Early Founding History
Old Post Card of Downtown Franklin, NC
Franklin, North Carolina is located in the southwest corner of North Carolina just east of Tennessee and north of Georgia and has a rich history. The present-day site of Franklin occupies Nikwasi, an old Cherokee town. The remains of the Nikwasi Mound can still be seen today near the center of Franklin (please see photo below).
The town of Franklin, North Carolina was officially established in 1855 and is the county seat of Macon, NC.
Macon County is part of lands acquired from the Cherokee Nation in the Treaty of 1819. It is situated in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Macon County was named in the honor of Congressman Nathaniel Macon. Macon served in the American Revolution as did many of Macon County’s founders and their Scotch-Irish Ancestors.
State Commissioner Jesse Franklin came to the area in 1820 to organize and conduct a survey for the county seat and tracts of land to be sold. The town was later named in honor of Franklin, who was to become governor of North Carolina before the year was over.
The land that is now Macon County was originally part of the vast territory of the Cherokee Indians. At one time the Cherokee Nation spread throughout 40,000 square miles of territory which included parts of NC, SC, TN, KY, GA, WV and VA.
Macon County was only a small part of the Cherokee Homeland, but Macon county holds a prominent place in their history. The Cherokee unlike other Indian tribes did not continually wander. They built cabins for winter and summer and had their own republican form of government (please see photo below of an unchanged view a Cherokee Indian might find majestic).
The middle Cherokee being the hub of the strongest Indian Nation in the South, arguably in the entire US could choose to live wherever they wanted. They chose this region for its fertile river valleys, fine vistas, near perfect climate (cool summers and mild winters) trout streams, rivers and surrounding protective high mountains.
The land here is a diverse paradise. A near perfect environment to comfortably advance their culture, families and preserve their freedom. Wise men and women, today, are still discovering these eternal qualities of sanctuary, refuge and peace in and around Franklin, NC.
The Cherokee sided with the settlers in the War of 1812 and sought peaceful remedies to accommodate coexistence after the war was over. An example of trying to conform to the “whiteman’s” way would be in 1827, when the Cherokee Nation drafted a Constitution modeled on the United States with a system of checks and balances. However, despite their best efforts, the Indian Removal Act prevailed with the support of President Andrew Jackson.
After the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress in 1830, most of the Cherokee people were removed from the rest of Western North Carolina and marched on the, “Trail of Tears” to what is now Oklahoma. A small remnant of Cherokees hid out in the mountains until they were finally allowed to stay.
Unto These Hills, Outdoor Drama Cherokee, NC
Their story maybe viewed on summer nights in an outdoor drama called “Unto These Hills,” in Cherokee, NC which is about 45 minutes from Franklin, NC (please see picture above).
Franklin also has unique ties to the Civil War. Thomas' Legion was formed here and the last Confederate surrender east of the Mississippi took place on Main Street at Dixie Hall which was located at the site of the current Macon County Courthouse.
Macon County’s Civil War History is made even more interesting because of the diverse proclivities of the county populous. Macon County first voted against seceding from the Union. Many mountain families in Western North Carolina at this time, especially in the more rural areas, remained loyal “Lincoln Republicans” even after Macon County and North Carolina seceded. Men who were loyal to the Union journeyed over the mountain to East Tennessee to join with the Union forces.
After the Civil War, the loyal Republicans and the “Proud Southern Rebels” lived as friendly neighbors, except during election time. Macon County, unlike many other Southern Counties, continuously had a lively two party political system.
The pride of these early Southerners was gracious. For example here in Franklin, NC, not too long after the Civil War had ended. The Veterans of the “War of Northern Aggression,” invited all Civil War Veterans of the county to their reunion regardless of whether they had worn the blue or the grey.
Life after the Civil War for most families did not change a great deal until after WWII. Country life was made up of mostly subsistence farms, some logging and odd jobs. Most necessities were either grown or made at home. Local merchants, doctors, lawyers, bankers and other entrepreneurs met the other needs of the early settlers in the region. A “treck” into town was usually the highlight of the week for most folks and was usually on a Saturday. Sunday, was and still is viewed as a day of rest and was regarded as sacred by most during these early times.
One industry that made a tremendous and lasting impact on the surrounding high mountains, deep coves and clear streams of the Appalachian Mountains in this area was big time logging. In Western North Carolina and Macon County thousands of acres of virgin timber forests were practically clear cut. In many cases, rivers and natural habitats were virtually decimated by the logging and the railroads that were built far into the backcountry to transport the massive quantities of timber (please see photo below).
The chain of events that emanated from the logging industry, however, continues to play an intricate roll in Macon County. After the huge timber companies and their narrow gauge railways moved out of the area the US Forest Service purchased almost 50 percent of the real estate area in Macon County from the timber companies.
The US Forest Service still controls most of this land and uses it for multiple purposes and functions. Much of the Nantahala National Forest resides in Macon County. Since early logging, most all of the forests have returned to health, timber is harvested properly, the streams are clear and clean again making the forest in Western North Carolina once again a natural wonder.
For example, you might check out the famous Appalacian Trail that whines its way thru Macon County. You could hike or spend a couple of days camping on the trail at one of the many campsites just off the trail, such as Standing Indian here in Macon County, just west of Franklin on highway 64W.
Franklin is also known as the, “Gem Capitol of the World.” There are gem mines and museums here that will intrigue men and women of all ages. Back in the late 1800’s, Tiffany and Company was interested in finding the source of these rubies and gems. They failed to do so and the ultimate source is yet to be found. Rock hunters and rock hounds spend days on end pursuing these treasures, some more successfully than others.
Sheffield Mine is one of the oldest Ruby Mines still in operation in the Franklin, NC. Sheffield mine was once owned by Tiffany and Company, but for the past 60 years or so, it has been available to the public.
Even though this mine has been in operation for many years, "There's still Rubies in them hills." “Honkers” is the term given to rubies and sapphires between 30 and 100 carats. “Honkers” are mined on a regular basis. Just last year at Sheffield Mine a 275 carat ruby, “Super Honker,” was found (please see photo above).
There are several local mines that charge admission. For the more adventureous type, there also numerous "old mines" if you can find them. Some of those old mines are located on public lands. Check with the US Forest Service on their latest policy before you start digging. In addition, there are many resources and books available to help you in your search.
Franklin, North Carolina "a quiet and pretty hamlet."
John Lanman in 1848, a traveler to the region, described the vista here as such, “the little village of Franklin is romantically situated on the Little Tennessee River, it’s surrounded by mountains and as quiet and pretty a hamlet as I have yet seen among the Alleghenies,” (Please see photo above of a distant view of Franklin, NC).
It is hoped by sharing the past with the future, those of you who travel our paths here will carry with themselves a higher purpose.
“Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16