Mainspring Conservation Trust recently acquired 40 acres in Macon County that holds considerable cultural heritage significance.
The property, just north of Franklin and south of the Little Tennessee River, is viewable from Scenic Hwy 28 and includes Watagua Mound and a portion of historic Watagua Town. One of the ancient Cherokee Middle Towns, Watagua Mound is located between Nikwasi (3 miles upstream in modern Franklin) and Cowee (4 miles downstream).
Richard Sneed, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said the site is an important part of Cherokee heritage and the heritage of North America. “For a thousand years – all over these mountains and surrounding areas – there were many platform mounds with great Cherokee townhouses on their summits,” Sneed said. “These monumental structures were the center of the community, in the same way that today’s Council House is the center of the community.”
“The Watauga Mound is a very important cultural site in the Cherokee heartland of western North Carolina,” says Dr. Ben Steere, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Western Carolina University and director of the Cherokee Studies program. “Archaeological and historical research indicate that Cherokee and their ancestors have lived near this site for thousands of years.” Steere adds that naturalist William Bartram writes about Watauga from his visit through western North Carolina in 1775. “He described an impressive council house rising above nearby houses and gardens. Bartram was warmly received by a town leader and his sons, and was treated to a meal of venison and corn cakes before traveling to Cowee Town.”
The effort to conserve the property involved two acquisitions, since property ownership split right through the mound. The first acquisition came through a real estate listing, while the second landowners, after hearing of the conservation project, chose to sell their portion of the mound as well. “We are extremely fortunate that the families involved in the purchase were interested in protecting the mound for conservation,” says Mainspring Executive Director Jordan Smith. “I am grateful that the landowners were willing to work with Mainspring throughout the year-long process as we put all of the pieces together to purchase the two properties. This level farmland with exceptional views was pretty prime for development and I am proud this special place is now protected forever.”
Chief Sneed says the need to protect these mounds is as important as ever. “Many of the mounds in the Cherokee heartland have been decimated over the last century by intentional destruction, development, and agriculture, making the preservation of sites like the Watauga mound of critical importance,” Sneed stated. “Through the efforts of many people – including volunteers, Western Carolina University faculty, and Mainspring Conservation Trust – the Watauga mound is preserved. We are grateful that this important legacy is being preserved into perpetuity.”
Mainspring Conservation Trust is a regional nonprofit that works to conserve the most important forests, farms, waters and cultural heritage places in the six western-most counties of North Carolina and northern Rabun County, Georgia. Learn more at mainspringconserves.org.