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Fines Creek History

Let's begin the history of Fines Creek with how it got it's name.  The creek was originally called Crystal Creek and was later called Twelve Mile Creek since it's length is twelve miles. 

In the winter of 1783 the Indians began to steal horses and cattle from the Big Pigeon settlement. Major Peter Fine helped to raise a company of men and followed the Indians across the mountains of North Carolina where they killed one Indian and wounded others. The Indians returned fire, killing Vinette Fine, the brother of Peter. Because there was no time for grave digging, the ice in the nearby creek was broken and the body of Vinette was placed in the creek through a hole in the ice. Before the men could return to retrieve the body, the creek flooded and the body was washed away. It was never recovered. To this day, this valley is known as Fines Creek.

It is from this story we have designed a quilt square as the logo for the Fines Creek Community Association.  See the top of the page.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can begin with the history lesson. 

Fines Creek Township in Haywood County, North Carolina is located in the northern part of the county. Haywood became a county in 1808. Fines Creek was formed from Crabtree Township in 1850. It lies along the valley of the creek from which it got its name. There are about one hundred square miles of territory. In 1930 it had a population of 1,327. Earlier it was known as Crystal Creek, because Crystal Creek occurred frequently in old land grants. Later it came to be called Twelve Mile Creek, since the entire length was twelve miles. Near the beginning of the nineteenth century, its name was officially changed to Fines Creek, because of a singular circumstance occurring on its banks.

At this point, some history on the Fine family is necessary to understand how Fines Creek received its name. Thomas Fine was born about 1725, probably in New Jersey. He died after 1794 in Virginia. He married Agnes Merchant, who was born about 1730 in New Jersey; she died after

1794. They had nine children: Vinette 1750-1783, Phillip 1751-1825, Peter 1753-1826, John 1755-1829, Weden "Wenden" 1757-1787, Euphremeas 1759-1785/95, Elizabeth 1761, Jacob 1763, David 1764-1845. This information was taken from the Thomas Fine descendant's book sent to Lucy Ferguson by Creighton and Lois Fine Depew of Seattle, Washington in December of 1999.

Before the Revolutionary War, the Fine family was living near the Shenandoah River and New Market, Virginia. They followed the general migration pattern of the time, with each generation pushing further into the "wilderness." Peter Fine came to the present site of the county about 1780 and settled on the banks of the French Broad River. There he operated a trading post and was a fur trader. He died in 1826 and a tombstone marks his grave still readable near the location of his ferry. A historical marker on Highway 411 between Newport and Greenville marks the ferry site. This information is documented in Tennessee records.

In the winter of 1783 the Indians began to steal horses and cattle from the Big Pigeon settlement. Major Peter Fine helped to raise a company of men and followed the Indians across the mountains of North Carolina where they killed one Indian and wounded others. The Indians returned fire, killing Vinette Fine, the brother of Peter. Because there was no time for grave digging, the ice in the nearby creek was broken and the body of Vinette was placed in the creek through a hole in the ice. Before the men could return to retrieve the body, the creek became flooded and it was washed away. It was never recovered. To this day, this valley is known as Fines Creek.

Fines Creek was one of the most thickly settled townships in Haywood County. It had some of the best farming land in the western part of the state. Its boundaries are well defined. Beginning at the mouth of Waterville Creek bordering me Tennessee line, it runs with the state line NE by Snowbird Mountain to Max Patch on the Madison County line to Sandy Mush Bald, where the three counties of Madison, Haywood and Buncombe meet From there to the Crabtree Bald and the watershed of Rush Fork Gap, to the mouth of Jonathan Creek at the Pigeon River and down the river to the beginning. It is the largest township in the county except Cataloochee.

We have many creeks, branches and coves in Fines Creek — James Branch, Gibson Branch, Rainey Branch, Cove Creek, Wesley Creek, Turkey Creek, Martins Creek, Wilkins Creek, Upper and Lower Fines Creek, Marred Cove, Sugar Cove, Jesse Cove, Swiss Valley and the Wiggins Bottom are some of the creek names

When Haywood County included all the territory in six other western counties, there were only two voting precincts: Mount Prospect and Soco. Fines Creek was in Mount Prospect. Now we have two precincts in Fines Creek Township - Fines Creek #1 and Panther Creek #2.

Much of the northern and northwestern sections of Fines Creek have been taken over by the National Park for wildlife or game preserves. Most of this land is in Cold Springs and Hurricane near Max Patch - the Big Bend.

