Stories & Recollections of Etowah . . .
as told by ~ David Saltonstall Mallett
1925 - 2015
A Beloved Summer Place Becomes the Family Home
In the late 20’s my parents got married and [the family] came here each summer. My mother was from Asheville so it was logical to come here each summer. My wife and I came out here from Asheville cause we lived 15 years in Asheville and moved out here in ‘74 or ‘72. In the old days, Etowah was very, very rural. I mean, it was rural. When people wanted to go to Etowah they got on Tom and Jerry, which was walking. They walked to Etowah. You could see it changing from year to year, getting more cars, more people, then in the last 10 years it has been changing day by day. We got two red lights in Etowah. All I can remember was the railroad station, the post office, and Mr. Whiteside’s. When I was a young boy spending the summers here, that’s how I remember Etowah. These roads were not paved. They were dirt. This road, River Road, I was out here and living here and they had to ask me to pave it [before paving it]. It hasn’t been paved that long either.
My grandmother had one car, a Model A Ford. They would go to Hendersonville, maybe once a week or once every two weeks, get the groceries and drive back here and that was it. I don’t think they went to Etowah often, but to get the mail they’d have to go there cause they had no mail delivery.
In the summer my grandmother had a hell of time paying for this place [at Bryn Avon, Mallet home]. There was no income, no money coming in. There wasn’t such a thing as Social Security. She had no husband and all the kids were off somewhere and so she would take in paying guests in the summer. They rented the fields out. All she had was Jason Bell who wasn’t really a real farmer. He knew how to milk a cow and plant a garden, so they rented the land out. A story I was told: [One day] The Circus was in town and he [Jason Bell] walked, we only had one automobile, my grandmother's, and I am sure he didn’t go by himself and he did drive the car, but this time he walked into Hendersonville. He took one look at elephants and it scared him so bad he walked all the way back to Etowah. He had never seen an elephant.
Drexel Road - the Morgans and the Logans
There were a few houses on Drexel [Road]. The first house belonged to Dillard Morgan who was a builder. He was just a carpenter and a bricklayer and everything and he built my barn. We built it together. Then his son, Charlie Morgan, was in construction business.
Further up the road, then to the right there was a Negro [African-American] community. That’s where Clingman Logan was and he had 17 children. His son, Arthur, was our butler here [Bryn Avon]. The road goes up there. They were about as far up as you can get [on Little Mountain].
Arthur Logan, his home was off of Drexel Road. He came over here to work and walked back and forth. There were no buses. Didn’t have a car. Then later he lived on the property [Bryn Avon]. Matter of fact, the place where we have our garden, when he got married, they moved into a little cabin over there and called it the honeymoon cottage. He was like a member of the family. He was the butler and did all sorts of chores. I can remember seeing him kill a chicken when we were getting ready to eat. It isn’t a good thing to see. Even as a boy I didn’t want to kill them. Because, the poor thing, after you wrung its neck it’d still hop around. Everybody knew Arthur Logan. He was a legend around here. He had a way – he wasn’t educated – but he had a way of talking that if he came to a word he couldn’t pronounce correctly he would go around it. But he was something. And when they had his funeral, I think, all the pall bearers were black except me and Charlie Warren.
The Belgian Draft Horses of Etowah
My first draft horse I bought out of the paper. I saw him advertised and I got this little draft horse, I don’t think he was a year and half old, and I raised him and then I said if I’m raising him I’d better get a wagon and another one. So I got two and a wagon, and as many people find out if they don’t know what they’re doin’, they get in trouble. We had a couple of runaways including one where they ran down the road which is Mallett Road, and I couldn’t stop ‘em. My son was in the back of the wagon and he was thrown out and they ended up breaking the tongue and going into a tree and laid me up for a few days. And so, then I said I’m going up to Ohio or somewhere the Amish are and buy some horses that are already broken. That’s what I did. Belgians are what I’ve always had. I found [another] one in the paper and I had another draft horse. I found him in Asheville paper. He was next to Warren Wilson College and he had done some loggin’ and that sort of thing. He was pretty well broke. But this little one I raised, she wasn’t broke at all.
The Old Mill of Big Willow
The mill was on the Hebron Road and later became part of [a neighborhood]. The fellow named Jones had a little development over there that you see from the Hebron Road on the right, you see it. And later it became a restaurant which didn't last too long. But going back to the history of the mill, my father said he can remember riding in the morning with two bags of corn and having it ground, and sitting there and waiting, and then taking it back and coming back in the evening with the ground corn. You had to have some running water, and that is Big Willow Creek. It comes right down there and there's some shoals there and quite a creek coming down there. While the mill isn't standing, you can see where it was. The fellow Jones put a tennis court in there, and it's just before you get to the tennis court.
