mountains – and she loved having us all together. One of the first places we went was Smokemont. It’s a great spot to see the elk and tell family stories (Mamaw’s family lived there before she was born).
I won’t bore you guys with family tales. At least not today. I will fill you in on the history of Smokemont, though. Which is quite deep & rich considering the town disappeared in the 1930s.
The Smokemont area was first occupied by Cherokee, who believed the Oconaluftee River was sacred. The tribe roamed the Great Smokies, but archeological findings confirm a large, permanent village existed in Oconaluftee. It is believed the settlement was destroyed in 1776 during the American Revolution.
Though the Cherokee were impacted by European colonization, settlers didn’t appear in the region until the early 19th century. As European settlements sprang up around Oconaluftee, Native Americans were pushed into smaller territories until the Qualla Territory was established.
European families began trickling into the area as early as the 1790s when John Jacob Mingus purchased lands in Oconaluftee. This early settlement was called Bradleytown, and the local cemetery is still known as Bradley Cemetery.
Champion Fibre Company
Bradleytown became popular when band saws and railroads made it lucrative for companies to seek the abundant timber of nearby forests. The name was changed to Smokemont when Champion Fibre Company built a sawmill operation in the early 1900s. The sawmill provided the wood necessary to operate Champion’s paper mill in Canton, Haywood County, North Carolina.
By the early 1920s, Smokemont had grown into a large, thriving logging community complete with homes, businesses, a school, a church, commissary, clubhouse, and even a hotel. In its heyday, it produced 45,000 feet of lumber and an equal amount of pulpwood each day.
Establishment of the Great Smokies
In the 1930s, Champion sold their land holdings in Swain County to the federal government, which wanted to create a national park in Appalachia. After the Great Smoky National Park was established, the sawmill in Smokemont was shut down. The families who lived in the logging community were forced to find homes outside of the park’s boundaries.
A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established at Smokemont to help beautify and create an enjoyable park. The Smokemont CCC Camp 441 constructed roads, hiking trails, and restored Mingus Mill. Nearly twenty years later, several log buildings were moved in to create the Mountain Farm Museum.
By 1939 Smokemont was a ghost town of Western North Carolina. Today Smokemont is nothing more than a campground off of 441 just inside the Great Smoky National Park. Little remains of the original settlement. A bridge, Bradley Cemetery, Mingus Mill, and Lufty Baptist Church are virtually the only reminders of the beloved community that once thrived.