The Big Bend received its name because of its location in the section where the Pigeon River makes a great wide bend. From the gap of Mount Sterling you can come down into the Big Bend. It lies in the northern comer of Fines Creek Township approximately four miles from the Madison County line, eight miles northeast of Max Patch, and seven miles from Waterville coming up the Pigeon River. The Big Bend was 25 miles from Newport, Tennessee and 35 miles from Waynesville. The cliffs rise around 500 feet from the river. Beautiful waterfall, pools, trees, ferns and vines loaded with beautiful flowers give this area wonderful scenery. It must have been one of the most beautiful sections of ancient forests.

For one hundred years after the first settlements, because of lack of transportation and communication, Fines Creek was isolated from business centers and confined to the slow business of a strictly rural people. There was no piling up of great fortunes, but a spirit of thrift and rustic enterprise possessed the staid and tried inhabitants of the hills. Wealth was typically measured by undeveloped mountain land. It was a perilous task to get a load of produce to market over the rough mountain roads.

Tobacco and beef cattle were the most important industries when Fines Creek was settled and for many years afterwards. Apple, pear, peach and cherry trees were plentiful. Grapes, blueberries and strawberries grew wild. Every farm had one to five milk cows, and every family raised hogs for meat and lard at one time. Now every house buys milk and butter at the store since there is only one dairy in the area, and there are very few hogs. There was plenty of food.

Before World War II, trade was mostly by barter. Money was hard to get. A cradler would work 10 hours a day for one dollar. That was the highest farm wages paid. Ordinary labor was 50 cents per day. In the fall when hogs were killed, a man would kill and dress a hog for the hog's head.

Flourishing settlements in Fines Creek were made before the beginning of the nineteenth century. Among the earliest settlers were David Russell, Hughey Rogers, John Ray, and John Penland. Russell secured large grants on twelve-mile Creek in 1796. Rogers opened up large boundaries in the same locality. John Penland bought lands on the west fork of Pigeon River a few years before he obtained grants in Fines Creek. John Ray came from Wilkes County and occupied a large grant on Panther Creek a year or two before the settlements in that section were made. These four men at one time owned most of the land in Fines Creek Township. Wesley Yarborough was one of the early settlers of Panther Creek. He and his son, Billy, were the first tobacco growers at the Yarborough place on Upper White Oak, when it was cut off of Jonathan Creek Township. About 1918, Billy Parkins of Panther Creek was one of the first tobacco growers for Fines Creek Township. Tobacco was hauled in an ox wagon. It took three days to get it to the Asheville market. Bright tobacco averaged eighteen to twenty cents near the close of the nineteenth century - when prices got so low, everybody quit growing it.

Families settling in this area before the Civil War were probably squatters on Love speculation land. The first on record is Sam McGaha, who obtained a deed for 100 acres in February of 1857. The settlement was reached on foot or horseback by two rough, steep trails. One trail came across the mountains from Big Creek; the other was down a ravine from Hurricane. The Pigeon River gorge was the roughest, most isolated, and inaccessible section of Fines Creek until Interstate 40 was finished. It is 15 miles from where Fines Creek flows into the Pigeon River to the Waterville Power Plant and the Tennessee line.

At the turn of the twentieth century, there were about 35 to 40 people in the Big Bend. After the power company came, the number increased to 50 or 60 people or about 12 families; Brown, McGaha, Packett, Grooms, Price, Henderson, Gates, and Hicks. The people living in the Big Bend stayed although conditions were hard. Families increased until there were about 75 to 80 children. Many of these people grew up without regard for the law. They had no roads, no schools, no store, no church or Sunday school, except for Miss Odum, a missionary of the Salvation Army. In the early 1900's, there was a school for four or five weeks located on the side of the mountain on the trail leading to the gap of Mount Sterling.

After Boyce Lumber Company moved out, a school was held in the Commissary building. Hunters also used this building until 1940 when it was torn down. The school property was auctioned off on Haywood County Courthouse steps to Harry Clay, Glemi Hipps and Jonathan Woody in 1940. They sold shares to five additional people: Mark Ferguson, Faraday Green, Charles McCrary, Fred Safford, and Jack Messer. All of these people are deceased. The heirs, of those who did not sell their share, now own this property.

About twenty schools scattered over Fines Creek Township have been identified. They no longer exist, except in the minds of those still living who attended them. They were the forerunners. They have given way to changing needs and changing times.

