- Cruso Valley

History of a Valley by Edie Burnett Cruso community is nestled in a valley encircled by Southern Appalachian mountains that create an aura of a perpetual hug by peaks and ridges. From atop a lofty mountain peak, the panorama would include Cold Mountain, Mount Pisgah, the Newfounds and, in the distance, the Great Smoky Mountains. If only these peaks and ridges could speak, the history of this land could be read as the pages in a book. Scientists tell us that tumultuous eons of earth's upheavals have shaped these ancient mountains, that the appearance of headwaters of East and West Forks of Pigeon was created during an Ice Age cycle in which temperature changes resulted in fast flowing water that eventually refroze, a cycle that caused flooding, landslides, and dislodging of large boulders. Glacial movement is credited for the unique and richly diverse ecosystem of the Southern Appalachian Mountains as forests, plants, animals and aquatic creatures swept along with melting glacial waters. The Smokies have the most biological diversity of any area in the world's temperate zone. Artifacts found in fields and excavated mounds are indications that, early on, all of Haywood County was part of the Cherokee Indian nation. A major settlement some call Kanuga was located on Hwy. 110 at Garden Creek or 'Flowery Gardens,' as old-timers called it. Archeological excavations, the first as early as 1880, of three Indian mounds unearthed traces of dwellings arranged around a central plaza, burial chambers, fire pits, and drainage ditches, along with skeletons encased in thick clay envelopes. Fields along the Pigeon River have yielded pottery shards, arrowheads, tomahawk heads, primitive tools and continue to give up an occasional treasure and Old Locust Field Cemetery in Canton is said to have been a look-out point for the Cherokees. Settlers came, primarily of Scotch-Irish, German and English descent, and cleared land, built log cabins and barns and lived off the land, a hard life. The Scotch-Irish have been described as 'fiercely independent, individualistic, self sufficient, honest, honorable people with the ability to sustain themselves; Deutch settlers were seen as industrious, economical, willing to endure any amount of toil to secure permanent homes or establishments over which they had complete control. All were considered ingenuous and hard-working, essentials for survival in what was then wilderness. Time has not diminished these characteristics. These immigrants brought with them their native speech patterns and old folksy sayings that still linger to create colorful Appalachian language. They brought their music, dance, and customs, enduring characteristics that shape us still. Communities, unfailingly, built first a church and then a school or one building to provide for both. Education and freedom to worship were of major importance. Our culture echoes those of the first settlers who moved into our mountains and called them home. Arriving a with few material possessions, their intangibles, their skills and their characteristics, were packed snugly in minds and memories, and continue to influence who we are and how we live. The Civil War split not only a nation but also Haywood County, pitting friends, even family members, against each other. Men went off to war, leaving women, children, and old folks to carry on at home as best they could. Unlike Charles Frazier's Inman in the novel Cold Mountain, many soldiers did not live to return, even for a short while, to their beloved mountains. (Inman is buried down the road in Bethel Community Cemetery. Inman's Chapel on Lake Logan Road was built long ago by his family, is used only for special events but is well preserved.) Much of Cruso's history was defined by a family intricately entwined in the annals of Haywood County, a family whose men served in the Civil War, placed high priority on college education for both men and women, loved the land, and were involved in county, state and national politics at one time or another. They were Lenoirs, Michals and Gwyns, landowners in the immediate vicinity of Springdale and Cold Mountain. Waightstill Avery of Lenoir, NC, the state's first attorney general, acquired 2,571 acres through land grants and real estate purchases, eventually deeding it to his daughter, Selina Louisa, wife of Col. Thomas Lenoir in 1808. Lenoir, an influential man elected to the NC House of Representatives in 1809, added another 2,000 acres to those given to him and his wife. After Lenoir's death in 1861, his son Thomas Isaac inherited 2,222 acres around the existing farm while son Walter received the remainder of the property where Springdale is now. A graduate of UNC, Thomas Lenoir raised Devon cattle and ran a prosperous farm. One of his three daughters married John McDowell Michal in 1889 and moved with her family to the farm after her father's death. The land is now owned by John Michal's grandchildren, Joseph Michal, Jr. of Greer, SC, and Dr. Mary Michal of Johnson City, TN. Walter Michal attempted to establish a farm like that of his brother Thomas, but he had lost a leg in the Civil War and found himself unable to accomplish his goal. He sold 1,500 acres in 1875 to his uncle, James MacFayden Gwyn, whose wife, Amelia, named it Springdale. Gwyn, a graduate of the University of Virginia, was an organic farmer, ahead of his time, and operated a profitable farm until his brother, an Asheville attorney, lost all the family money (Chatham blankets) in an ill-fated land deal in Florida. Hearing the devastating news, Gwyn suffered a fatal heart attack. His son, Thomas Lenoir Gwyn left medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill to help his mother run the farm and educate his siblings. The Great Depression forced the lease and eventual sale of the farm to New York City's Columbia University. James Gwyn‘s big house, currently owned by Rene and Paul Henson, is listed in the National Registry of Historic Homes. Springdale Country Club was, in the 30's, the rural campus of New York City's Columbia University Teacher's College, called New College. In 1933, the first students and faculty members convened there for an innovative learning experience. High Valley Camp was added in 1934 and Springdale School, in 1937. New College closed in 1939 but both camp and high school endured until the 60's. (Richard 'Dick' Thomas Alexander, Jr., whose home overlooks the golf course, is the son of the New York campus faculty member who was sent in 1932 to find a location for such a school and purchased the Lenoir Gwyn farm for Columbia. Alexander's son, Tom, is Haywood County's sheriff.) Cruso was named by James Riley Trull, a postmaster in the area who was reading Robinson Crusoe when he was pressed for a name for the community. This valley has a long and colorful history. If these mountains could speak, we could rest on a high peak and listen as the rustling of trees, the splash of waterfalls and the bubbling river whisper details of the past. And we would feel as Inman did after his long walk home, that we were home at last.