Historic Webster is a newsletter of the Webster Historical Society, Inc., created at the Society’s founding in 1974. The publication helped to serve the Society's mission of collecting and preserving the history of Webster, North Carolina. Webster, established in 1851, was the original county seat for Jackson County.
WEBSTER, NORTH CAROLINA WINTER. 1977 Williant Holland Thontas William Holland Thomas was a man of many talents whose interests lay in several areas. He served as a storekeeper, eventu· ally owning several stores throughout Western North Carolina . He became agent for the North Carolina remnant of the Cherokee Nation whose cause he championed for over a generation . He was elected, at the age of 43, to the North Carolina Stale Senate where he championed the building of roads and railroads through the Southern Appalachian Mountains. He was a very sophi s ticated man who read widely in the classics and associated on intimate terms with many of the prominent men and women of his day ; yet he could hold his own in a mountain " horse trade" and enjoyed nightlong parleys in the council houses of the Cherokees. Although he did not have the wit and style of Zeb Vance, the dramatic flair of John Sevier and Andrew Jackson, or the vast legal knowledge of Marc us Erwin and Augustus S. Merriman , Thomas contributed more to the development cf Western North Carolina than any of them . Yet. fe\v monuments ex ist to this man and , up to this time. no books have been written about him , except for an occas ional chapter in several histories of the region. It is true there is a modest stone monument on Sulphur Springs Road in Waynesville to mark the spot where he surrendered the remnants of his Legion to Federal troops at the end of the Civil War; it is equally true that the massive ridge known as Thomas Divide, named in his honor , stretches for some ten miles south of the main range of the Great Smokies, But beyond these. his tombstone , marked by a bronze plaque, in Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, and North Carolina Stale historica l highway marker near the site of his home, Stekoih Fields near Whittier in Jackson Coun ty. there is no monume nt to indicate his extensive contributions to the development of North Carolina's "Mountain Empire." This is a pity, for Thomas, like Zeb Vance , was a "man to match our mountains ." Thomas was born on February 5, 1805 at the Forks of Pigeon, near the modern hamlet of Bethel in Haywood County. His father, Richard , who had come to North Carolina from Virginia in 1803, drown·ed shortly before Thomas' birth , but he was raised and educated by his mother, Temperance Calvert Thomas. He was distan.lly related to the Cal verts , Lords Proprietors of Maryland, through his mother, and to President Zachary Taylor through his father . As a youth of sixteen Thomas was employed as a clerk in the store of Felix Walker, Jr ., son of Congressman Felix Walker. Jr .. at Quallatown on Shoal A Man To Remember Creek ncar the modern town of Cherokee. Here Thomas traded farming implements , tobacco. and other items for deerskins and gi nseng. even then a popular medic ine in the Orient. His small s ize and. some say. his loneliness. att racted the attent ion of the principal chief of the Middle Towns Cherokees. Yonaguska or Drowning Bear who is reputed to ha\'C adopted him as a son. When Yonaguska died in 1839 Thomas succeeded him as chief. After the Great Removal of 1838, Thomas spent much time in Washington in a successful effort to secure permission for those Indi a ns who had evaded the United States Army to remain in Western North Carolina. In 1848 he won election as a Democrat to the North Carolina State Senate, remaining in that body until !862. While in the State Senate, Thomas served as chairman of the important Committee on Internal Improvements. In 1851 Thomas helped to create Jackson County from portions of Haywood and Macon Count ies. In 1861 he was elected a member of the North Carolina Constitutional Convention which . as its first order of business. passed an ordinance of secession on May 20 of that year. In the spring of 1862 Thomas resigned his positions in the State Senate and the Constitutional Convention to return to the mountains where he raised a "Legion" of infantry, artillery, and cavalry for service in the Confedera te Army. He remained with this unit defending the mountain passes from East Tennessee into Western North Carolina for the remainder of the war, and did not surrender until May 6. 