Writers remember Rocky Broad flood and Alexander’s stock stand
by Rob Neufeld
“I cannot believe there wasn't anything said about the 1996 flood in Chimney Rock,” Marion Baker, co-owner of Bat Cave River Cottages, wrote in response to last week’s column about “the worst floods in WNC history.”
She and her husband, Bruce, established the cottages “to treat others as you would want to be treated,” after having had an early career as U.S. Cellular agents and a life of seeing the country on a motorcycle.
“We have not found another place we like as much as here,” Bruce writes on their website—“on the river with the isothermal weather region.”
Their three-bedroom cottage includes a hot tub on a deck overlooking the Rocky Broad River. From a similar deck on their house, Marion watched, in 2004, the river rise 12 feet. “I saw 30-foot trees floating by,” she said.
“I was not here [on Sept. 4, 1996], but I was told 13 inches fell in three hours,” she noted.
The flood “was believed to be the worst in the area in 80 years,” The N.C. Dept. of Environmental and Natural Resources reports.
Charles Smith from the Bat Cave area, remembers the flood of ’96.
“It washed out US 64/74 below Bat Cave and along with it, several homes, businesses and campgrounds. The debris ran into Lake Lure and left a sizeable mess.
“I remember seeing a pickup and several camping trailers wrapped around trees above the Esmeralda Inn. The fascinating thing, though, was that the rocks in the Rocky Broad River were literally sandblasted from the force of the water. They had a beautiful, clean, white appearance that I think remains.”
The 1916 scouring
Readers also passed along memories told them about the 1916 flood. Even being stranded in towns cut off by the suspension of train service had made lasting impressions.
Lasting impressions of a physical nature involved the remolding of landscapes.
Asheville’s remarkable Riverside Park—complete with boating and an island movie screen—succumbed to the 1916 flood, never to be rebuilt.
Observing the scouring performed by the river, one legend goes, Edwin Wiley Grove realized the feasibility of a stone and gravel plant, and established Grovestone in Swannanoa.
"The French Broad River at Alexander swept away all of the village on the west side of the stream except the Southern Railway station,” the “Asheville Citizen” reported. “The post office, a store and two dwelling houses went down in the swirling currents.”
Milton Ready’s new book
Alexander becomes one of the historical memories raised up in Milton Ready’s new book, “Mystical Madison: The History of a Mountain Region.”
Ready, UNCA Professor Emeritus of History, author, and small press publisher, recreates the life of Alexander’s stock stand.
In many ways, it was not at all pretty, but drovers and others had rough fun.
“The close proximity and even daily intimacy…to a barnyard of animals,” Ready writes, “sometimes resulted in reversals and transfers of their behaviors.”
Zeb Vance, boy worker at a stock stand in Lapland (Marshall) and future N.C. Governor, “liked to mimic animals, particularly horses and cattle, by falling on all fours and lapping water from the French Broad with his tongue and hands. Vance also used their sounds to punctuate many of his anecdotes and tales as well.”
Ready keeps his book un-academic and leaves out footnotes.
His title, which sounds like a pop offering, is actually an irony.
“Few have spoken or written about Madison County in mundane, pedestrian terms,” Ready notes in his introduction, promising to put gritty frontier reality in the spotlight, while also putting forward the grand episodes, such as the county’s craft and song traditions.
Ready’s epilogue is a quotable essay about Madison County’s outstanding contributions to history. “Madison County has a mystique all its own,” Ready concludes, “Indeed, the mere mention of the County’s name always seems to provoke an excited response.”
Mystical Madison: The History of a Mountain Region by Milton Ready (EverReady Publications trade paper, coated paper, 2011, 256 pages, $24.95, P.O. Box 323, Lynn NC 28750)