Aldridge, grandson hike for history

Aldridge, grandson hike for history

November 7th, 2013 by By Gary Petty in Sports - Outdoors

History buffs C.D. "Butch" Aldridge and Kollin Kennedy, his grandson, check out an old gravesite located in the Proctor cemetery. The cemetery is at the site where Moses and Patience Rustin Proctor, the first settlers of the Hazel Creek area in western North Carolina, built their first cabin.

Photo by Photo: Gary Petty

Seeing pictures of old home sites, lumber sites, parts of old automobiles, cemeteries and roads are one way to experience history, but to see those things first hand is so much better, some say.

That certainly is the case with C.D. "Butch" Aldridge and his grandson, Kollin Kennedy.

"I'm more of an explorer than just a hiker. I just like to find old things," said Aldridge, a retired NCR Corp. employee. "Kollin is the same way. He is a big history person."

The 67-year-old Harrison resident and his 11-year-old grandson recently walked the same paths that some early Smoky Mountain residents traveled in the early 1900s.

"Kollin and I had been talking about going to Proctor for some time," Aldridge said about their recent trip to the faded town of Proctor, N.C.

The lumber town built out of farmland was located near what is now the north shore of Fontana Lake. With the creation of the lake by TVA's construction of the nation's highest dam east of the Mississippi River -- and the boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park extended to the shores of that lake -- the kerosene lights of Proctor went out for the last time.

During Kollin's fall break from Silverdale Baptist Academy, he and his granddad headed to Fontana Lake, took a five-mile motorboat ride across it and backpacked to a backcountry campsite.

The campsite, designated number 86 by the U.S. National Park Service, is near the site of the former town of Proctor. It was established in 1886 with only a few farmers scattered along Hazel Creek, but that changed when the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company cranked up its operations in the area in 1910.

Growing to around 1,000 workers, the town had its own school, church, ballfield, doctor, dentist, train depot, cafe, barber shop and movie theater.

Walking down what was called "Struttin' Street" in Proctor, visitors can see the remains of a train depot and the site of thtown's school. Crossing a bridge over Hazel Creek, visitors can explore the Calhoun House and then follow the creek upstream to the lumber company's old sawmill location.

The remnants of Ritter's dry kiln stilll stand next to the sawmill site. That same area was also the location of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp used from the 1930s until 1942.

On up Hazel Creek, in the Sugar Fork area, is where Horace Kephart, a strong advocate for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lived for three years before moving to Bryson City, N.C. Mount Kephart, a 6,217-foot crest just off the Appalachian Trail in the park, is named in his honor.

"I like the Cumberland Trail because it is real close. It is easy to get to," Aldridge said about where he likes to hike. "However, the Smokies may be my all-time favorite."

And some times are better than others.

"I have been up on the Appalachian Trail in the late spring, and the gnats and flies are miserable," Aldridge said. "This time of year it is cooler; there are less bugs and less foliage. I backpack all winter long until the foliage starts coming back on the trees."

This most recent backcountry outing was only a taste of what Aldridge and his sixth-grade grandson want to do on the shores of Fontana Lake.

"I have been thinking about doing the whole Lakeshore Trail. We have been limited by Kollin's schedule," Aldridge said.

That trip would involve backpacking about 35 miles from Bryson City to Fontana Dam and staying several nights on the trail made up of old road beds and paths that generally follow the north shore of the 10,230-acre lake.

Young Kennedy said history is his thing, too.

"It just interests me. I like to see old things," he said. "It gives me a visual of what happened a long time ago."

More plans are in the making.

"We are going to try and find some new stuff on Lookout Mountain," Aldridge said, specifiying the old Durham coal mine area.

For him and his grandson, the "new stuff" is actually "old stuff."