The original settlers of the Stecoah Township area had to be a hardy stock, interested in both education and religion. Some of them walked as much as eight, and possibly ten miles to attend church; and the number of teachers who came to the community, plus those produced by the community, is a strong indication of the early interest in schools. Among the names of the early comers were Crisp, Cody, Taylor, Gunter, Jenkins, Lovin, and Medlin.

The first church attended by these original settlers (until 1849) was located near the Little Tennessee River between the mouth of Stecoah Creek and the mouth of Panther Creek. Apparently the area along the river was settled more rapidly than the areas farther up the creeks, thus the early establishment of this church. "Wash" Carver, 92-year old resident of Panther Creek, stated that he attended both school and church here as a small boy. It was conveniently located for the early settlers of Stecoah, Tuskeegee, Sawyer's Creek, Panther Creek, and also for the people across the river in the Ecola and Chambers' Creek settlements.

In attending this church the people, instead of going to the mouth of the creeks and following the river, chose a closer way across the mountain. Thus the mountain between Stecoah Creek and Panther Creek is to this day identified on Forest Service maps as Meeting House Mountain. Also a branch nearby is still known as Meeting House Branch.

The late Manoes Crisp (1846-1924) told many interesting stories in his later years of early life in the community. Of the early church goers, he said, "The women would put dinner on the fire soon after breakfast. There were no stoves. Then they would walk to church on the Little Tennessee River, attend service, and be back home for dinner. Dinner would be cooked." Evidently the people were not only good walkers but the women were also good at gauging the time it took to cook a meal on the open fireplace as well.

When Manoes Crisp grew to young manhood, he became a Civil War soldier, casting his lot with the Union. When he came home after the war, he returned to school under a new-comer, Joshua Edwards, and later became a teacher himself. Through the remainder of his life, Manoes Crisp was a highly respected leader in community affairs, especially in school and church work. Not only did he himself become a teacher, but four of his sons after him. One of his sons, C. C. Crisp, taught thirty-eight years, living most of the time at home and frequently walking five or more miles to his school. His last teaching was done in Cable Cove. Even at this advanced age, he walked to his work a part of the time.



By 1849 there were enough people in the valley for the community to have a church of its own, and in that year the Stecoah Missionary Baptist Church was organized. The building was erected on what came to be known as the Joel L. Crisp farm, later owned in part by Billy Holder.

The church was located not only about the center of the valley but also about the center of the population and community activity, being also near the intersection of the road leading to Wolf Creek and Panther Creek. In addition, as the custom seemed to have been in the western counties, the building was also used for a school. Thus the first church in Stecoah Valley was also the first school in the Valley.

Little is now known about teachers and preachers (or teacher-preachers) who came to the valley between 1849 and the early 1860's, But Manoes Crisp spoke of one of the early teachers in his life whom he admired. "Why, he would even teach you to laugh," he said. And he explained spelling and pronouncing each syllable in succession, followed by an example of laughing out the phrase. Also Thomas Medlin, preacher-teacher, may have taught before the Civil War. It was known that he was in the valley in 1845, a year in which he helped dig a millrace near the present high school. The race changed the course of the stream for nearly a mile, giving the Dry Creek, community its name.

Knowledge of some of the teachers and teacher-preachers who taught and preached in the "old" building on the Joel L. Crisp farm has been handed down. At least two citizens went to school there: Martin Jenkins and Elizabeth (affectionately called Lizzie) Jenkins. A few of the teachers lived into this century and are remembered by people still living.

Thomas Medlin was one of the earliest teachers. It is possible that he was a product of the valley since, as mentioned, he was here in 1845. Records also show that he was here in 1872 at the time the county was organized. He was active in community and county affairs. One former student, the late Miller Edwards, spoke of him as being a respected teacher. However "Tom" Medlin later moved on to Texas; he returned to Stecoah in the nineteen-teen's, when he was an old man, to preach again to his friends of the valley, but after a few months, he returned to Texas.

Another teacher-preacher was Joshua Edwards. Born and educated in Northeastern Tennessee, he moved with his family to Clay County before the Civil War. After having taught in Clay and Cherokee Counties and north Georgia for a number of years, he moved to Stecoah about 1864, where (except for a few years) he spent the remainder of his life. He died in 1885.

