Sunday, September 1, 2013

Noland Creek was Home (A Story of the Cole Hyatt family, Part II)

In Part I of this two-part tale, last week's blog entry related the early days of the Cole Hyatt family until approximately 1940.  This week's narrative concludes their story.


Phillip Goodenow Rust
(Photo posted to by user cayrton)
In the early 1930's, a young and wealthy MIT graduate and businessman named Phillip Goodenow Rust moved to Noland Creek, where he proceeded to create a mountain estate unlike anything seen to that point in Swain County. Wealthy not only by birth but also by virtue of hard work, Rust was a successful businessman who had recently married Eleanor Francis Dupont, an heir to the Dupont Chemical family fortune.  He bought up over 4,300 acres of heavily logged land in the Noland Creek watershed, upon which he undertook a massive reforestation project, built a summer cottage for his family, cottages for friends and family who wished to come and vacation, a nurse's cottage, sheep and equestrian barns, a trout farm, and a kiln for Eleanor, who was an avid potter.   To power all of this, Rust built a waterwheel-powered turbine, the remains of which are still visible just off the Noland Creek Trail.  To manage the estate, Rust hired a number of local individuals, one of whom was Cole Hyatt.
Rust Electric Plant on Noland Creek
(Courtesy of NARA)
Starting out for Mr. Rust by running fencing and other miscellaneous duties, Cole quickly gained his trust and admiration for his work ethic.  Around 1940, Mr. Rust approached Cole about full-time work as a warden for his estate for payment of $1000 a year, a home provided rent-free, and sufficient land to plant a crop and graze a few cattle and some hogs. In 1941, Cole moved his family to the Solola area of Noland Creek.  The remains of the home that the Hyatts lived in on Noland Creek lie 2.6 miles upstream from the Noland Creek parking lot on the Road to Nowhere, about 100 yards before reaching the third bridge on the trail.  In the 1940's, this home was considered relatively luxurious for the area, having seven rooms, running water, a shower and best of all - electricity!  Today, over 70 years later, the front walk is overgrown by massive boxwoods but still leads to the front steps which yet remain.  The foundation of the home, the concrete shower pan, and the piping are all still there as well, as is the front yard's cedar tree in which the chickens would roost at night.
Hyatt family at their home on Noland Creek
(Courtesy Lawrence Hyatt)
Life was happy there for young Lawrence.  He walked to Bearpen Branch (the site of one of Noland Creek's former schools) every day to catch the bus to school at Bushnell, and helped with the household and farm chores.  He remembers dinners at the home, where Mr. Rust would come to enjoy Fannie's delicious cooking while business was discussed.  He also recalls helping his father out a bit with the running of the estate.  One chore he remembers with some degree of trepidation was the annual sheep-shearing.  Lawrence had to turn a crank which would, in turn, provide power to the sheep shearers.  With some 250-head of sheep to de-fleece, he recounts with a chuckle that he would turn that crank until he thought his arm would fall off.  However, the bears in the area would wreak havoc on Rust's sheep, until eventually all were killed off but one.  Mr. Rust had Cole bring the last sheep on Noland Creek home with him, as a present for Lawrence.  Lawrence dearly loved the sheep and would tether it in the yard to mow the lawn.  But a bear would eventually come for it as well, carrying it off one evening.
On December 7th, 1941, Lawrence and his father were standing near their hog lot across the creek from their home, when the radio announced the onset of World War II.  Cole's thoughts instantly turned to his boys, as several were of age to be drafted into the military.  From that time until the day Lawrence would come running up the road to what is now the Mill Creek campground in 1945 to tell his father and Mr. Rust that the war was over, the safety of his sons was daily on his mind.  Also on his mind, though, was the impending loss of his home and lands on Goldmine Branch.  Like many of the other individuals and families on the north shore of Fontana Lake whose home and lands would not be inundated by lake's waters but to which access would be cut off, Cole Hyatt did not feel that he should have to give up his property.  Unlike others, however, he refused to sell his land and in October of 1944, TVA issued a declaration of taking, condemning the property.  In response, and in partnership with Phillip Rust and other area landowners Arnold Bradshaw, John Burns, Fred Lollis and Columbus Welch, Cole Hyatt sued TVA, asserting that the government entity had exceeded its authority in condemning lands that were 'above pool'.
Lawrence Hyatt on the steps of his old Noland Creek home
(Courtesy Don Casada)
While the battle for their property raged, however, the dam effort proceeded on.  Once the waters of Fontana Lake overtook NC 288 at the mouth of Noland Creek, the Hyatt family was forced into a painful separation.  Since neither the Hyatt lands nor the Rust estate were as yet in the possession of TVA, Cole stayed on at the estate as warden and was also able to oversee his own land, on whom he had placed a tenant.  But the children had to go to school, so Fannie moved out with Lawrence and Lucille to a home on Deep Creek.  Lawrence attended the Bryson City Elementary School and the family attended church at the old wood-sided Deep Creek church, which once stood where a tubing center now plies its trade to tourists.  On Saturdays, or other days as needed, Cole would take a boat which Mr. Rust had provided him, to Round Hill, where Walter would pick him up, take him to see the family and to run any necessary errands, and return him to Round Hill to make the long trek back to his Noland Creek home.  As Mr. Rust was ever mindful of the safety and well-being of his employees, he hired other local men such as Dock Gibby to stay with Cole, but the separation from his family was difficult to bear.  One can only imagine what life there must have been like for him, with only one other person on the creek and his only other connection to the outside world being a park radio on which he would 'report in' every hour.  Holidays and summers brought a joyful reprieve from this loneliness, though, as his family would always join him on Noland Creek....the home of their hearts.
Ultimately, the family's happiness and tenure on the North Shore was doomed to come to an end.  Despite wins over TVA in both the Federal District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court would prove to see the case differently.  Despite excellent arguments on their behalf by well-respected Bryson City attorney McKinley Edwards and Asheville attorney George Ward, the petitioners lost their battle on March 25, 1946.  In an 8-0 decision, the high court issued a stunning reversal of the findings of the lower courts and announced in their decision that TVA had the constitutionally-mandated authority to condemn all the land at issue.  It was a heartbreaking defeat, one which was to haunt the family for the rest of their days. 

