In 1930, my uncle, Bill Workman, was a college student at the Univ. of Chattanooga and worked part time during the summers at Boy Scout Camp Tsatanugi off Boy Scout Road (Hixson Middle Valley), near Chattanooga. Bill had the Eagle Scout rank, and was now the camp’s Waterfront Director. He had several other very- athletic young men on his Waterfront Staff.
The camp owned at least two Old Town wood/canvas canoes. They were used for flatwater canoeing instruction on North Chickamauga creek. The camp ‘”waterfront” was a wide place in the creek, under the railroad bridge, beside Boy Scout Road, where the Highland Sportsman Club is today.
During camp that summer of 1930, Bill and three of his waterfront staffers got an idea to mount a wilderness expedition to paddle 2 of these Old Town canoes down one of the gorges of the nearby Appalachian Mountains. (Hair paddlers, sound familiar?) The other 3 men were: James Irvine, Luke Lea, and George Stewart. The plan was to canoe the Hiwassee River gorge from Murphy, NC all the way back down to Chattanooga. Their wilderness survival abilities were well respected by their Scout Executive Charlie K. Peacock, who authorized the trip, using BSA canoes.
After camp was over that summer in 1930, the four young men built wooden crates for two canoes. They hauled them down to the L&N Depot in Chattanooga and shipped them by rail to Murphy NC (no custom car racks in those days). They Knew the rail depot in Murphy was right on the banks of the Hiwassee (it’s still there restored).
They loaded provisions in Bill’s car, and drove to Murphy to claim their freight, taking along a fifth friend, Sinclair Ashley, to drive the car back to Chattanooga. Ashley wrecked the car on the way back (wasn’t too serious) while coming down the winding historic “Old Copper Road” through the Ocoee gorge (right past where the Olympics were held in ’96) Talk about your all-day shuttle from hell.
The river ahead of them stretched 133 miles, 98 miles down the Hiwassee, and then 35 miles down the Tennessee to Gladfish’s Boat Dock, under the Walnut Street Bridge (the only one in downtown Chattanooga). They had pup tents and provisions for 2 weeks. The total drop in elevation was and is 866 feet.
It was all free-flowing water then, 5 to 10 years before the Hiwassee Appalachia and Chickamauga Dams were started by TVA. Today, only about 10 miles of this distance is gorge whitewater, and then only when Appalachia Powerhouse is discharging. The rest is dry gorge, slow moving flat river, or calm lake. I guess the difference is called progress, or electricity, or something.
I heard the story as a teenager from my uncle Bill and later from Mr. Irvine. My uncle passed away in 1989. All we have today are 17 pictures they took on the trip and clippings from the Chattanooga Times.
Don’t miss Part 2 of my story next month when I’ll give you details of the trip. Did all 4 survive without lifejackets? Was there (is there?) a Class IV rapid in the Hiwassee gorge? Where does the wide Hiwassee drop 100 feet in just 1 mile, or narrow to only 16 feet wide? The answers to these burning questions will be in Part 2 next month.