Perhaps one of the most capable and best-trained teachers of the early period was Charles C. Randolph, or "Charlie," as the people of the community came to call him. He came to Stecoah in the late 1870,s or early 1880's, married a local girl, and lived here until his death in 1892. He gave very little information about himself other than that he was from Virginia and that he was a graduate of West Point. He was a tireless worker in both school and church, but no one ever knew why this brilliant man left his native state and came to what was then one of the most isolated areas in Eastern America. He died still a stranger as far as his past life was concerned.

Thomas Carpenter of the Sweetwater community was perhaps the last teacher to use the "old" building on the Joel L. Crisp, farm before it was abandoned not later than 1903. Many people still remember Thomas Carpenter as a highly capable teacher and an able administrator. He taught at various places in Stecoah Township.

This "old" building on the Joel L. Crisp farm was used for a church possibly until the late 1890's and as a school until about 1903. However, from sometime in the 1890's to about 1913, a three or four acre tract of land across the community road from the present high school played an active part in the church-school life of the people, especially in the upper half of the valley. More people had settled in the upper limits of the community, and the population center changed. This tract of land was later owned in part by Floyd Cody and in part by Howard Edwards. It lies across the road from Garland's Store and in front of the residence of Mrs. Inez Jenkins. There were three buildings on this tract by 1900, not more than 100 yards apart.

The two school districts were re-united in 1903 on a lot sold to the Board of Education by Jess Gunter. This lot was located about equal distance between the schools in upper Stecoah and the school on the Joel L. Crisp farm. The late Carl Jenkins built a home on the property after its discontinuance.

The first building on the Gunter tract was a one-room structure, long enough to accommodate two teachers. The partition was a curtain. However, by 1919 or 1920 student population had grown sufficiently to require a third teacher; and a three-room building replaced the first on the same lot.

By 1925 people were talking of consolidating the schools in Stecoah Township into a high school located in Stecoah. But consolidation was impossible under existing steep road grades, and the county commissioners began a road-building program. The first section of graded road was begun in 1925, at the Swain County line in the Panther Creek Community and completed sufficiently in 1926 to allow the two Panther Creek schools to be consolidated with the new high school, which was also completed in 1926 on its present site. Within the next three years, roads were completed to Sawyer's Store on Tuskeegee. The two schools on Tuskeegee and the one on Sawyer's Creek were then consolidated with the high school.

During the Christmas holidays of 1930, this school building was mysteriously burned. The old three-room building on the Jess Gunter lot was still standing, and the remainder of the school year was finished there. The high school was rebuilt on the same foundation, and continued operation since that time without interruption until all the county schools were consolidated into just one, located in Robbinsville.

In regard to the church struck by lightening in 1912 or 1913, the members selected a site about a half-mile farther down the valley on a lot secured from J. D. Jenkins. This building served for about 25 years. However, the last hundred to two hundred feet from the road to the church was steep and difficult to climb, and the people decided on a new church. The church, the present one, was built a quarter of a mile away on property donated by the M.A. Crisp heirs. The building is of native stone.

For many years after the collapse of the Free Will Church, there was only one church in the valley. However, in 1958 the people in the Dry Creek section of Stecoah set up their own Baptist Church. It served most of the twelve or fourteen families in the community, and a larger number from outside. It is built of blocks, and stands at the upper section of the community.

In January of 1898, Dan Taylor and Tilman Cody sold to Stecoah Missionary Baptist Church the above-mentioned lot now owned by Howard Edwards. The carpenter for the new church was Dee Owensby, father of Flora (Mrs. Pat) Crisp. However, according to Mrs. Elizabeth Jenkins, there were already two buildings on the part of the land later owned by Floyd Cody. The community had been divided into two school districts, and school was held successively in each of the two earlier buildings mentioned.

The first building used for a school in upper Stecoah, after the district division, was a Free Will Church in the west corner of the Cody tract. Nothing is known now by living people about the establishing of the Free Will Church, but it was dilapidated even when used as a school in the late 1890's, the lower side having to be propped with poles. One older citizen states that it finally fell.

The other building was closer to the new church. It also was used for both church and school until the new church building was completed. In later years it was used for a store by "Black-eyed" Sherman Crisp, a teacher from Caldwell County who married the daughter of Joel L.Crisp and made the valley his home for a number of years. Nothing is now known of the final disposition of this second building. However, it was probably used until 1903, the year when the two school districts were reunited.

