A fading place-name, central to local history, gets its due
The name “Arneechee ford” crops up as the locus of the first organized Baptist work in the Oconaluftee region in the early 19th century. As such, it figures into the origins of three different congregations — including the Lufty Baptist Church, whose latter-day building still stands at Smokemont.
When Aden Carver was born in 1846, Samuel Morse had only recently demonstrated his new electric telegraph system, sending the first message over a line stretching the 35 miles from Washington to Baltimore. In those days, America’s railroad network was likewise still in its infancy, and almost 40 years would pass before rails pushed their way into western North Carolina. Thus, Aden came of age in a time and place where rapid communication and transport, for most people, still meant a man (or woman) on a fast horse.
Over the span of Carver’s life, the number of stars on our nation’s flag grew from 29 to 48, twenty-two different U.S. presidents occupied the White House, and American soldiers fought in five wars, including one against their fellow countrymen. And when Carver died in 1945 — with the Allies celebrating their defeat of Nazism, while battling on in the Pacific — television was already breaking into the consumer marketplace, and manned rocket-planes were on the verge of breaking something called “the sound barrier”.
(NOTE: In a previous post I have dealt at some length with the matter of Aden Carver’s age and the year of his birth.)
We can marvel over the dramatic changes the world experienced over the course of his 99 years, but if longevity were Aden Carver’s primary claim to fame, we’d have very little to write about. The truth is, however, that his life, though simple, was undeniably full and impactful. My own fascination with the man stems from his involvement with the historic Mingus Mill, as he was arguably more intimately connected with the place — truly an institution at the center of community life — over a longer period of time, than anyone else. Beyond this, Carver was the quintessential denizen of the Smokies: self-reliant, jack-of-all trades, rooted on the land, and grounded by faith and family.
Yes, knowing what we know, we have to talk about flours — plural. For one thing, the Mingus and Floyd families went to a lot of trouble in 1886 to install an elaborate bolting chest, not to mention the connected system of elevators and chutes, in order to produce multiple products from wheat. And, when it came to the milling of this commodity, these families were their own biggest customers, cultivating acres and acres of the nearby rich bottomlands at the confluence of the Oconaluftee and Ravens Fork Rivers. Now, at least 90 years have passed since wheat was ground into flour at Mingus Mill. Still, connecting the dots, we can construct a reasonable picture of what exactly was produced as well as the procedures involved.
Among the clues are some fascinating artifacts I introduced readers to in a previous post, three sheet-iron stencils that reflect the commercial-level production of wheat flour at the Mill. The stencils were used to label 98-pound (half-barrel) sacks of flour back in the day, and they bear — besides the name “Mingus” — designations for two different flour products that were being marketed: “FINE” and “XX”. Understanding what these terms actually meant, however, has proved a bit of a challenge.
The simple yet remarkable life of Aden Carver included the building of Mingus Mill, operating that facility for many years, and then helping the Park Service restore it — when he was in his nineties! He was a stalwart of the Oconoluftee community for decades, and as Carver’s age advanced — he remained on his Great Smokies homestead under a lifetime lease until his death in 1945 — “Uncle Aden” became something of a regional celebrity, sought out by interviewers and journalists.
In short, Carver’s story is a fascinating one, and well worth knowing. So, nothing I write here, as prologue, is meant to detract from his legacy in any way. It’s just that — after immersing myself in Aden Carver lore off-and-on for many months, and wrestling with vexing chronological anomalies — it finally dawned on me that the issue of the man’s true age (and thus his birth-year) had never really received proper scrutiny. So, I started digging a bit, then found myself doing a ‘deep dive’ into all the relevant records and published sources readily accessible online or otherwise kindly made available to me.
The Carver Cemetery is one of the 150-plus family burial grounds and church graveyards to be found scattered throughout GSMNP. And that’s just the ones that we know about, while others have no doubt simply vanished into the mists of time. Each of them serves as a reminder of the rich human culture that once thrived here, before the coming of the Park, and as such many receive some level of regular upkeep from the Park’s trails crew. Indeed, a number are still visited by descendants, including for traditional “decoration day” ceremonies.
My interest in the Carver Cemetery stems from the man Aden Carver himself, who was arguably more intimately connected with Mingus Mill, over a longer period of time, than anyone else:
Mr. Carver was one of the six helpers named by Sion Thomas Early, the chief millwright who oversaw the building of the mill in 1886. Carver was also a skilled stone cutter who crafted the mill’s corn stones from the local flint-granite up near his home on Bradley Fork. Then for over 40 years Carver served as one of the Mingus millers. And finally, so knowledgeable was he of the mill’s construction and workings, that he was called in by the CCC to help oversee its restoration in the late 1930’s — when Carver was well into his 90’s and still living nearby.