1865. the last unit east of the Mississippi to capitulate. After the war Thomas' health became impaired . By the mid- 1870S he had retired from the active administration of his affairs . He died at the Morganton home of his daughter and son-inlaw, Justice and Mrs. Alphonso Calhoun A very, on May 10, 1893, at the advanced age of 88 years, leaving, besides Mrs. Avery, two sons, William Holland, Jr . and James Robert. His wife, Sara J. B. Love Thomas, whom he married June 30. 1857. had died May 15, 1877. These are the basic facts of Thomas' life. It is certainly not our purpose here to present his complete biography, but to sim ply illustrate the fundamental aspects of his career before 1860 in an effort to learn more about his techniques and his character. The most important area of Thomas' activities was his work for the Cherokee Indians. Much of the early history of the United States is a sordid record of how we mistreated the Indian tribes we found here. Probably no Indian tribe in America suffered more at the hands of the whites than did the Cherokees. From the time of their defeat at the hands of the British Army during the Cherokee-South Carolina War of 1758-1761 until the signing of the Treaty of New Echola on December 29, 1835 their history was fi lled with one broken treaty after another. By the terms of the Treaty of New Echola the Cherokees ceded a ll of their remaining lands east of the Mississippi to the United States in return for S5,000,000 and the right to occupy semi-arid lands in the Indian Territory near those already occupied by the Western Band of Cherokees, even then called the "Old Settlers." In spite of strong protests by John Ross, chief of the Cherokees in Georgia , and other leaders, the Indians were removed by United States troops , assisted by Georgia. Tennessee, and North Carolina State militia , in the spring and summer of 1838. The commander of these troops was General Winfield Scott, later famous for his campaign against Mexico City during the Mexican War. Most of the Cherokees submitted peacefully. and were sent to the West either by steamboat down the Tennessee River or along the infamous "Trail of Tears." but some of the North Carolina Cherokees fled into the rugged Nantahala. Balsam. and Great Smoky Mountains. Among these was a small group led by an aged man named Tsali. This party had killed two soldiers and wounded a third who were mistreating Tsali's wife. They fled to a cave in the laurel thickets near the summit of Clingman's Dome. General Scott decided it would be impracticable to capture the escaped Indians before the winter of !838- 1839 set in . Moreover , his best regiment. the Fourth United States Infantry, was badly needed on the frontier . Therefore. he sent Thomas to urge Tsali and his friends to surrender. In a letter to an associate , Matthew Russel , Thomas de scribed the incident; Gen. Scott employed me to assist in taking the Indians who committed the late murders. four <s ic) of the murderers were taken and delivered over. three of whom have since been shot by the nantihala <sic> Indians. The remaining one Charley <Tsali ) was brought in yesterday by some of the Indians lying out on Nantihala by them tried and shot near the big Bears reserve on Tuckasega. Thomas had been assisted in the capture by some of the Occonaluftee In dians who lived near Quallatown, led by Euchella and the Flying Squirrel. Indeed, Tsali was executed by Euchella and a nother Qua llatown Cherokee, Wa-chu-cha , at noon on November 25, 1838. Thomas' ro le in the affair was highly praised by Colonel William S. Foster, commander of the Fourth Infantry, in a report to General Scott ; I should do my feelings great injustice were I to omit to represent to you and through you- to the Government , Mr. Wm. If. Thomas, in the most favourable light, Joel R. Poinsett, Secretary of War, President Martin Van Buren, Senator Willie P . Mangum of North Carolina, and President James Knox Polk. His efforts, seemingly hopeless at times, were ultimately successful when treaties, signed at Washington in August, 1846 and July , 1848, permitted the Eastern Band of Cherokees to remain in Western North Carolina and allowed them to participate fully in the claims payments granted by the Treaty of New Echola . Thomas' efforts on behalf of the Cherokees were equalled, if not surpassed, by his enthusiasm for . any internal improvements project which might benefit Western North Carolina. As a youth. wh1le clerking in Quallatown, Thomas saw the importance of transportation and communication to frontier settlements and businesses. The very existence of frontier life depended upon the mobility of transport a llowed by its transportation system. It was not until he was elected to the State Senate in 1848 that Thomas was able to effectively influence the development of internal improvements