Cole and Fannie Hyatt at their new home in Cherokee County
(Courtesy Lawrence Hyatt)

With much sadness, the family moved, driving their livestock overland and taking their belongings out by boat.  Unable to locate a farm in Swain County that fit their needs, they instead found a house with 125 acres in the Hanging Dog area of Cherokee County which they were able to purchase with the sale of their Goldmine Branch farm.  (Readers are referred to Don Casada's comment below to note the 'comparability' of the Hyatts' farms in the two counties.  It should additionally be noted that the original amount offered by TVA to Cole Hyatt was over $2,000 less than his final payment after the lawsuit.)  The family moved and settled in, installing electricity and a well in short order.  Cole once again became a full-time farmer, and Lawrence and Lucille finished school in Cherokee County.  Though a beautiful place that friends and family often visited, it was never 'Home'.  In time, Lawrence graduated from high school and being unable to find work locally, moved to Kinzua, Oregon, where he quickly worked his way up to a lead position with a lumber company. 
Cole and Fannie Hyatt, circa 1946
(Courtesy Lawrence Hyatt)
Sadly, another tragedy was to strike the family in 1953, just six months after Lawrence had moved across the country.  In a disastrous haying accident, Cole Hyatt's back was broken and he was left permanently paralyzed on one side.  Lawrence returned home in the immediate aftermath and, seeing the dire situation the family was in (his mother now having to care for both Lucille and Cole), decided to bring them to Oregon.  He fitted a little bed in the back of his truck for his father and over the course of six days drove the family cross country to live with him.  Despite the great comfort and assistance provided to them by Lawrence, Fannie was desperately homesick for the mountains, and returned to their home with Cole a year and a half later.  A few years thereafter, Lawrence moved his young family, which now included a wife and two sons, back to the area in order to help his mother. The other siblings also helped as they were able and as they retired; with the family's help, Cole and Fannie were able to stay on their farm.  Their oldest son, Walter, was unable to return to aid his parents, having perished in a work accident in 1962.
Due to the exceptional and loving care given to him by his devoted wife and family, Cole Hyatt lived for 23 years after his accident, dying in 1976 at the age of 84.  Despite her grief, the ever-strong and determined Fannie continued to live her life to the fullest, even plowing and tending her garden into her 90's.  In 1996 at the ripe old age of 100, she joined Cole in their eternal home. They now lie interred near other members of the Hyatt family and their good cousins and friends, John and Emeline Cole, at the Lauada Cemetery.  Lawrence has long served on the board of directors for the cemetery's association.  An avid genealogist and historian, he has also produced several books of family genealogy, using the proceeds to pay for tombstones for members of his family and other North Shore individuals whose lonely graves were once marked only by fieldstones.  By virtue of his work, the Hyatt family's legacy will live on not only through their descendants, but also through the stones which now mark the final resting places of those who were once unknown.
Tombstone of Cole and Fannie Hyatt, Lauada Cemetery

The family's legacy lives on in one final way.  Should you get a free hour, drive down old NC 288 to its terminus at the boat ramp and the Beasley Place.  Walk the old trails there, and drink from the fine spring.  Look at the picture of the home as it once was, and investigate the front porch steps which now lead to a grassy patch.  Then sit within the pavilion, look down upon the old road......and ponder on the remarkable family legacy that was begun  at this very place over 100 years ago by a comely lass with raven locks and a lanky farmer from Goldmine Branch.

Sources: (
Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute
Interviews with Lawrence Hyatt, Christine Proctor, and Leonard Cole
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - Atlanta
Photos courtesy of Lawrence Hyatt, Don Casada, and Ancestry user cayrton
Swain County Register of Deeds office (
Tennessee Valley Authority


  1. Well done, as expected. I would simply add that the Hyatt family tract on Goldmine Branch consisted of 225 acres (in two adjoining tracts). Apparently, the TVA payment for that 225 acres (with two houses) was sufficient to buy 125 acres in Hanging Dog.

    "Fair" market value at its sigogling government finest.

  2. I enjoyed reading about the Hyatts in these two articles. I like the way you write. I hope this really takes off!
    When I read through it yesterday something sparked in my mind. I have a relative who's death certificate says he was a warden for a private reserve in the Smokies. Somebody shot and killed him. I remember reading it but can't find it now. If I do find it would you be interested in seeing it?

    1. Thank you, Ed. I've got volumes of material to publish, so stay tuned! I would be very interested in seeing that death certificate. Sounds like the beginnings of a story....

  3. A thoroughly enjoyable read ... we, today, have much to be thankful for ... Well done!

  4. Very interesting reading! I'm wondering what you can tell me about the area's namesake(s), "Noland"? I find references to the community of Noland and Noland gap in a family history about four brothers who settled in the area in the late 1700's or early 1800's.

  5. My son and I had a great hike up Noland last Saturday. Along the way, I took him up to the Lower Noland Creek Cemetery and showed him the standing chimney on the way up. Could you share with me what you know about that site with the standing chimney, cistern, and old beds around. Looks pretty nice. I have to admit that I still have many of your articles to read, so maybe you have already described this. If so, please direct me to it. Thank you.