Robbins: 1896 travel diary: 'A Week on Walden's Ridge'

Robbins: 1896 travel diary: 'A Week on Walden's Ridge'

August 26th, 2018 by Mickey Robbins in Opinion Columns

Staff photo by Tim Barber / The Walden's Ridge fire located above the Falling Water community is seen to the west of U.S. Highway 27 on Tuesday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bradford Torrey, a journalist and ornithologist from Massachusetts, described his 1896 trip to Walden's Ridge in excerpts from "Spring Notes from Tennessee."

"Throughout my stay in Chattanooga I looked often and with desire at a long, flat-topped perpendicular-sided, densely wooded mountain, beyond the Tennessee River. It's name was Walden's Ridge. I was told: the top of it was eighty miles long and ten or twelve miles wide; if I wanted a bit of wild country, that was the place for me. Was it accessible? And was there any reasonable way of living there? Oh yes; carriages ran every afternoon from the city, and there were several small hotels on the mountain. So it happened that I went to Walden's Ridge for my last week in Tennessee and have ever since thanked my stars — as New England Christians used to say, in my boyhood — for giving me the good wine at the end of the feast.

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"The wine, it is true, was a little too freely watered. I went up the mountain in a rain, and came down again in a rain, and of the seven intervening days five were showery. The showers, mostly with thunder and lightning, were of the sort that makes an umbrella ridiculous, and my jaunts, as a rule, took me far from shelter. Yet I had little to complain of.

"The road up the mountain — the 'new road' (today's U.S. 127) as it was called, is a notable piece of work done by county chain gangs. The pleasure of the ascent, made it necessary to keep the sides of the wagon down; but I was fortunate in my driver. At first he seemed a stolid, uncommunicative body, and when we came to the river I made sure he could not read. As we drove upon the bridge, where straight before his eyes was a signal forbidding any one to drive or ride over the bridge at a pace faster than a walk, under a penalty of five dollars for each offense, he whipped up his horse and mule (the mule the better horse of the two), and they struck into a trot. But whatever my driver's educational deficiencies, it did not take long to discover that in his own line he was a master. He could hit the ear of his mule with the end of his whip with a precision that was almost startling. In fact, it was startling — to the mule.

"I had hardly taken the road, the next morning, impatient to see what this little world on a mountain top was like, before I came to a lovely brook making its devious course among big boulders with much pleasant gurgling, in the shadow of mountain laurel and white azalea, — a place highly characteristic of Walden's Ridge. Just now there was no stopping so near home, though a Kentucky warbler, with his cool, liquid song, did his best to beguile me; and I kept on my way, past a few houses, a tiny box of a post-office, a rude church, and a few more houses, till just beyond the last one the road dropped into the forest again, as if for good.

"I stood on a boulder in mid-current, in the shadow of overhanging trees, and drank it in. Such rhododendrons and laurel, now in the perfection of their beauty! One rhododendron bush was at least ten feet high, and loaded with blooms. Another lifted its crown of a dozen rose-purple clusters amid the dark foliage of a hemlock. A magnolia-tree stood near. Birds were singing on all hands, and numbers of gay-colored butterflies flitted about, sipping here and there at a blossom. I remember especially a fine tiger swallow-tail; the only one I saw in Tennessee.

"Meanwhile I had been to the Brow, where I had sat for an hour or more on the edge of the mountain, gazing down upon the world. The valley at my feet was beautiful beyond words — green forests interspersed with green clearings, lonely fields of red earth. Chimney swifts were cackling merrily, and the air was full of the hum of seventeen-year locusts — miles and miles of continuous sound. From somewhere far below rose the tinkle of cow-bells.

"My last walk had ended like many others in that shower, fragmentary week. But what is bad weather when the time is past? All those black clouds have left no shadow on Walden's Ridge."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins is an investment adviser with Patten and Patten. For more, visit

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