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Remembering the Mountain Lily

leah kirk

                According to Daddyboy, growing up he spent a lot of time with his father catching sauger along Rankin Bottoms and other locales on the French Broad River. The biggest of the headwater flows that form the Tennessee River, the big Frenchie drains significant portions of North and South Carolina before tumbling into Tennessee near Del Rio in Cocke County.

                Daddyboy likes to tell about taking a ride on the Mountain Lily, a 90-foot-long, two-deck excursion built in 1981. Owned by a group called the French Broad Steamboat Company, the plan was to ferrying passengers and freight from Asheville to Horse Shoe to Brevard. Quite a lovely riverboat, it was gleaming white with green trim and sporting two staterooms each with a capacity of 100. She was 55 feet long and 18 feet wide, and had a draft of more than three feet.  While it looked like an old fashion, side wheel river steamboat, the Mountain Lily was powered by two 12-horsepower motors.

                The owners of the Mountain Lily claimed that it was "the highest boat line in the world," as it operated at an altitude of 2,200 feet. Unfortunately, the French Broad River is notorious for its shallow shoals and abundance of underwater hazards that are perilous navigational impairments during periods of low water. After a couple of years of service, like its eastern North Carolina counterpart, the CSS Neuse, the Mountain Lily met its fate by running aground not far from where it was constructed.

In quick order salvagers descended on the hapless Mountain Lily.  Her lumber was used to construct Riverside Baptist Church in Horse Shoe where the boat’s bell was installed. The two engines that powered the river boat wind up at a local sawmills to power huge circular-tooth saw blades. Today all remains of the Mountain Lily is one of the most interesting stories about the modern history of the Big Frenchie.

Long gone are memories of when Dandridge, Tennessee was an important riverboat port, or the days when paddleboats routinely made it all the way up the Nolichucky River to Erwin, Tennessee. Heck, few people even remember when the city officials of Erwin executed an elephant off of the bridge there over the Chucky, an act Daddyboy claims he was not associated with. Southern river lore is interesting to occasionally recount.