Few things intrigue me as much as old maps, and the 1886 chart of Catawba County is no exception. Recently I came upon the copy I purchased from the Museum of History in Newton.
The poster-sized drawing was rendered by Rev. R. A. Yoder and sponsored by the county school board. They wanted a good visual of boundaries for new school districts. So, as the story goes, Yoder attached an odometer to his buggy to determine mileage between points on the map. He would ride into greater fame as a founder of Lenoir College 1891. We know it as Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Yoder’s map offered far more than school boundaries. The legend listed population of the towns: Hickory 2,000; Newton 1,200; Keeverville 700; Conover, 400; Catawba 300, Maiden 200.
So where was “Keeverville”?
That metropolis, located in the Southwest part of the county Was renamed “Plateau.” By 1886 it was home to a mill, wool spinning operation, Keeverville High School. a drug store, post office and the Methodist Episcopal Church. Quite a bustling burg. The place was hopping until 1907.
A fire took the wind of the Plateau’s sails, but it didn’t help that the place had no railroad service. And then, to addd insult to injury, the State of North Carolina decided to route Highway 10 through Propst Crossroads a few miles to the north.
The western stretch of Highway 10 by the way, was known as “Chestnut Hollow Road” on the Yoder map.
Road 1007 that bisects Mountain View south to the Lincoln County line, is now known as Hickory -Lincolnton Highway. 135 years ago, the Revolutionary War still played in its name: Kings Mountain Road. I’ll venture a wild guess that men used this throughway to meet Ferguson’s British forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1781. Island Ford Road, the route once traveled by Native Americans, colonials and later, Revolutionary War soldiers, crossed Lyle Creek at Bunker Hill Bridge. The bridge and surrounding property are now owned by the Historical Association of Catawba County.
The roadbed we call Highway 16 was known as “Beaty’s Ford Road” southeast of Newton.
North of Hickory, at what would be near the 321 bridges, was “Horse Ford” and “Horse Ford Toll Bridge,” an enterprise that collapsed with the 1916 flood.
A second toll bridge carried traffic to and from the Monbo cotton mill in eastern Catawba County. East Monbo was once a thriving village nestled up to the mill until Lake Norman claimed the riverbed along with Long Island and its cotton mill. Just thinking about those places, left abandoned under the lake, gives me the shivers.
Where there weren’t bridges, residents of the 1880s would have crossed the river using fords and ferries--among them, Moore’s Ferry, the name of a housing development on Lake Hickory, Bowman’s Ferry and Sherrills Ford.
A close examination of Yoder’s map shows the western approach to Newton by way of a curvy street we call “West C” that runs past the library and post office, to dead-end on College Avenue.
Newton was home to Catawba College on the south end of town in 1886. Conover was home to Concordia College. Other educational landmarks were Hickory’s Claremont College, located where the Arts & Science Center is today; Highland Academy and Mt. St. Joseph’s College in the southwest quadrant of town.
Sprinkled across the landscape depicted by Yoder are crosses marking homesteads of old Catawba families with familiar surnames: Shuford, Whitener, Anthony, Wilfong, Cline, Propst, Seitz, Sigmon, Drum, Huffman, Setzer and more.
Yoder gave a nod to flora, too, noting stands of woodlands with the words “Walnut” “Oak and Hickory,” “Pine” and “Chinquapin”, a native name for a short chestnut tree. Curiously, “Kaolin” is noted in a portion of southeastern county. The naturally occurring white clay had medicinal qualities.
Elevated features were noted: Baker’s Mountain and Anderson’s Mountain, certainly, but also Hog Hill in present-day Vale, and Lookout Knob along the river,
Methodist campgrounds were in full swing. No less than three are mapped: Balls Creek, of course, but also Wesley Chapel and Mt. Zion AME.
The county had a gold mine along Sherrills Ford Road: The site is marked with an historic plaque today.
Strewn across the county are were post offices including five that are still operating: Hickory, Conover, Newton, Sherrills Ford, Maiden and Crossing (now Claremont). a number of places that we’d be hard-pressed to locate today: Edith, Younts Turnout, Hayseed.
Country stores dotted the map as well, named for their owners, the stores came to identify areas of the county to this day: Bandy’s, Blackburn and Propst Crossroads to name three,
Studying this map is to educate yourself about the place we live.
The golf course and community we call “Catawba Springs” was a resort promising health benefits in the 1880s, with its own post office. The road to the attraction would come to be known as “Springs Road.”
---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org A collection of articles from this column were released in 2021 by Red Hawk Publications, entitled Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World.