Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Silas McDowell, on Morganton (part 2)

Morganton and its Surroundings Sixty Years Ago, excerpt, by Silas McDowell, c. 1877, manuscript (transcribed by Ann Walker, ©2009)

    ... The young man finished the day by a survey of the town, and first in course way the public buildings which consisted of a shabby, weather beaten courthouse—a frame, weatherboarded structure without paint; and a jail in keeping with it, a mere weatherboarded pen built of hewed logs with a door and two windows like portholes, and secured with iron bars. But as an offset, there was hard by a splendid two story whipping post and pillory.

    The public grounds covered two acres, and facing this was the McEntire hotel, Walton's store opposite, and then, David Tate's dwelling; a rambling frame building, long and lonesome, and suggestive of rats. Tate's was west of the public buildings. John Caldwell's house was north; a white painted house on the corner, and the only clean looking house on the outside of the place ["square" inserted]. The only other house on that side not built of logs was the low frame building in which Col. W.W. Erwin kept a Bank, and his sons and James Avery a store. The next house east was the residence of an old German and his lady (no children), his name was John H. Stevely. His house looked like a barn, weatherboarded, but unstained by paint. These were all the buildings facing the public grounds. The back buildings were these—Dr Bouchell's and Major John M'Guire's. These buildings had some claim to architecturalists, and there was no other house in 1816 wave the one down on the Hunting Creek road, a fourth mile from the Courthouse.

    The youth returned in time for tea and his lady addressed him thus — Young man you have now seen Morganton, and how do you like it?

    "My answer to your question must consist of two declarations that will constitute a paradox," the young man answered, "and will take this shape—Morganton, as the seat of justice for the large and wealthy county of Burke is, decidedly, a shabby town; while Morganton's location as a standpoint to look over the most magnificent valley in the world is the interesting spot I ever beheld, and would bring down the 'bad eminence of a _______!' Your beautiful valley seems as if it was a lovely map unrolled to the eyes of the spectator encircled by a bold framework of blue mountains far away, skirting the horizons, and toward the northwest, and west, these heavy mountains appear to give the horizons an upward tilt, and present many bold, and a few fantastic points, respectively named 'Grandfather,' with the Linville range of mountains, including Table Rock and Short Off, and ranging above these in the distance are seen the Roan, the Yellow, and the Black mountains, with the line of the Blue ridge cruising on southwest. The view south, and east, takes in Digards mountain, the Flint hills and the dumpling shaped South mountains, and these last, you feel like kicking out of your way so as to have one open view commanding the southern plains; and all these constitute the Valley of the Catawba in Burke!"

    "Young man," the old lady exclaimed, "you have the eye of an artist; but how did you learn the names of so many of our mountains?" His curt reply was—"Have been on their tops."

    The young man continued—"Except as a standpoint from which to view the Valley and its surroundings I have, as yet seen but one other object to admire; and upon the whole I have resolved to make some part of Burke County my home for life, and I purpose, on tomorrow, to hang out my shingle as a tailor." "But young man, I'd like to know what other object Morganton holds beside as a standpoint that you admire?" "It is your beauty," the youth answered. The old lady blushed; and was not offended at the compliment, but called him an arch flatterer that would get into trouble before he had lived in Morganton six months," and he did.

    Now is the proper time to stop writing in the second person, and to declare that the young tailor spoken of was none other than the writer of this story, to wit, Silas McDowell of Macon County now in his eighty-second year.