in Western North Carolina, but he noted the need long before this. Due to the influence of geography, isolation. the flow of the rivers. and the existence of only a few poor roads. most of the trade from Western North Carolina , before the coming of the railroad, flowed through South Carolina . Tennessee. Georgia. and Virginia rather than through the Piedmont to Eastern North ("ontinu£>d On l'agl' :~ William Holland Thomas. (From photograph of 1858 kindly loaned by Capt. James W. Terrell>. Pqe Z HISTORIC WEBSTER, Winter, 1977 Mrs. Hannah Hall at the home or her son, Coleman, in Webster. The occasion was her ninetieth birthday, April 12, 1956. Married: January 27, 1897 at the home of the bride in Webster, with the Rev. Elder Wagg officiating, Mr. J. E. Divelbiss of Biltmore and Miss Florence May Leatherwood, daughter of Capt. F. H. Leatherwood. A goodly number of invited guests were witnesses to the ceremony. Immediately after the ceremony, the happy pair and attending couples took a carriage to the railroad (Sylva) enroute to Biltmore which will be their future home. The following is a list of presents to the bride and groom : Father and brother of bride - cream pitcher, sugar bowl, spoon holder, butter dish and water pitcher. Mother of bride - linen tablecloth. Ethyl, sister of bride - linen napkins. Mr. and Mrs. J . L. Broylesberry spoon. Mrs. Hattie Painter - sugar shell. Mr. and Mrs. W. A. H. Schreiber - napkins, salt and pepper stand, dessert dishes, sugar shell. Dr. McLain Rogers - china berry set and cake plate. W. W. Rhinehart -glass tumblers. Mr. and Mrs. M. Buchananbedspread. Mr. and Mrs. M. D. Cowan - rocking chair. J. J . Wild - silver mounted comb and brush. Mr. and Mrs. 0. B. Coward - sugar shell and butter knife. Marcellus Buchanan Jr. - cream pitcher. James Manahale - broom. Mr. and Mrs. Walter E. Moore - jelly spoon. Mrs. Maggie Myers - waiter. Mrs. J. C. Buchanan - covered china dish. Mr. and Mrs. J . W. Terrell - napkin rings and collar buttons. Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Alley - spoons and towels. Dr.andMrs. W. C. Tompkinstowels. Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Haynes (Clyde)- set of vases and box of carnations. Mr. and Mrs. E. P. Lewis - sugar shell and butter knife. Miss Nannie Mallonee - glass pitcher. Miss Rebecca Wilson - dessert plates. Miss Etta Walters - large picture. G. W. Bryson- salt and pepper stand. W. E. Tustin Jr. - silver butter dish . Jonah Dills - clock. Mr. and Mrs. J . W. Divelbissmedallion. Mr. and Mrs. T. B. Allison - bowl and pitcher. John Wild and Will Coward - coffee mill. Mrs. Florence Lusk (Cleveland, Tenn.) -handkerchiefs. Mrs. Ethyl McDaris (Cleveland, Tenn.) -linen table cover. Mrs. Hannah McKee Hall - Cullowhee and Webster By Lillian Hirt-1956 Next Thursday , April 12, marks the 90th birthday of a remarkable lady. First, it 's a distinction to become a nonegarian. But to reach this age and retain an alert interest and appreciation of what's going on in the world is remarkable, indeed. Mrs. Hannah McKee Hall was born on April 12, 1866, in the Sandy Mush section of Buncombe County, one year after the surrender of Confederate forces in the War Between the States. Her father, Robert F. McKee, had served in the Confederate army with the Commisary Department in Gatlinburg, Tennessee . In civilian life he was a merchant. Naturally, Mrs. Hall heard a great deal of discussion and reminiscing about the war as she grew into childhood. However, she is not greatly concerned with it now. "That's all past now, and there's nothing we can do to change it. The important thing is to know the conditions of the present age, and plan for the future." This, coming from a woman of ninety , is worthy of note. Mrs. Hall 's parents moved with their family to Webster in 1867, when she was two years old and when Webster was the county seat of Jackson County. She has lived in th is area since that time Snowing Again! January 24, 1977 This is the fourth heavy snow that has been dumped on Western Carolina this month. Of course, everyone is surprised, as we have not had such severe weather for a long time. But it could be worse, much worse, as it was in the early years of this century. It was so cold the Tuckaseigee River froze over to the extent that our neighbor felled trees on the ice and dragged them off with a team of horses. Others crossed the river with wagon teams. Children played and skated in perfect safety up and down the river from the dam in front of my home, the Hall farm, to the big covered Webster Bridge. Even our mother, Mrs. Hannah Hall , risked having a ride on a chair pushed by my two brothers , David and Coleman, on the icy