Mountain Region Towns
At the westernmost end of Highway 64 is the town of Murphy. While the name may be familiar to some because of its association with Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber who hid in the Appalachian town for five years, Murphy’s 1,700 residents and visitors have more to say of the town’s notability. Murphy is located at the intersection of the Valley River and the Hiwassee River at the mouth of a foothill’s gorge, a geographical feature that makes the small town unique.
In the 1800s, Murphy was along the Unicoi Turnpike, a trading path connecting Cherokee lands east of the mountains to those west of the mountains in Tennessee. When the Indians were removed and transported along the Trail of Tears, the U.S. Army took over the area and built Fort Butler as a collection site from which the Cherokees were transported.Today, the town acts as the home base for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and houses the Cherokee County Historical Museum which contains over 2,000 artifacts from Cherokee Indians in the region.
The town’s industries include manufacturing, construction, retail trade, public administration, accommodation and food services, and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, which are listed in descending order of prevalence and economic influence. Murphy is slowly becoming a cultural hub for western North Carolina, highlighting musicians, artists, dancers, and more in the area. Tourism in the town has increased in the last ten years and continues to increase as industries grow and word of the culture spreads.
With a population of just over 1,100 in just six square miles, the town of Highlands is more densely populated by forestry and water sources than people. The town’s geography is defined by these water sources; small creeks and streams pervade the landscape, though the two main rivers flowing through the county are more influential. The Cullasja River originates in Highlands and is a tributary running into The Little Tennessee River, which connects Highlands to its neighboring town, Franklin. The Little Tennessee River flows from Lake Sequoyah, a manmade lake fed by Mirror Lake and the surrounding creeks and streams. This river system compliments the waterfalls in the area, including: Bridal Veil Falls, Cullasaja Falls, Glen Falls, Dry Falls, and Quarry Falls.
The town’s history dates back to 1875 when two Kansan developers, according to legend, drew a line on a map from New York to New Orleans and another from Chicago to Savannah. They predicted those routes would become major trade routes and identified the intersection, modern day Highlands, as a great population center. A health and summer resort was built at the highest crest of the plateau, around 4,000 feet above sea level, and attracted visitors for years following. In the 1920s, the Cullasja River was dammed, which created Lake Sequoyah and, consequently, another incentive for people to visit the small mountainous town. The town remained unchanged until the 1970s, at which point multi-family homes and shopping centers sprang up. Before the development altered the town’s landscape drastically, land use plans and zoning laws were put in place to protect Highlands’ natural resources.
Today, Highlands is the perfect mountain getaway with many residents being second-home owners. Businesses are all unique to the area, even restaurants, as there are no chain restaurants allowed within the town limits. Other than vacation tourism, one of Highlands’ key economic boosters is the large number of weddings that take place in the area due to the incredible mountain backdrop.
Franklin is known for being the county seat of Macon County and, more notably, the Gem Capital of the World. The town’s geography is similar to that of other mountain towns; it is characterized by the mountain scenery, waterfalls, and rivers, and lies within the Nantahala National Forest, the largest national forest in the state of North Carolina. What makes the town unique is the abundance of minerals and gems, including rubies, sapphires, and garnets.
The Cherokee Indians referred to Franklin as Nikwasi, or “the center of activity”. It was an ancient and important town to the Cherokee, but, in 1819, the town was opened up for pioneer settlement through the treaty that also opened up Cashiers. Franklin was part of the treaty made with the Cherokee Indians in 1819 that also opened up Cashiers for pioneer settlement. Almost a decade after the land was acquired, in 1828 the town was made the county seat; it was officially incorporated in 1855.
Today, the town is home to nearly 4,000 residents that love living in such a classic small town. The economy thrives off both small local businesses and high numbers of tourists. Trade is also a massive industry in the area, and Franklin is actually known as the trade center of Southwestern North Carolina. The combination of locals, business-owners, and tourists make Franklin what it is today.
Brasstown is a small community of 12 square miles located in Clay County, North Carolina. It is nationally recognized for its John C. Campbell Folk School, which was founded to “nurture and preserve the folk arts of the Appalachian Mountains.” The town also offers activities such as antique shopping, boating, fishing, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, and shopping. Brasstown is the perfect mountain getaway. It’s motto, “I sing behind the plow,” and other facts about Brasstown can be found on their website.