In 1926 Fines Creek Township and a portion of White Oak were consolidated into a special school-taxing district. The new district gave pupils access to one of the five standard high schools in Haywood County. Districts were numbered without regard to Townships. At the same time a bond issue of $30,000.00 was voted to erect a high school in Fines Creek. It was opened in the fall of 1926-27.

When the school opened, Marion M. Kirkpatrick, Norman C. James, Cauley Rogers, Herman Holder, and Joe L. Teague were the first school committee. School committees were appointed by the Haywood County Board of Education. They served as an advisory group to the principal, local school staff, Superintendent, and the Board of Education. They looked after the buildings, assisted in routing the buses, offered advice on maintenance problems and other business affairs of the school system. Approximately 75% of the students were transported to school on a bus. Bus drivers were responsible for discipline on the bus.

In 1947 Mark M, Ferguson replaced Norman James and Jim McElroy replaced Herman Holder on the committee. At that time, the enrollment was 496. Of those students 114 were high school and 381 were elementary students. There were 19 classrooms including the library, The faculty was composed of 15 teachers, ten of whom had finished high school at Fines Creek in the last ten years, graduated from college, and then came back to teach at Fines Creek. All the teachers had an A certificate with only one exception.

The school survived until 1966 when the high school was taken to Tuscola at Lake Junaluska. One grade at a time was taken to Waynesville Middle School until there were only four grades left

in 1994. A new elementary school in Crabtree serving Crabtree, Iron Duff, Fines Creek, Panther Creek and White Oak was completed. At that time the four remaining grades in Fines Creek were moved. The Fines Creek community now has a twenty-year lease from the Haywood County commissioners on the two school buildings and the cafeteria.

If you need an in-depth description of these schools, find "A Haywood County Schoolin" A Rich Heritage, which was published in 1991. It can be found in the Haywood County Library.

The use of the water in Fines Creek has always been an important part of life in the community. Waterpower was developed on many of the creeks to run gristmills in the early part of the nineteenth century. The roller mills displaced the old rotary stone process of grinding before 1890. Most commercial mills used them at that time. The use of rotary-stone mills for small unit and custom milling continued into the twentieth century. In Fines Creek this old process of milling was in use until the introduction of roller mills for at least one hundred and fifty years. The bottom stone was stationary and the top stone was rotated at proper speed by waterpower or other mechanical means. I remember in the 1920's and the 1930's there were two mills in Fines Creek. One was below the converging of Cove Creek and James Branch, where Ferguson Supply is now located. The millrace that carried the water to turn the wheel had fallen in disrepair. It was abandoned. The other was on Fines Creek in the curve above the Fines Creek High School. It belonged to, and was operated by Mr. Gaston Ferguson. It continued to serve the people of Fines Creek into the 1950's.

In 1905, B.J. Sloan and others built a hydroelectric power plant on the Pigeon River, which furnished electric current to Waynesville and Canton until the Phoenix Utility Company built the dam called Hepco near the mouth of Big Cataloochee Creek. The Phoenix Utility Company secured a contract to build a dam at the mouth of
Cataloochee fourteen miles from Waterville, Tennessee. A large tunnel goes through the mountains from the dam to Waterville for seven miles. In 1928, Carolina Power and Light Company absorbed this company. Seven miles down the river was one of the largest plants in North Carolina. It furnished one hundred horsepower of electric current used by NC and Tennessee for electric lights and power.

In 1929 a twenty million-dollar power plant was completed. It was 180 feet high and located twelve miles from the Hepco powerhouse. A seven-mile tunnel, fourteen feet in diameter, runs underneath the mountain from the dam to the powerhouse. The tunnel was cut through solid rock and is nearly one-third mile underground. Lines carried from this mammoth power plant radiate in many directions leading to many cities, towns, and communities. This added many thousands of dollars to the prosperity of Fines Creek Township. In 1935, Fines Creek was not only the largest township in Haywood county, but was one of the wealthiest and most progressive. The tax valuation at that time was $3,201,940.

When World War II began, many young people left Fines Creek to find work and did not return. In 1947 several families moved away: Norman and Nellie James, Steve and Thelma Ferguson, D. Reeves and Lucile Noland, John and Martha James and others who had been the mainstay of the school, church and community.

Since 1995, we have had people moving to Fines Creek faster than we can remember their names or where they live.