It seemed that the new church was doomed to destruction from the beginning. It was to be a two-story building. A severe storm leveled the framing of the upper story, and only one story was completed. This survived until 1912 or 1913. In another storm lightning struck the belfry, and severely damaged the structure. A number of hogs belonging to Manoes Crisp were sheltering under it. They didn't survive. The damage to the church resulted in a new church.

Above, the last Stecoah school - now a community center.

Right, Stecoah Baptist Church



The growth and development of Tuskeegee and Panther Creek closely paralleled that of Stecoah, with Sawyer's Creek being at first a sub-unit of Tuskeegee. The first buildings were used as both church and school. Most of the people were Baptist, the heaviest population was at first in the lower half of the valley, and the community came to be divided into two school districts.

Tuskeegee's first school and church was a pine log structure in the meadow across from the present residence of Jim Bailey. As a small boy, Charles Jenkins went to this school. Later another building was erected farther up the creek about a quarter of a mile below the residence of Fred Higdon. It was commonly called the White School House, and for a while served Sawyer's Creek as well as Tuskeegee. The road connecting Tuskeegee and Sawyer's Creek intersected with Tuskeegee at the Fred Higdon place, passed through the Bill Dean Gap, and connected with the Sawyer's Creek Road at the Ike Sawyer farm, later owned in part by Mertie Carver. Sawyer's Creek students used this road.

Tuskeegee was divided into two districts possibly before 1911. The site for the upper Tuskeegee school was across the south road from the Stiles farm, later owned by Harley Sawyer. The site also was less than a mile from where the road now intersects with Highway 28 at the Tuskeegee Motel. The location for lower Tuskeegee was a mile or less from the Tuskeegee post office on the road leading to Sawyer's Creek and Ecola. There is at least one instance when some of the students of lower Stecoah attended this school, a year in which no teacher was available for Stecoah.

The first church (Baptist) on Tuskeegee that did not include school was built about a quarter mile from Sawyer's Store, and the most likely date is between 1903 and 1906. After the opening of Highway 28, the church members obtained a new location from Harve Crisp on this road. This is the site of the present church. It was built about 1954.

Sawyer's Creek got its first school probably before 1900, but no later. Clyde Sawyer, a resident of Sawyer's Creek, did not go to the white school house on Tuskeegee, but to the first school built on Sawyer's Creek. The leader in getting a school in this community was Dr. George F. Brock, who came to this area from Hominy Valley in Buncombe County. Records show that he bought property here in 1887. The school, of course, was also a church. It was located in what is called the Shooting Flats. A few years before 1927 Dr. Brock was also instrumental in starting a Methodist church, however, this building was never completed as a church. The county bought the property and completed the building for the second school on Sawyer's Creek. It was also located at the Shooting Flats, and was consolidated with Stecoah after 1928.

Panther Creek has had four schools. The sites of the first and one other are now lake bottoms. The first was located just below where Wolf Creek flows into Panther Creek on the Jack Pilkington farm.  Wash Carver went to school here when he was a boy.

A second and probably additional school was established at the head of Panther Creek, near the band mill village. Charles Jenkins of Stecoah was born in this village in 1889, and it is probable that the school was there even before then. As near as can be ascertained, Mrs. Martha Bradshaw went to the "village" school about 1910 or 1911 and two years later at eight or nine years of age she attended a new school established at the upper end of the Jack Pilkington farm. This indicates that the division into two districts took place about 1912.

The school for the lower Panther Creek district was held in the Methodist Church in the area later known as "old" Japan, site of the first Post office by that name. Here the roads forked, one branch following the creek to the river and the other leading to the railroad station at Judson. The building was still used as a Methodist church possibly as late as the early twenties. These were the two last schools that were consolidated with Stecoah High School in 1926.

The first Baptist church not used as a school was located on top of the hill at the cemetery. Roads leading to it were steep, though it was used for many years. In 1917, another church was built at the foot of the hill below the Jack Pilkington farm. Here the road followed the contour of the mountain rather than going over it. This site was flooded in the early forties and the present church was built farther up Panther Creek.  Many of these historic places were forever lost under the waters of Fontana Lake.



