Family History

26 June 2007

The valleyI arrived in the valley at 2:30am. Ug. I hate traveling.

This family reunion marks the 185 year of Williamses in Nacoochee valley.

In 1820 the US signed a “treaty” with the Cherokee nation wherein the Cherokee “agreed” to leave much of Northeast Georgia and open it up to European settlers. The land was surveyed and a lottery was held. Then in 1822 my great-great-great-grandfather co-led a group into Nacoochee Valley. In ~1830 gold was discovered here and shortly thereafter there was another “treaty” and the Cherokee “agreed” to go to Oklahoma. One of the gathering points for the trail of tears was Nacoochee Valley. Presumably my ancestors were watching.

I remember botanizing in the old gold-fields as a teen-ager. At the time they were pastures with deep pits dug in them; these pits filled with water and had become a series of small deep ponds, an ecosystem unlike any other in the valley. I found my first bladderwort here, only place in the valley I ever saw duckweed. Now these have all been filled in (whether by man or nature I’m not sure), and I am saddened to see that the pools I loved in my youth have turned to ordinary pasture land now.

The house and its fenceMy great-great-grandfather (GWW I) left the valley and moved to Charleston and made his fortune. His sons returned to the valley and built second houses to which they came to escape the summer heat of Charleston. These were originally working farms, but we had to sell the fields during the depression. Now the descendants own the house and part of the mountain behind. We still return to my great-grandfather’s house for the summer.

The night was cool, but it quickly warmed in the morning. I didn’t wake until about 9 when the sun was peeking into the valley (our house is on the southwest side of Lynch mountain).

About 40 years ago I was relegated to the servants’ quarters (we no longer have servants, of course) so I sleep apart from the main house — useful when arriving after midnight. Spring leavesThe leaves are a beautiful fresh green as the sun falls through them outside the window. Eventually I struggle down to the kitchen to get some cereal before my run.

I have a 2hour run today and I worry about the heat.

My 90year old aunts immediately want to know how I think the fence should be painted. Oh, yes, we put in a new fence. In the dark, from the road it looked exactly like the old fence. I didn’t notice. I have no opinion on how it should be painted yet.

Phoebe nestingThen they want me to go look at the Pheobe nesting over the light fixture on the front porch, then listen to the chimney swifts nesting in the kitchen chimney. Then, finally, I can go for my run. (My aunts have rather different priorities:-)

Driveway at Sautee ManorOur driveway is 1/4mile long, a lovely tunnel of hemlock trees that embrace each other over the roadbed, leaving a dark secluded path to run down. This empties into the Lynch Mountain Road, a dirt road that snakes around the mountain, roughly following the Sautee creek as it goes up the valley. This road used to go right behind our house, but my great-grandmother didn’t like that, and had the road moved down into the valley Lynch Mountain Rd.below.

The valley is mostly pasture land at the moment and the road gives a pleasant, shaded (but very hilly) run with vistas across the valley over the pastures.

About a mile down the road I pass my “kissing-cousin”, Liza’s house. Her car isn’t here yet. (technically Liza is not a cousin of mine, her great-aunt married my first cousin twice removed, and then her grandmother bought a summer place here too. The valley has that effect on people). Ah well, I’ll see her later.

Sosbee BarnA little further down the road some cottontails hop away from me. Sometimes I see deer — which feed in the pastures in the early morning — but not today.

I’m now on the southeast side of the mountain, more sun here, and more wildflowers. The phlox is spectacular on the road bank, and the pachysandra is popping out.

Sadly I’ve reached the end of the dirt road and now have to run on the highway. Not a very busy one, thank goodness. Much less shade. Much hotter. I crisscross the road looking for what shade I can find.

I cross the Sautee Creek and come to another intersection, and I loop back down the valley on the other side of the creek. Still hilly, and the heat is beginning to affect me as I go up the hills (I’ve brought water, but not enough. I’m not used to Georgia heat).

