List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

local imagination this hotel of the company is a palace of unequaled
magnificence, but probably its good taste, comfort, and quiet
elegance are not appreciated after all.  There is this to be said
about Philadelphia,--and it will go far in pleading for it in the
Last Day against its monotonous rectangularity and the babel-like
ambition of its Public Building,--that wherever its influence
extends, there will be found comfortable lodgings and the luxury of
an undeniably excellent cuisine.  The visible seal that Philadelphia
sets on its enterprise all through the South is a good hotel.

This Cottage Beautiful has on two sides a wide veranda, set about
with easy chairs; cheerful parlors and pretty chambers, finished in
native woods, among which are conspicuous the satin stripes of the
cucumber-tree; luxurious beds, and an inviting table ordered by a
Philadelphia landlady, who knows a beefsteak from a boot-tap.  Is it
"low" to dwell upon these things of the senses, when one is on a tour
in search of the picturesque?  Let the reader ride from Abingdon
through a wilderness of cornpone and rusty bacon, and then judge.
There were, to be sure, novels lying about, and newspapers, and
fragments of information to be picked up about a world into which the
travelers seemed to emerge.  They, at least, were satisfied, and went
off to their rooms with the restful feeling that they had arrived
somewhere and no unquiet spirit at morn would say "to horse."  To
sleep, perchance to dream of Tatem and his household cemetery; and
the Professor was heard muttering in his chamber,

    "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
     The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
     But then begins a journey in my head,
     To work my mind, when body's work's expir'd."

The morning was warm (the elevation of the hotel must be between
twenty-five hundred and three thousand feet), rainy, mildly rainy;
and the travelers had nothing better to do than lounge upon the
veranda, read feeble ten-cent fictions, and admire the stems of the
white birches, glistening in the moisture, and the rhododendron-
trees, twenty feet high, which were shaking off their last pink
blossoms, and look down into the valley of the Doe.  It is not an
exciting landscape, nothing bold or specially wild in it, but restful
with the monotony of some of the wooded Pennsylvania hills.

Sunday came up smiling, a lovely day, but offering no church
privileges, for the ordinance of preaching is only occasional in this
region.  The ladies of the hotel have, however, gathered in the
valley a Sunday-school of fifty children from the mountain cabins.  A
couple of rainy days, with the thermometer rising to 80 deg.,
combined with natural laziness to detain the travelers in this
cottage of ease.  They enjoyed this the more because it was on their
consciences that they should visit Linville Falls, some twenty-five
miles eastward, long held up before them as the most magnificent
feature of this region, and on no account to be omitted.  Hence,
naturally, a strong desire to omit it.  The Professor takes bold
ground against these abnormal freaks of nature, and it was nothing to
him that the public would demand that we should see Linville Falls.
In the first place, we could find no one who had ever seen them, and
we spent two days in catechizing natives and strangers.  The nearest
we came to information was from a workman at the furnace, who was
born and raised within three miles of the Falls.  He had heard of
people going there.  He had never seen them himself.  It was a good
twenty-five miles there, over the worst road in the State we'd think
it thirty before we got there.  Fifty miles of such travel to see a
little water run down-hill!  The travelers reflected.  Every country
has a local waterfall of which it boasts; they had seen a great many.
One more would add little to the experience of life.  The vagueness
of information, to be sure, lured the travelers to undertake the
journey; but the temptation was resisted--something ought to be left
for the next explorer--and so Linville remains a thing of the

Towards evening, July 29, between showers, the Professor and the
Friend rode along the narrow-gauge road, down Johnson's Creek, to
Roan Station, the point of departure for ascending Roan Mountain.  It
was a ride of an hour and a half over a fair road, fringed with
rhododendrons, nearly blossomless; but at a point on the stream this
sturdy shrub had formed a long bower where under a table might have
been set for a temperance picnic, completely overgrown with wild
grape, and still gay with bloom.  The habitations on the way are
mostly board shanties and mean frame cabins, but the railway is
introducing ambitious architecture here and there in the form of
ornamental filigree work on flimsy houses; ornamentation is apt to
precede comfort in our civilization.

