On a recent day off, Tom and I headed to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee. It took us about two hours to get there, but it is a lovely drive through a valley beside the mountains.
Sycamore Shoals is historically important for three reasons. The first relates to Kings Mountain National Military Park, where we worked in 2016. The Overmountain Men who fought at Kings Mountain gathered at Sycamore Shoals before heading over the mountains. As such, Sycamore Shoals is part of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. That means another stamp for my Passport book!
The second reason Sycamore Shoals is historically important has to do with our current park. Daniel Boone negotiated with the Cherokee for the sale of Kentucky at Sycamore Shoals. Of course, the Cherokee didn’t own Kentucky. They lived in North Carolina and Tennessee. So it was relatively easy for them to sell it. This “sale” gave settlers the right to move into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap.
Sycamore Shoals was also important as the site of one of the first settlements in what would become Tennessee. The Watauga Association was formed by a group of settlers in 1772 before the area was annexed by North Carolina. The group banded together under a constitutional government for protection and safety on the frontier.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park has two areas of land, on opposite sides of Elizabethton. Tom and I visited the eastern section first. It didn’t take long because there wasn’t much to see. We walked around the Carter Mansion, the oldest frame house in Tennessee. It was built by John and Landon Carter in the late 1770’s. There was a small cemetery and a DAR marker commemorating the Carter family.
After visiting the Carter Mansion, Tom and I headed to Fatz Café for lunch. Fatz was one of our favorite places to eat when we were at Kings Mountain, so it seemed an appropriate place to go on our pilgrimage to Sycamore Shoals. When we got to the restaurant, we met my cousin Mike Bauman, and his wife, Amelia. Mike and Amelia live about two hours southeast of Elizabethton in North Carolina, so we were meeting them halfway for each of us.
The only problem with eating at Fatz Café was that it was closed when we got there. Several of us tried the front door, because it was supposed to be open. As we were trying to figure out what was going on, the manager came out and said that the restaurant was closed. They were installing a new computer program and couldn’t open until the installation was complete.
Well, darn! We were really looking forward to some Calabash chicken. While Tom and Mike talked, Amelia and I got out our phones to looks for another place to eat in the area. We had been standing there for about 15 minutes and were just ready to head for a Chinese restaurant close by when the manager popped out again and said they were open. Hurray!
Our food was excellent – the Calabash chicken as good as we remembered. We also really enjoyed getting to know Mike and Amelia. They had lived near Baton Rouge for 40 years so they were too far away to know as adults. Aside from spending time with Mike when we were kids, I had only seen him at the funerals of my aunt and uncle. It was good to get to know him as an adult.
After lunch we said goodbye to Mike and Amelia, then headed to the western side of Elizabethton, to the larger part of the park. There was a large and interesting Visitors Center with many displays related to the history of Sycamore Shoals and the founding of Tennessee. The museum was big on color and life-sized replica displays. Each section focused on one person or event in the history of the Shoals.
There were several employees demonstrating living history. I talked for a few minutes to a young woman doing finger-weaving. She said they are usually out at Fort Watauga but it was too hot to work outside. We watched the movie and I got my Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail stamp. Then we headed outside to check out Fort Watauga.
The fort is, obviously, a replica, but it looked like a wonderful place to do living history. There is a large amphitheater just outside the fort for demonstrations, talks, and historic productions. When the re-enactors begin the Overmountain Trail on September 25, they gather in the amphitheater before crossing the shoals.
Tom and I walked along the trails of the state park and paused at the National Historic Landmark sign to see the shoals that marked this historic location. One of the trails in the park goes by the city pool, which looked like a great place to be on a very hot day.
We really enjoyed our visit to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. It is a beautiful place with a lot of history. It felt significant to get to see it and have that history reinforced with the place.