Hmm, there’s a new house here. Luckily the valley has not been developed. There are more houses than there were in my youth, but no subdivisions as there are in some of the nearby valleys.

I’ve almost closed the loop when I see it’s been an hour, so I turn back to retrace my route.

I don’t like the heat. The uphills are brutal now. Finally I come to the mountain road and can turn down into the shade.

John’s Branch at the old fordI’ve run out of water, so I stop at a little brook — I press my way through the jungle of leucothoe that guards the stream and drink, and then fill my water bottles. This is a beautiful little stream, I have spent many happy hours here trying to build dams and pools as a boy, and later collecting plants to take back to my garden as a teenager. Luckily the stream has been proof against all my efforts and is as lovely as it ever was.

With the shade and the water I’m feeling better now and finish the last mile.

In a way, I’m lucky to have that shade. In about 1900 there was a lot of timbering on these mountains and most of them were clear-cut. My grandmother used to complain that we didn’t have nearly as nice views now as we used to — there were all these trees in the way.

Myself, I am glad of the trees. About 20 years ago the little community where the highways intersect got a new post office with an extremely bright streetlight (grumble, they don’t need a street light out here), but over the years the trees have grown up and we can no longer see that light from the house.

Rhod. bloomsAfter lunch my third cousin Kendal walks into the house — I hadn’t realized she was around yet, but she’s come up from Houston with her daughter. Kendal has just started swimming competitively and was first in her age group in her last meet. Her daughter turns out to be quite a runner, having done a 62second 400m on her 6th grade track team (that’s about 88%).

Rhod. bloom in the creekWe take Kendal out for a little walk down the Sautee Creek to look at the rhododendrom blooming (mostly on the other side of the river).

Two days later I am to do a tempo run — 4 mile warmup, 4 mile tempo, 4 mile cooldown.

Sprint MistSeveral of my third cousins are staying at Liza’s, and I asked them to join me on my cooldown. Liza has a longer run planned so she won’t, but the husband of one cousin has agreed to run with me.

I’m out on the road at 6:15 or so, and it’s much cooler. Humid though. The mist lies heavily across the valley. I don’t think the sun is up yet. I trot along the mountain road; I’ll go out 2 miles and return (and then repeat for the tempo). I don’t have a very accurate way of measuring 2 miles — the mailboxes are numbered with their distance from the start of the road, our mailbox is 496, so .496 miles from the start. There isn’t a mailbox at 2496 so I have to guess. It’ll do.

I’m using my HR monitor to get the effort, I want to be 165~170. Little low on the first mile but after that I’m more like 175. It’s really hilly. As I turn round the mountain I find the sun has risen. When I finish I’m disappointed to see that these 4 miles take me 29 minutes to run. Oof. That’s slow (for a tempo effort). The hills must be steeper than I thought.

phlox bloom


I guessed that I’d be at Liza’s about 7:30 for the cooldown. Amazingly I am. I’m rarely accurate about guessing how long it will take me to run a complex workout. And there is Brad, ready to go.

🙂 I see a lama cropping the grass by the roadside — one of the farms on the road raises unusual beasts.

The valley has changed a bit over the years. It used to be mostly corn. Now it’s mostly cattle (and lamas). When I was young, it seemed that everyone in the valley was a relative. That generation has pretty much died out, and their children have (often) migrated to the cities. In the 60~70s there was an influx of counter-culture, artistic, hippy types who have made the community far more interesting (to me). There’s the blacksmith down the road, several local potters (I must admit some of whom have been here forever, others are immigrants), John Kollock who makes his living selling water-colours, and the Gourd Girls.

Every valley should have its gourd girls. This wonderful couple moved up here as schoolteachers and found that uninteresting, so they started their own business carving and painting gourds. Always cheerful, always willing to make an appalling pun (“Have a gourd day!” etc.), they have become central to the local community.