Frank FitzSimons writes about the old mill in Volume II, "From the Banks of the Oklawaha," Chapter 10, "The Haunted Mill." Here is an excerpt:
"It had been a place to grind corn into grits and meal for centuries. For how long nobody rightly knows; when the first white settlers drifted into the Big Willow River Valley of Henderson County they found the Indians grinding their corn there. This was shortly after the Revolutionary War. Those Indians told that their people had been doing this as far back as the oldest of them could remember." . . . Legend tells us that this first miller was a man named White. He built an overshot water wheel to power a pounding mill. In those early days ships began bringing millstones to Charleston and other Carolina and Georgia ports. There these mill stones were loaded on ox carts. After weeks of plodding over the crude trails that served as roads, the millstones reached Big Willow and they took the place of the slow, laborious pound mills. These millstones offered faster service and a better quality of water ground meal and grits."
Farming - Originally, they all had horses to plow with. You don’t have to go back very far, maybe WWII. Every farm had a horse. If it was a farm more than 10 or 15 acres, you had to have a horse or you couldn’t plant your crops. The advent of the riding horses probably came with people who had money. [Etowah] was a little trade stop and that was it. Mostly farms. Because even then, in this area of the country the mountains were too steep to do any real planting on, so the French Broad River Valley was a sort of a natural for people with farms. I think that is why the Welsh Colony came here. They saw these wonderful flat lands.
Banks Brothers Grocery - The Banks Brothers had a grocery store. That was where I think is now the Etowah Valley Hardware. Banks used to run a grocery store there. Charlie and ? … there were two brothers. I remember it because during the war everything was rationed, and my grandmother was able to get meat because meat and sugar, they were both rationed. Then later on they had a grocery store and a gas station at Horseshoe which became all those restaurants. They were in the road building business, and that’s a tough business to be in. I mean you have to have the right connections or you don’t get the contracts.
Fishin' & Swimmin' in the French Broad...until Ecusta
You could go down and fish and swim. The sandbars of the river, you could almost walk out in the middle of it because it was not that deep. The water was good when I was a young boy. They were just regular old, I think, maybe Bass, but mostly brim, tad-sized. Now they’ve got Muskellunge, though I haven’t talked to anyone who has caught them. They claim the best spot is between this bridge and the other bridge down on 64.
But now as I grew up and then in the 60’s and the 70’s, as I said, you could see, it looked like soap suds coming down and they were from Ecusta. They had some sort of water treatment thing but it was just half-baked. And unfortunately, [some] were throwing in their dead hogs, dead cattle. Most [people] here worked at Ecusta. It provided jobs. The best thing that ever happened. But for me, I deplored it because you could go down by the French Broad River, it looked like soap suds were coming down. Honestly, at one time we used to go down and swim, and after a while you couldn't get near the river.
The Train & Etowah Depot
Even though it sort of looked big, it wasn’t big [the Train Depot]. I remember it was a big occasion when the train came. People were there to get off or get on. The coming of the train was a big event here, although I wasn’t here when it started. The train was somethin’. It ran daily. It was goin’ to Brevard. That’s where it turned around and came back.
[Eventually,] I think Southern Railroad said, “Why are we stopping in Etowah?” And probably it’s because the Postal Service had already, or had decided, they would deliver mail in automobiles and that sort of things. They had trucks to deliver the mail to the Post Office and then deliver it by automobile. And then when the Postal Service told the railroad they were no longer going to pay for this stopping, I think that did it, and people weren’t paying to ride any more. So you might say, the advent of the automobile made it sort of unprofitable. Was it the hub of the community? Everybody who wanted their mail had to go there or to send something they had to go there. So in that sense, it was.
Bowman's Bluff and the Welsh Colony
There are two Welsh houses standing [today]. This is one [Bryn Avon] and the other one is Mr. Holmes’ house [French Willow Farm]. Everybody thinks it belongs to Dr. Cummings because Cummings Cove Road comes in there. But it didn’t. It was Mr. Holmes that was the Welshman. Well it’s on the French Broad. It’s a big house. It is exactly where Cummings Road intersects with Big Willow and Hebron [aka French Willow Farm]. Mr. Holmes had a son who became our state forester and for whom Holmes State Forest is named. [John Simcox Holmes, first state forester in 1909]. Then after Mr. Holmes, Dr. Cummings came, and Dr. Cummings wasn’t a real doctor. He was like Dr. Grove. He was a patent medicine doctor, which was about 60 percent alcohol, which made them feel good. So, then, Dr. Cummings sold to Mr. Ives and it was called Ives Dairy farm. Mr. Ives had a big dairy farm right outside of Miami, down in Florida. Every year he would sell off 20 or 30 acres in Miami and then he would buy 20 or 30 acres on the other side and became wealthy. He was bad to drink too. One day I looked over there right in the middle of the field was his Cadillac. He just drove it right into the field and went to sleep.
~ David S. Mallett, b.
[ Around 1880, a colony of sixteen families built homes in the neigboring community Bowman's Bluff in Big Willow. The families were from Wales, Derbyshire, and Southern England. They are commonly called "The Welsh Colony." ]