In 1996 construction on the Cherohala Skyway was winding down
and the fall of 2007 marks the 11th anniversary of the dedication of the scenic byway connecting Tellico Plains, Tenn., and Robbinsville, N.C.
As you travel around the mountain curves to peaks of more than 5,000
feet, you may marvel at the engineering feat of building such a road.
The history of the road is a long winding story that began in 1958.
In the spring of that year the Tellico Plains Kiwanis Club members
were talking about the need for a road connecting the people of East
Tennessee and Western North Carolina.
"A highway that would enable their youngsters to search for the reality inside the dreams of their parents. A highway that would allow bright young men and women to expand their horizons beyond the noble mountains of their birth. They would travel to places beyond the horizon, then bring the lessons they learned home to the mountains. Rural villages would grow in knowledge and education, while retaining the values of the past." (Taken from Wagon Train: 30 Years Across the Far Blue Mountains by Jim Thompson.)
Charles Hall was one of the men at that Kiwanis Club meeting and
remained a driving force behind the push for the road, until the
dedication of the Cherohala Skyway in 1996.
"I had a lot of good help on this," Hall said. "I didn’t do it alone, I was just the one out front." Hall said during that Kiwanis meeting in April 1958, Sam Williams suggested they organize a wagon train to draw attention to the need for a road, "Since our roads are only fit for covered wagons." "We laughed at Sam a little while then got serious," said Hall. On July 4, 1958, 67 covered wagons and 325 horseback riders made the 42-mile trek to Murphy, N.C. The wagon train attracted the attention the men hoped it would and during its 30-year history was chronicled by local and national media. The route varied from year to year with the train making its way through small towns such as Tellico Plains and Robbinsville, Murphy, Hayesville, Franklin, Andrews and Bryson City, N.C.
It was on the 1960 wagon train, that then Robbinsville Mayor Smith Howell made the first announcement that the road connecting the two states would run from Tellico Plains to Robbinsville. Coincidentally, the 1960 wagon train remained the largest ever with 105 wagons and 776 horseback riders.
In 1962 Hall and several other men went before Congress to ask for
money for the project. They had discovered the road could be built
entirely on federal land, with it traveling through the Cherokee and
Nantahala National Forests. The name Cherohala comes from combining
the names of the two national forests.
Later that year the Federal Highway Administration made the first
appropriation for the road, but it was still a long way from becoming
a reality. "After we got the first appropriation, it fell back to us to keep the
wagon train going and the money coming in," Hall said.
By 1967, the 10th anniversary of the Wagon Train, the road was
finally under construction. As the Wagon Train ventured out on its
annual journey in 1982, more contracts were being let for
construction of the road and the Cherohala Commission had been
appointed to promote and plan the new highway.
Hall said construction was delayed for about 13 years while they
worked with 21 environmental groups who had concerns about the road. But finally on Oct. 12, 1996, the road was dedicated and is now
designated a National Scenic Byway.
Hall’s wife, Billie Nell, said her husband was like the "Little
engine that could" in his efforts to draw attention to the need for
the road and seeing it through to completion. Hall said what is important to him is "the satisfaction of knowing it is done and is going to be enjoyed by so many people."
Mia Rhodarmer, Editor
Monroe County Advocate & Democrat