Roan Station is on the Doe River (which flows down from Roan
Mountain), and is marked at 1265 feet above the sea.  The visitor
will find here a good hotel, with open wood fires (not ungrateful in
a July evening), and obliging people.  This railway from Johnson
City, hanging on the edge of the precipices that wall the gorge of
the Doe, is counted in this region by the inhabitants one of the
engineering wonders of the world.  The tourist is urged by all means
to see both it and Linville Falls.

The tourist on horseback, in search of exercise and recreation, is
not probably expected to take stock of moral conditions.  But this
Mitchell County, although it was a Union county during the war and is
Republican in politics (the Southern reader will perhaps prefer
another adverb to "although"), has had the worst possible reputation.
The mountains were hiding-places of illicit distilleries; the woods
were full of grog-shanties, where the inflaming fluid was sold as
"native brandy," quarrels and neighborhood difficulties were
frequent, and the knife and pistol were used on the slightest
provocation.  Fights arose about boundaries and the title to mica
mines, and with the revenue officers; and force was the arbiter of
all disputes.  Within the year four murders were committed in the
sparsely settled county.  Travel on any of the roads was unsafe.  The
tone of morals was what might be expected with such lawlessness.  A
lady who came up on the road on the 4th of July, when an excursion
party of country people took possession of the cars, witnessed a
scene and heard language past belief.  Men, women, and children drank
from whisky bottles that continually circulated, and a wild orgy
resulted.  Profanity, indecent talk on topics that even the license
of the sixteenth century would not have tolerated, and freedom of
manners that even Teniers would have shrunk from putting on canvas,
made the journey horrible.

The unrestrained license of whisky and assault and murder had
produced a reaction a few months previous to our visit.  The people
had risen up in their indignation and broken up the groggeries.  So
far as we observed temperance prevailed, backed by public-opinion.
In our whole ride through the mountain region we saw only one or two
places where liquor was sold.

It is called twelve miles from Roan Station to Roan Summit.  The
distance is probably nearer fourteen, and our horses were five hours
in walking it.  For six miles the road runs by Doe River, here a
pretty brook shaded with laurel and rhododendron, and a few
cultivated patches of ground, and infrequent houses.  It was a blithe
morning, and the horsemen would have given full indulgence to the
spirit of adventure but for the attitude of the Professor towards
mountains.  It was not with him a matter of feeling, but of
principle, not to ascend them.  But here lay Roan, a long, sprawling
ridge, lifting itself 6250 feet up into the sky.  Impossible to go
around it, and the other side must be reached.  The Professor was
obliged to surrender, and surmount a  difficulty which he could not
philosophize out of his mind.

>From the base of the mountain a road is very well engineered, in easy
grades for carriages, to the top; but it was in poor repair and
stony.  We mounted slowly through splendid forests, specially of fine
chestnuts and hemlocks.  This big timber continues till within a mile
and a half of the summit by the winding road, really within a short
distance of the top.  Then there is a narrow belt of scrubby
hardwood, moss-grown, and then large balsams, which crown the
mountain.  As soon as we came out upon the southern slope we found
great open spaces, covered with succulent grass, and giving excellent
pasturage to cattle.  These rich mountain meadows are found on all
the heights of this region.  The surface of Roan is uneven, and has
no one culminating peak that commands the country, like the peak of
Mount Washington, but several eminences within its range of probably
a mile and a half, where various views can be had.  Near the highest
point, sheltered from the north by balsams, stands a house of
entertainment, with a detached cottage, looking across the great
valley to the Black Mountain range.  The surface of the mountain is
pebbly, but few rocks crop out; no ledges of any size are seen except
at a distance from the hotel, on the north side, and the mountain
consequently lacks that savage, unsubduable aspect which the White
Hills of New Hampshire have.  It would, in fact, have been difficult
to realize that we were over six thousand feet above the sea, except
for that pallor in the sunlight, that atmospheric thinness and want
of color which is an unpleasant characteristic of high altitudes.  To
be sure, there is a certain brilliancy in the high air,--it is apt to
be foggy on Roan,--and objects appear in sharp outline, but I have
often experienced on such places that feeling of melancholy, which
would, of course, deepen upon us all if we were sensible that the sun
was gradually withdrawing its power of warmth and light.  The black
balsam is neither a cheerful nor a picturesque tree; the frequent
rains and mists on Roan keep the grass and mosses green, but the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: