Archived Mountain Voices

Water was not always taken for granted

Water was not always taken for granted

Old-time mountaineers often picked their home and church sites according to the location and purity of springs. They were connoisseurs of water.  

Asheville writer Wilma Dykeman recorded in her book The French Broad (1955) that:

When the buyers for the Great Smoky Park were appraising some of the small landholdings one old fellow would come down from his little farm each day.

“When’ll you be a-getting to my place,” he’d demand of the buyers.

 “We’ll be up there as soon as we can,’ they’d reply.

“I’m just aiming to make sure you see my spring,” he said. “You’d have to see it a-fore you could know the worth of my place.”

Related Items

Once a family’s spring was located, the women would sometimes line its sides and bottom with shards of quartz and other sparkling stones. Catching a shaft of light through an overhanging hemlock, the spring would glow in the dim light. It was a place of enduring sustenance and beauty.

We tend to take the everyday things in life for granted — that is, until one or more of them are no longer available. Water is one such item. The recent dry spell has brought that fact home again.

For 25 years we relied upon a spring situated at the base of a hemlock just outside the kitchen door that required a dipper. For the last 15 years we have used a gravity flow system whereby fresh water gathered in barrels from a spring up on the mountainside is piped into the house via standard hot-and cold-water systems.

The spring outside the kitchen door was diverted underground by salamanders and crayfish a long time ago. And the spring up on the mountainside has been bone dry for over a week. We can use water from the creek in front of the house externally. But there’s none that’s fit to drink. 

Our recourse is to haul decent water from a spring that, to my knowledge, has never gone dry. It’s located several miles outside Bryson City adjacent to Cold Springs Baptist Church on the Cold Springs Road.

The church, which also served as schoolhouse, was organized on May 2, 1851. The first court in Swain County was held in the church’s meeting house on June 28, 1871. One suspects that Elders Sherill, Gibson, Ammons, Mingus and others among the church’s earliest pastors enjoyed a draft of cool, clear mountain water before and after delivering their sermons.

That was my original ending and I should leave it at that. But I can’t refrain from adding this blurb praising the virtues of Swain County spring water that appeared in the July 16, 1910, edition of the Asheville Gazette News:

The pure, invigorating water distilled in the heavens and poured from cool clouds is percolated through the unadulterated terra-firma and reimbursed from many mountain springs, producing a health-building beverage conveyed by gravity to the inhabitants of Bryson City. In the last few years about $30,000 has been spent on a waterworks system, which conveys the excellent supply of pure freestone water, from its freely flowing founts in the forests of the somber Smokies. The supply is abundant and the quality unsurpassed, so that so far as Bryson City’s water is concerned she is unexcelled by any other town her size in the old North State.    

I will leave it at that.         

(George Ellison is a naturalist and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.