highway. They had been given ice skates which added much to the speed of the ride. You ask, did we suffer? Not as we do now, with frozen water pipes and dangerous highways. Also our super·markets then con· sisted in well fill ed pantries, cellars, and backyard smokfhouses. For water we had springs and wells that did not freeze over. The biggest problem was keeping warm, but any man that was worth his salt saw to having a well-filled woodhouse before the winter storms set in . · If you needed a doctor he came to your home on horseback or in a buggy. With our economy and social setup as it is today we could not keep going for long at a time without our modern conveniences; but for an emergency in the early days, we had it made. After several weeks of frigid weather, springtime took over. We then stood on the river bank and looked and listened with awe, veneration, and wonder at the heaving , twisting, grinding , roar· ing, fearsome icebreak as the Tuckaseigee struggled to become normal again. Grace H. Brown and has been a member of the Webster Methodist Church since childhood. She had three brothers and one sister who lived to rna· turity- E. L. McKee of Sylva, H. C. McKee of Webster, James McKee of Sylva, and Mrs. Joe Collins of Clyde. Mrs. Hall is the only survivor of this family . This charming lady has a keen intellect and a retentive memory. She recalls the romantic details of her courtship and marriage, when she was seventeen and her beau was thirty·five. Her parents were opposed to the match because of the disparity in age. But, as she says, L. Coleman Hall was a good man and she loved him. He was her Sunday School teacher, and she reminds one now that he was a good man even if he did steal a bride. Widowed at twenty-six, Mrs. Hall proved that a fragile body can house a so ul of great strength , for she gained the admiration of all who knew her in rearing her three children. They are Rachel Gracie, who is now Mrs. David H. Brown of Cullowhee; L. Coleman Hall of Webster , who is married to the former Stella Broyles of Webster ; and the late David McKee Hall of Sylva, who was married to Edith Moore of Webster. The family home still stands in Webster, having been recently renovated and occupied by her grandson, former state Senator David M. Hall , J r ., and his family. Mrs. Hall now makes her home with Mr. and Mrs. Brown in Cullowhee, but visits with the otl)er families from time to time. She has eight grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren. In addition to rearing her own family, she took several other children into her heart and home and mothered them. She says they have all done well, but she is particularly proud of Frank Waldroop, whom she describes as a successful Christian businessman of Shreveport , Louisiana. Compassion for homeless children is one of her most outstanding characteristics , and even in her later years she is supporting a child in the Methodist Orphanage at Winston-Salem, and wishing she might personally care for the child. Naturally, one wonders about her present activities. When asked if she ever does any sort of handiwork now, she replied: "Yes, I've always been pretty good with the needle, and still do a good deal of mending for different ones in the family." However, she has other interests, too. She said she mainly wanted to travel, but could not do this until her children were all grown and had established homes of their own. One of the most vivid recollections from her European trip is the Passion Play, performed every ten years in Oberammergau, Bavaria. She witnessed the last performance before the play was discontinued prior to World War II. Mrs. Hall said that the present Biltmore Estate near Asheville was at one time the estate of her great-grandfather Patton , for whose family Patton Avenue in Asheville is named. Some of her Palmer ancestors are buried in the old Bath churchyard on North Carolina's coast. One of those was a counselor and surveyor of the king. Well , back to more recent years. At the age of eighty-five, when her son Coleman was living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Mrs. Hall returned from a visit to him by way of airplane. She remarked at the time that now she had ridden everything from an oxwagon to a flying machine, and there's nothing left for her but to ride in a submarine. Knowing the youthful proclivities of this delightful person, you can almost believe she may arrange that. Mrs. Hall can look back on a life filled with rich and exciting experiences. But even now in the evening of her life , she can look forward , too. She has an optimistic personality, and eagerly looks forward, to each day's experiences. Visitors