Cowee-West's Mill National Register Historic District:
The Cowee-West's Mill National Register Historic District is among the richest in the
nation. In the mid-18th century Cowee and the Little Tennessee River Valley was the
central stage on which would determine the future of two nations. Cherokee and
American. The 370 acres in this historic district contain thousands of years of history
and continues to resonate in the spiritual life of the Cherokees.
Cowee was the principal diplomatic and commercial center of the 18th century Middle
Town Cherokees. Occupying the center of Cowee was the ancient mound on which
stood the council house which seated several hundred people. From there, houses
lined both banks of the Little Tennessee River and plantations of corn, beans, squash
and peaches extended out for two miles in all directions. A smaller Cherokee village,
Usinah, was located at the eastern end of the historic district.
In the final action of the Cherokee wars, as the 1759-61 conflict was called, a
british-led army destroyed Cowee and Usinah. Colonial soldier Frances Marion (later
of Swamp Fox fame) described the "cruel work" of the army. The Cherokee made
peace with the British and Cowee was rebuilt only to become the target , in September
of 1776, of the first military campaign of the American Revolution in the South. The
decisive "Indian War" of 1776 was even more brutal as thousands of poorly governed
troops from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, launched a preemptive,
scorched-earth attack on Cowee and surrounding towns. With Cherokee defeat, a
feared Cherokee-British-Slave alliance was defused, and the Revolutionary War began
in full. Later, the colonial armies which marched on Cowee formed the core of that
which defeated the British at Kings Mountain and Cowpens in 1780, turning the tide to
victory in the American Revolution against the British Crown and their native allies. War
with the Cherokees would continue well into the 1790s, but the "Seeds of Removal"
were sown in 1776 in the ancient fields of Cowee.
When Cowee became part of the State of North Carolina in 1819, many Cherokee
sought title to their land in one last effort to hold their homeland and their sacred
places. While most were forcibly removed on the "Trail of Tears" in 1838, some of the
"Citizen Cherokee" of Cowee formed the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
Movement into the area increased around 1820 when William West took title to the
land along Cowee Creek. West's Mill was named for the grist mill built by the West
family. Stores, schools, churches, and a post office were built during the 19th and early
20th century many of which still stand today.
At the time of the American Civil War, Cowee was home to both free blacks and slaves,
and in the census of 1900 Cowee had the largest rural, black community in NC west of
the Balsam Mountains. African American history can still be traced to the small
Pleasant Hill AME Church & Cemetery in the northeast corner of the historic district.
West's Mill thrived through the first half of the 20th century, with most residents farming,
mining, or logging. During the Great Depression a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
camp was located in West's Mill with men working to restore newly-constituted
National Forest lands. In the 1940's, the Art-Deco influenced Cowee School was built
of local stone on the CCC camp site, under the Work Projects Administration (WPA).
The school opened to students in 1943.
Historic West's Mill Self Guided Driving Tour Map
|Cowee Community Development Organization
"This settlement is esteemed the capital town; it is situated on the bases of the
hills on both sides of the river, near to it's bank, and there terminates the great
vale of Cowe, exhibiting one of the most charming natural mountainous
landscapes perhaps anywhere to be seen"
From William Bartram's Journal, May 1775
With man-made structures dating back 1,400 years, Cowee is more than just a
significant historical area. Cowee mound, built circa 600 A.D., before the Cherokee
Period, is one of the few remaining earthen mounds. There are two archeological
sites along the west bank of the Little Tennessee River where prehistoric ceramics
were collected. The ceramics, collected in 1965, are now at the University of North
Carolina in Chapel Hill.
|"Cow on a Hot Tin Roof"
or so it appears on the roof
of the Bryson Homestead
located in the Historic District
Cowee Mound built circa 600 A.D.
(Photo by Ralph Preston)
Photo by Greg Moberg
New Cowee Entry Sign
Hwy 28 Scenic