While researching each individual in my family tree, I always take a little time to research the towns and places they lived too. I find having a basic knowledge of the communities my ancestors lived in provides a better understanding of the lives they led.
I always suspected my Papaw Cochran worked at the Smokemont sawmill in Swain County, because his 1920 Swain County census record indicates he lived in Oconaluftee and worked as a timberman in the logging industry. Smokemont was the closest sawmill in proximity to where the Cochran family were living at the time, so I thought it made most sense that this was the mill he was working for. I never researched Smokemont though, because I didn’t have any proof directly linking Papaw Cochran to the community. It was only last month that I finally found the proof I had been looking for by examining my Uncle Chet‘s death certificate and seeing Smokemont listed as his place of birth. Once I found the proof I needed to link Papaw Cochran to Smokemont, I began researching…
Smokemont is located in Swain County just inside the borders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee and Bryson City. The area was first occupied by the Cherokee tribe who considered the nearby waters of the Oconaluftee river to be sacred. The Cherokee roamed the entire area, but archeological finds have proven that a rather large permanent settlement once existed in the Oconaluftee area. This Cherokee settlement is thought to have been destroyed in 1776 during the American Revolution. Though the Native Americans were effected by the appearance of Europeans, the first European settlers did not begin appearing in the immediate area until the turn of the 19th century. As settlements of Europeans began to spring up in the Oconaluftee area, the Native Americans were slowly pushed on to smaller and smaller territories until the Qualla Territory was established as permanent lands for the Cherokee Nation.
European families began living in the area as early as the 1790s when John Jacob Mingus purchased lands in Oconaluftee. The area became popular after the band saw and railroad made it lucrative for companies to seek out the abundant timber of nearby forests. The only information I have found about the settlement of Smokemont indicates that it was originally named Bradleytown. A community cemetery within the Great Smoky’s still carries the name “Bradley Cemetery” to this day. The name of the settlement wasn’t changed until after the Champion Fibre Company built a sawmill operation there in the early 1900s.
The Smokemont logging community was built to provide the wood necessary to operate the company’s paper mill in Canton, Haywood County, North Carolina. By the early 1920s, Smokemont had grown into a large thriving logging community – complete with homes, businesses, a school, a church, commissary, club house, and even a hotel. At the height of the town’s popularity it was producing 45000 feet of lumber and an equal amount of pulpwood each day.
In the 1930s Champion sold their land holdings in Swain County to the federal government, who wanted to create a national park in the area. After the Great Smoky National Park was established the sawmill in Smokemont was shut down and the families who lived in the logging community were forced to find homes outside of the park’s boundaries. To help beautify the park and create a more enjoyable area, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established at Smokemont. The Smokemont CCC Camp 441 constructed roads and trails in the area, and restored the Mingus Mill. Nearly twenty years later several log buildings were moved into the area to create the Mountain Farm Museum, an exhibit of pioneer life in Appalachia.
By 1939 Smokemont was already a ghost town of Western North Carolina. Today Smokemont is a campground off of 441 just inside the Great Smoky’s National Park. Very little remains of the original settlement – a bridge, the Bradley Cemetery, the Mingus Mill, and the Lufty Baptist Church are virtually the only reminders to show that a beloved community once thrived there.
**The information contained in the Smokemont post came from several websites including: recreation.gov, Wikipedia, nps.gov, and North Shore Heritage Memories.