are always welcome, and it might be added that most visitors go away from her considerably refreshed by her wit and her obvious pleasure at seeing them. Her own mother lived to be ninety-six , and she says with the blessing of God she may even surpass that. All who know her sincerely hope so. At the time I wrote about Mrs. Hall, I was Public In formation Officer for Western Carolina College, now known as Western Carolina University , and local correspondent for the CitizenTimes. I worked with Bob Hall, Alumni Secreta ry and Recruiter of prospective WCC students. From Bob, a grandson of Mrs. Hall, his mother, Mrs. David Hall, and his aunt, Mrs. David Brown, I heard many an interesting story about Mrs. Hannah Hall. I became acquainted with her and enjoyed a number of visits with her at Mrs. Brown's home where she was living. Upon Mrs. Hall's death, January 31 , 1962, the family asked me to write the obituary. It was printed on the first page of the Asheville Citizen , and that, I think, indicates some of the esteem with which she was held in the area. In this obituary I repeated much of what I had sa id about her in the feature article I had written on the occasion of her 90th birthday. In addition to that were some facts about the funeral plans. - Lillian Hirt Mrs. Hannah Hall, 95, Dies The day of the funeral has not been designated, but services will be held in Cullowhee Methodist Church. The Rev. M. V. Thumm of Asheville, the Rev. A. A. Ferguson of Cullowhee, and the Rev. Roger Pearson of Webster will officiate. Burial will be in Webster Cemetery. Pallbearers will be Charles Rowlson , Robert C. Hall, Bruce Hall, Hal McKee William McKee, Jim McKee, Mark Dowdle, and Frank Brown: Jr. The family has requested that flowers be omitted and suggests that contributions be made to the Methodists' Children's Home in Winston-Salem. Surviving in addition to her daughter , Mrs. David Brown, are a son, L. Coleman Hall of Webster, seven grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. William H. Thomas • • • Continued From Page 1 Carolina. The people of the mountains frequently had closer ties with these states than they had with other sections of North Carolina. Thomas was no exception, as his correspondence indicates. His principal markets and shopping centers in the South were Athens, Augusta, Savannah, and Charleston. After he began visiting Washington, D. C. on Indian business, he would occasionally purchase goods in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, or Washington. This northern- bought merchandise usually travelled a circuitous route through South Carolina and Geor· gia to his stores in Western North Carolina. The goods were shipped by boat from a northern port to Savannah or Charleston. At Savannah the merchandise would be transferred to small boats to move up the Savannah River to Hamburg, South Carolina. If the goods were consigned to Charleston, they would be transported to Hamburg by the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad. There they were loaded in wagons for the long trip to Western North Carolina. In short, because of the lack of adequate facilities, Thomas had to maintain agents at the various points to transfer and manage his merchandise in transit. This led to considerable expense and trouble, nor did it always prove satisfactory. Thomas operated a wagonmaking shop at his store in Quallatown. Improved roads would lead to an increased demand for his wagons. Furthermore, he raised hogs and cattle, and traded frequently in stock. These animals were driven to market on the hoof. Improved roads would make these drives easier on the animals and their drovers. In addition to these operations, Thomas wished to develop the natural resources of Western North Carolina - iron , copper, and gold. He was very interested in the copper in Sugar Loaf Mountain , located in Jackson County, and in iron ore found near Cullowhee and at Scott's Creek. In 1853 Thomas obtained three thousand acres of land between Scott 's Creek and Webster for the purpose of erecting an iron works. He already operated a forge at Quallatown which was connected with his wagon shop. Thomas wanted a railroad through the area so that the raw ore could be easily shipped to the smelter. Thomas was also concerned about the transportation of mail. He often complained of letters being lost between Washington and Murphy or Quallatown. He became acquainted with the poor roads of the region during his frequent journeys on behalf of the Indians. It usually took him two days to travel from Quallatown or Stekoih to Asheville, and, as late as 1858, took nine days to go from Washington, D. C. to Stekoih. Several other