Reflections in the poolProbably my favorite run of all starts behind the house and goes straight up the mountain, climbing about 800ft in a mile and a quarter. It’s a lovely run. The trail climbs steeply from the house up to our swimming hole/fire reservoir (It used to be just for our house, but when a volunteer fire brigade started in the valley about 15 years ago we ran a line down to the road and now provide water to the fire department).

Then the trail flattens out and plunges into the woods. There is an old terra cota trough here. I remember when all the water for the house flowed through the trough, and we had to clean the dead leaves out of it every now and then (every day when we were up here in the fall). But when trees fall, terra cota breaks and we lose our water. It became too hard to maintain, so years ago we had to put in a plastic pipe running down the middle of the old trough. This section is almost level — there’s an elevation gain of about 6 feet over the entire quarter mile the trough runs.

FernsAs I go up the trough I get closer to the little stream that feeds it. This stream runs through a mountain laurel thicket which, in some years, is covered in blossoms in April. When the trough joins the stream it opens out into a cove covered with ferns (mostly New York Fern but a few Cinnamon) — a lush green of ferns below and a lush green of maple leaves above. I just love it.

Then the trail starts to climb again, up in to a darker oak-hickory forest. Some years ago I tried collecting the acorns to boil them into palatability — but I never got it to work, and I also tried harvesting the hickory nuts. Now pecans are a variety of hickory so you’d think hickory nuts would be good, but these have really tough outer shells and tiny nut meats, and are just not worth the effort.

Path down to Gunda’s favorite coveI crest the first ridge and the cove below looks like a park. There is no undergrowth and the trees are widely spaced. This was my grandfather’s favorite place. Down into the cove and up the other side.

It gets very steep here, and a little higher up the forest gets sparser and the sun beats down and it’s hot. The pine borers have been hard at work this winter and there are many trees down (which is why the forest is sparse). The path is blocked and I must scramble over tree trunks and through the undergrowth they brought down with them. I can’t really be said to be running at the moment.

Mtn. Laurel in bloom

Laurel bloom (not this year’s)

Another laurel thicket. I can see where the blooms were as the seed pods ripen.

And then a saddle. On the far side of the saddle is a little cove, the only place I know where Grass of Parnassus grows. It doesn’t flower until October though, so there is no point in going there now.

Instead I head up the last steep section. Mostly pine now, white pine on the lower slopes, virginia and some other variety here on the upper. There’s also a scrubby, ugly little black oak that scraggles around in the poor soil.

Finally the last ridge. The trail is almost flat as I head along the ridge line to the summit about 1/8 of a mile away. View from LynchAt the summit the mountain falls away into a cliff face and there is a great view of the valley and the Appalachians stretched out before me.

No rattlesnakes on the rocks this year. Good.

A brief pause to look at the view, and then back down.

This valley is an anchor for me, a place of beauty to which I always return. A place of community I love. It’s not a place I want to live (yet — too hot in the summer), but simply knowing it is there, knowing that my roots are here, matters.

I realize I am almost half a century old now. I’ve watched this valley change for a quarter of the time Europeans have been here. Men have ravaged it. In my own small way I have destroyed parts of it. But it always has recovered (except for the loss of the chestnut. sigh). It retains it hold on my heart.

The Phoebe is still on her nest when I leave.

Morning has broken

Sunset, with fountain


2 Responses to “Family History”

  1. Food « George’s Meanderings Says:

    […] family used to own a farm in the Appalachians. But we didn’t work it, oh no, not us. We had people to do that for us. […]

  2. Kristen Frederick Says:

    Hi George,
    I found your blog when I was google searching the George Walton Williams’ of Sautee. My parents are purchasing one of GWW’s old homes (1876 “Mountain Home” on the Highway 17 side). Anyway, we are quite interested in the history and plan to restore the property. I know my mom would love to meet with people that have stories/old photos of “Mountain Home”. Could you email me at Thanks!!

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