If you’ve ever taken a drive up Highway 221 North from Marion toward Linville Falls, you’ve probably noticed the large rocks and boulders that dot the fields and pastures on both sides of the road. All those tons of rock tumbled down the mountainside and to their current resting place during the cataclysmic flood of 1916.
One of the many homes to be ruined by the flood. Others totally washed away, leaving hardly a trace that they had ever stood at all. (Photo from the Carson House Library)
Much of western North Carolina was devastated by the event, especially along the McDowell and Mitchell County line and down into North Cove. The Orchard at Altapass sits almost astride the continental divide, which was ground zero for this disaster. Bill Carson from the Orchard tells the story of the flood through the eyes of someone who lived through it.
The men in Mildred Kelly's family worked with the railroad for generations.
The McDowell community of Graphite, or Graphiteville, is located just down the mountain from Ridgecrest and takes its name from the mining activity that took place there around 1900.
Mildred Kelly has lived in Graphite her entire life, as did her mother and grandmother before her. Her home is located just across the yard from the house where she was born.
A few miles southeast of Graphite, the citizens of Old Fort dig out after the 1916 flood. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Silvers)
Mrs. Kelly welcomed us to her front porch to talk about the 1916 flood, the depression years,home remedies, the railroad, and the observations she has made in her 80+ years. (You’ll also hear the sounds of a late summer morning, the chickens in the yard, and Buddy the dog doing battle with a persistent flea…)
To drive up to Graphite or to see it on a map, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is one of the most isolated places in western North Carolina. But as you can see in the photo to the left, which was taken from Mrs. Kelly’s porch during our interview, she has had good reason never to feel isolated at all.
Listen to Mrs. Kelly using the media player above.