factors should be considered when reviewing Thomas' motivation for seeking internal improvements for Western North Carolina. Since he was a large landowner, Thomas stood to gain through the appreciation of land values due to road and railroad development in the area. Another fact is the intangible - Thomas' love for Western North Carolina. He wanted to see his native region rival the eastern section of the state. He was convinced of its worth and potential, and foresaw the day when Western North Carolina would lead the state in development. Thomas entered politics in 1848 largely because of his support of internal improvements. Soon after his arrival in Raleigh, Thomas was appointed to the Senate Committee on Internal Improvements , where he served continuously until 1861, with the exception of the 1854-1855 term. He was chairman of the committee for eight years. As if in justification of his idea of a state-supported internal improvements program, he noted in his political journal that "George Washington was in favor of internal improvements by the state of Virginia." Tho· mas, moreover, was convinced that North Carolina had no choice but develop a state-supported program of internal improvements. He noted "Improvements are being made by Georgia, Tennessee, and most of the western states. If neglected in this state the effect will be to cause many of the people to remove from N. C. to those states where labor in consequence of the cheapness of transportation is better rewarded." In his "Politi· cal Journal" Thomas outlined a comprehensive plan of internal improvements for Western North Carolina ; Internal improvements by the State I. From the Georgia line to Raleigh or to the terminus of the Railroad at Charlotte, the Cherokee land bonds which belong to the internal improvement fund to be appropriated to that use. The mountain portion of the road to be first made. The road to be so graded that it may be mechadamised (sic ) if deemed expedient in future. 2. A charter for a turnpike road from the Tennessee river road near Squire I. Welch 's to intersect the Maryville road on the Smoky Mountains. 3. To amend the charter of the Oconalufta Turnpike road. 4. To amend the charter of the road on the head of Tuckasega. 5. To obtain a charter for a road from below Waynesville to the Tennessee line. Thomas was very much interested in local road building projects, but during the 1840's and 1850's he was caught up in a far greater dream which was then sweeping across the United States. It was known as "railroad fever. " During the early 1830's John C. Calhoun and Robert Y. Hayne planned to build a railroad from Charleston, South Carolina to Cincinnati, Ohio, which would connect the Ohio Valley with the Atlantic Ocean. The road was never completed because of the Panic of 1837 and the premature death of Hayne in 1839. Thomas became interested in this project in 1836 when he met Calhoun while the latter was attempting to survey the route of the railroad through Western North Carolina. He became very impressed with Calhoun and his ideas and determined to carry them forward. The supporters of the Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad, were encouraged by the success of the Charleston and Hamburg line. This railroad , sponsored by the citizens of Charleston and the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, was built to divert the inland trade from Savannah to Charleston. A charter was granted by the South Carolina Legislature in 1827, and by December, 1830 the road was in operation. By 1834 it had a total mileage of 137 miles of track and was the "longest railroad in the world under a single management." The fact that the Charlestonians eagerly supported this railroad encouraged Thomas in his belief that the line to Cincinnati could be built. Thomas attended an internal improvements convention at Clarkesville, Georgia in July, 1850. At this convention, composed of delegates from the Carolinas and Georgia, Thomas spoke to a crowd of about five thousand people, saying that if a charter were granted to the Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad, he would find capitalists to subscribe the stock. Later that year, Thomas succeeded in passing a bill through the North Carolina General Assembly, granting a charter to the Tennessee River Railroad Company with a capital stock of one million dollars. The railroad would be built from the Tennessee Line near the Little Tennessee River through Macon County to the Georgia Line at Rabun Gap where it would connect with the Blue Ridge Railroad, and would serve as another link in the Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad. Thomas now moved into Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina in an effort to form railroads that would connect with those planned in North Carolina. Largely through his efforts, charters were granted to the Knoxville and Charleston Railroad in Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Railroad in Georgia, both in 1852. When the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned on December 27, 1853, Thomas went north to raise the capital for the Blue Ridge Rail· road as he had promised the convention in July, 1850 at Clarkesville. While in Washington , he raised $1 ,200,000 in stock and contracted with Anson and Eli T. Bangs of New York to build the railroad. The Bangses agreed to construct the road within three and one-half years, and would be paid half in cash and half in stocks and bonds. Thomas then accompanied the Bangses to Charleston to make preparations for construction to begin within a month. To expedite the building of the railroad, Thomas went to Columbia, South Carolina to purchase iron and other supplies. He contracted with the Bangses to supply mudsills and crossties. Thomas would be paid a commission of ten percent , one half of which would be in Blue Ridge Railroad stock, for his efforts to supply the necessary construction materials. After the contracts were drawn, Thomas was wined and dined by the Charleston aristocracy and acclaimed as the originator of the Blue Ridge Railroad. Thomas was always eager to discuss internal improvements, and coupled with his easy style of public speaking, he quickly became a favorite of the crowds at summer barbecues. During the summer of 1853 he attended two barbecues in less than a month - at Franklin, North Carolina and Clayton , Georgia. At both places Thomas spoke with enthusiasm of the importance of the Blue Ridge Railroad and urged the people to give the project their whole-hearted support. At the barbecue in Franklin, the crowd adopted several resolutions which pleased Thomas and raised his hopes for an early completion of the railroad. The building of a railroad as ambitious as the Blue Ridge Railroad was very expensive, so in 1854 Thomas devoted much time in an effort to secure more funds. Tennessee promised aid in the form of a loan, but South Carolina agreed to buy bonds of up to $1,250,000 upon the condition that the railroad would also raise as much money as possible. During the bitter debate over the Blue Ridge Railroad which took place in the South Carolina Legislature Thomas went to Columbia to reassure Governor John Manning of the value of the project. He reminded Manning that Charleston provided the major support for the railroad, Page 3 HISTORIC WEBSTER, Winter, 1977 which was natural since the merchants and others realized it would be of great benefit to their city. Thomas' importance in interstate railroad development is revealed by his negotiation of a merger between the Blue Ridge companies in North Carolina , South Carolina, and Georgia, and the Tennessee River Railroad in Tennessee. The company now in control, the Blue Ridge Railroad Company of South Carolina, was contracted to build a railroad from Anderson , South Carolina, through Rabun Gap, Georgia and Macon County, North Carolina, to Knoxville, Tennessee. The route, which was approximately one hundred and ninety-five miles long, included thirteen tunnels, one of which , the Stump House Tunnel, near the Georgia-South Carolina boundary, was to be five thousand, eight hundred feet long. In November, 1853, under the direction of the South Caro· lina firm, construction was begun. The South Carolina Blue Ridge Railroad Company had many problems. Shortly after construction began, Bangs and Company sold their contract to A. Birdsall and Company. Finding Birdsall's work unsatisfactory, the board of directors and chief engineers of the South Carolina company dismissed the new contractors and sublet contracts for small jobs or phases of work to individuals. Additional funds for construction were not appropriated by the state legislature, and the future of the road appeared dismal. Thomas, however, continued to be optimistic. Even in 1860 he made speeches in support of the Blue Ridge Railroad. But, after ten years of hard work, Thomas saw the project fail with only a few miles of track actually laid. On the other hand, Thomas' support of the Western North Carolina Railroad was crowned with success, although it took tha line thirty-six years - from 1854 to 1890 - to be built from Salisbury to Murphy, a distance of less than three hundred miles. Thomas' political career was based upon his support of internal improvements projects. However, a few comments should be made about his politica