COWEE WEST'S MILL NATIONAL HISTORIC DISTRICT
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"This settlement is esteemed the capital town; it is situated on the bases of the hills on both sides of the river, near to it's bank, and there terminates the great vale of Cowe, exhibiting one of the most charming natural mountainous landscapes perhaps anywhere to be seen" - From William Bartram's Journal, May 1775
The Cowee-West's Mill National Register Historic District is among the richest in the nation. In the mid-18th century Cowee and the Little Tennessee River Valley was the central stage on which would determine the future of two nations. Cherokee and American. The 370 acres in this historic district contain thousands of years of history and continues to resonate in the spiritual life of the Cherokees.
Cowee was the principal diplomatic and commercial center of the 18th century Middle Town Cherokees. Occupying the center of Cowee was the ancient mound on which stood the council house which seated several hundred people. From there houses lined both banks of the Little Tennessee River and plantations of corn, beans, squash and peaches extended out for two miles in all directions. A smaller Cherokee village, Usinah, was located at the eastern end of the historic district.
In the final action of the Cherokee wars, as the 1759-61 conflict was called, a british-led army destroyed Cowee and Usinah. Colonial soldier Frances Marion (later of Swamp Fox fame) described the "cruel work" of the army. The Cherokee made peace with the British and Cowee was rebuilt only to become the target ,in September of 1776, of the first military campaign of the American Revolution in the South. The decisive "Indian War" of 1776 was even more brutal as thousands of poorly governed troops from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, launched a preemptive, scorched-earth attack on Cowee and surrounding towns. With Cherokee defeat, a feared Cherokee-British-Slave alliance was defused, and the Revolutionary War began in full. Later, the colonial armies which marched on Cowee formed the core of that which defeated the British at Kings Mountain and Cowpens in 1780, turning the tide to victory in the American Revolution against the British Crown and their native allies. War with the Cherokees would continue well into the 1790s, but the seeds of Removal were sown in 1776 in the ancient fields of Cowee.
When Cowee became part of the State of North Carolina in 1819, many Cherokee sought title to their land in one last effort to hold their homeland and their sacred places. While most were forcibly removed on the trail of tears in 1838, some of the "Citizen Cherokee" of Cowee formed the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
Movement into the area increased around 1820 when William West took title to the land along Cowee Creek. West's Mill was named for the grist mill built by the West family. Stores, schools, churches, and a post office were built during the 19th and early 20th century many of which still stand today.
At the time of the American Civil War, Cowee was home to both free blacks and slaves, and in the census of 1900 Cowee had the largest rural, black community in NC west of the Balsam Mountains. Their history can still be traced to the small Pleasant Hill AME Church & Cemetery in the northeast corner of the historic district.
West's Mill thrived through the 1st half of the 20th century, with most residents farming, mining, or logging. During the Great Depression a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was located in West's Mill with men working to restore newly-constituted National Forest lands. In the 1940's, the Art-Deco influenced, Cowee School was built of local stone on the CCC camp site under the Work Projects Administration (WPA), and remains one of only two WPA built schools still in operation in the country.
With man-made structures dating back 1,400 years, Cowee is more than just a significant historical area. Cowee mound, built in 600 B.C., before the Cherokee period, is one of the few remaining earthen mounds. There are two archeological sites along the west bank of the Little Tennessee River where prehistoric ceramics were collected. The ceramics, collected in 1965, are now at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
LAND TRUST FOR LITTLE TENNESSEE PRESERVES RICKMAN STORE
The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee has purchased one of the best known and most beloved historic buildings in the Cowee Community of northern Macon County, the old T.M. Rickman General Store. Thomas M. "Tom" Rickman operated the business for nearly 70 years, selling dry goods, groceries, clothes and hardware.
John Hall built the store in 1895 and it initially bore his name. Rickman bought the establishment from W.H. Bryson in 1925. Rickman operated it as a general store until his death in 1993, during which time the building became inextricably linked with the spirit of the community.
Through Thanksgiving 2007 you're invited to share memories, learn about the rich history of the Cowee Community and enjoy fellowship each Sunday at the Rickman Store. The store will be open from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m (Sundays only).
To get to the T.M. Rickman General Store follow Route 28 North of Franklin to Cowee Creek Road. Turn right onto Cowee Creek Road just past Cowee Baptist Church. The general store is approximatley 1/4 mile on the right.