The Yellow Creek section of our county was one of the earliest regions to attract settlers. John Hamilton Kirkland (1809-1893) entered vast land holdings beginning with the property owned for over a century by the Crisps who are descendants of the early settler. The original entry extended practically the length and breadth of the valley to near the head of Yellow Creek. The Rev. Isaac Carringer came from the eastern part of North Carolina and possessed the land around and about the property later occupied by Tom Ditmore. With the arrival of the Shopes, Williams, Birchfields, Sharps, Shulers, Sniders, Grants, Andersons, and other energetic pioneers, a thriving community soon emerged. Z. T. Ditmore operated a flour and corn mill during this early period. Pat Jenkins had a general store near the Henry Grant home, and W. M. Barnes was reportedly also a merchant in the Yellow Creek Community. The Garrisons, although arriving somewhat later, soon had the best sheep herd in the entire area.

During the 1850's or 60's a simple log cabin structure was built on what was known locally as Meeting House Ridge lying between the Eben Orr and Pose Turpin properties. This log cabin served as church and school during these formative years with Tom Mashburn recalled as the forerunner of the early teachers and Isaac Carringer foremost of the first preachers. About 1875 a similar but larger log building was constructed near the present church and again served the dual purpose of worship and academics. Oliver Williams served as teacher and preacher in this second log building. In 1910, again at the same site, the county erected a plank building for school purposes; however, when the community agreed to put weather boarding on the building they were permitted again to use the facility for a church. The white weather boarded church was used until replaced by the present brick structure in 1968. With the coming of the new brick building the last of the combination church-school buildings disappeared in the county of Graham thus bringing to an end a distinct phase of our history.

Rev. Plese Green, the grandfather of Rev. I. H. Green, was the pastor of Yellow Creek Baptist in the early 1880's; however, the church was not affiliated with the State Baptist Convention until 1887. During the early 1880's Elisa Garrison established and taught the first Sunday School Classes at Yellow Creek and these may have been the first in the county. Other early ministers leaving their imprint in this section of the county were Bill Pruitt, George Orr, and Sam Jordan. Somewhat later the Yellow Creek Community produced probably the most prominent of all its native Graham County preachers - Rev. B. F. Shope. Rev. Shope, taught to read by his devoted wife, had a strong impact upon religious life in Graham County, Western North Carolina and East Tennessee for many years. He served as pastor of Robbinsville First Baptist longer than any other pastor in its history, 1937-47.

Yellow Creek Church Buildings 1887 & 1968

Rev. B. F. Shope and wife Dedie

Small sawmill on Yellow Creek of the type common in the county in the early 1900's

As the community grew and expanded its geographic boundaries, the school facility in the central part of the community became inadequate and inconvenient. Two one-room schools were then conceived - one at the Grady Myers place and one near the Ross Ditmore place. It was not until about 1939 that these were closed and children transferred to Tapoco School. Many early teachers of Yellow Creek's school are recalled: Ira Garrison, E. C. Cody, Ellen Carver, T. A. Carpenter, Sidney Rose, Brownlow Carringer, and many others worthy of mention.

The Yellow Creek area soon felt the heavy impact of the lumbering industry as various operations set up shop on the Creek. Just about the turn of the century the English Lumber Company began operating a mill near the W. T. Crisp property. A small dinky locomotive fired by wood transported logs up and down the valley to the sawmill over the crude wooden tracks of the tram road. Oxen were used to get logs out of the mountains down to the tram road. About 1909 the George H. Christian Lumber Company set up operations near the Dovie Turpin place with Mack Mullens as mill foreman. Some four years later another of the English brothers bought out the George H. Christian Lumber Company, and moved it up the valley to the vicinity of the Need Williams property.

The Broyhills also operated mills at various places in this section of the county during the later phase of the lumbering movement in Graham County. Once the lumber was sawed it was packed on wagons, hauled through the Yellow Creek gap down Tuskeegee valley and ferried across the river to Wayside. During the period of 1900-1925 practically every family was involved in some way in the lumbering operations.

The information in this Yellow Creek section was gathered largely through personal interviews with Carrie Ditmore Crisp, 91 years old and Tom Ditmore, 83, each having lived their entire life in this community and having seen the community develop into what it is today.