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“Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community”

leah kirk

“Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community” by Daniel Pierce acquaints readers with this controversial community found with the present day boundaries of the GSMNP. It is published by Great Smoky Mountains Association, a non-profit partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many local bookstores, as well as all National Park stores and, carry the book

Daniel Pierce, University of North Carolina at Asheville history professor, wrote about the most isolated area of the national for many reasons, with his love of fishing residing near the top of his list.

 “I’ve long had an interest in Hazel Creek; it’s an incredibly beautiful place,” said Pierce, who has been known to wet a line in Hazel Creek on more than one occasion. “And I’ve long had a historical interest in a place, which has so many wonderful stories.”

The stories Pierce tells in “Hazel Creek” include characters like Moses Proctor, the first white man to settle in the area who “probably squatted on the land,” secure in the belief that the area’s isolation would prevent the State of North Carolina from even knowing he was there. That isolation began to loosen its grip, however, as others followed, said Pierce, who points out that while “it wasn’t exactly a thriving community, by the 1880s there were a number of families living there. Even before Horace Kephart came, Hazel Creek had really been affected by industrialization.”

What Kephart saw happening in the Hazel Creek community gave him the impression that the area was in decline. That turned out not to be the case, as the Ritter Lumber Company would soon move in, bringing with it railroads and heavy equipment to log the entire region between 1910-20s. The town of Proctor was built for Ritter’s employees, who thrived in the area and numbered around 1,000 at the company’s peak. But as quickly as boom appeared, it went away. By the late 1920s, with no more timber to cut, Proctor was almost a ghost town.

 “When TVA closed the flood gates, they flooded the road into the Hazel Creek area and all the communities on the north shore of the Little Tennessee,” Pierce said. The people living there were moved out, but were promised that a new road would be built into the area. Of course, he said, that began the controversy that’s come to be called the “Broken Promise of the Road to Nowhere.”