Story and image by Don McGowan
It was in December 1938 that the last logging train pulled out of Tremont bearing to the mill at Townsend trees cut by the Little River Lumber Company along Thunderhead Prong of Middle Prong of Little River.
Tremont had been established in 1925 at the confluence of Thunderhead Prong and Lynn Camp Prong, where Middle Prong formally comes into being. When Black Bill (William Marion) Walker, the first Caucasian settler on Middle Prong, had finally agreed to sell that part of his land to Col. W.B. Townsend, owner of Little River Lumber, in 1918, Walker had extracted a promise that Townsend would not log up Thunderhead. Although Townsend kept his word, there was nothing in writing, and when Walker died in 1919, Little River Lumber began to log the beautiful watershed of Thunderhead Prong.
Eventually, in 1926, Townsend agreed to sell all of his Smokies holdings to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Commission; however, he extracted the concession that he be allowed to continue his logging operations for 15 additional years.
Many years ago I stood on the old steel foot bridge that crosses Lynn Camp Prong, just a few yards up from its junction with Thunderhead at the beginning of the Middle Prong Trail, talking with a fellow who had grown up in Tremont, perhaps a mile upstream from the location of this image. He fondly recalled his childhood, acknowledging, of course, the strength-sapping hard work that was the logging industry, then and now, and the hardships of everyday life.
Remembering that conversation always reminds me of another of Tremont’s citizens, Dorie Woodruff Cope, who also spent many of her young adult years with her family up in the stringtown along Little River Lumber Company’s tracks.
In the wonderful book written by Dorie’s daughter, entitled Dorie, Woman of the Mountains, the lives of those early white mountain settlers come into sharp relief. In whatever light we may regard the motives and actions of the industrialists and barons of commerce—and for whom the land and its treasures were only things to be converted to dollars—we should never forget the countless families who did what they had to do in order to survive and to remain in the mountains they loved.
“When human hubris intrudes on or manipulates the sacred, the consequence is inevitably humiliation. In contrast, a sense of reverence includes the recognition that one is always in the presence of the sacred. To live with reverence is to live without judgment, prejudice, and the saturation of consumerism. The consumerist heart becomes empty and lonesome because it has squandered reverence.”
~John O’Donohue, Divine Beauty
Don McGowan owns and operates EarthSong Photography. For five years he was the staff photographer for Friends of the Smokies. He offers workshops and photography instruction in beautiful locations around the country, including the Smokies.