BLOWING ROCK — Sitting down to talk with Steve Sudderth about Blowing Rock is like talking with a history book. Facts, figures, dates, stories — they all run off his tongue in as if he was a walking encyclopedia.
That’s actually not surprising since he is the author of the recently published book, “Trails Through Time: A History of the Blowing Rock Area, 1400 to 1900.”
A one-time bank loan officer, traveling salesman, fire marshal and building inspector, Blowing Rock’s native son leverages knowledge and skills gained from each occupation to craft an absorbing narrative that is far from linear. Sudderth’s research for this book, which references information from volumes no longer in print, is exhaustive. Some of it traces back to journals kept by Spanish explorers. There are archaeological anecdotes about Native Americans from various tribes, from Mississippi and Florida and North Carolina and Tennessee.
“I love history,” Sudderth said about writing the book. “There are many books out with a lot of published information about the history of the Blowing Rock area from the turn of the 20th century forward. There isn’t much new that I could contribute from about 1900 forward.
“At the same time, I have long been curious about the popular claim that Moravian Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg was the first European in these parts. That was shortly after 1750, but there is ample evidence that others came through this region even before the mid-1700s. Not just Native Americans, but the Spanish, too, based on journal entries found in ancient archives back in Spain, as well as the longhunters, even those that preceded Daniel Boone.”
Anyone with an interest in this region is likely to find “Trails Through Time” absorbing because there is a wealth of often surprising information, and even answers to questions the reader might never have asked:
- Hernando De Soto, the Spanish conquistador known primarily for his conquests of Central America and Peru, also led an expedition to explore the southeastern U.S. It began in what is now Tampa Bay and traveled north, including to areas of western North Carolina and Tennessee. The Spanish rode horses which, Sudderth points out, was “an animal unknown to Native Americans.” They also brought pigs for food, and some of them escaped — which accounts for what are now described as “feral pigs” or “wild hogs” that, “500 years later, cost an estimated $1.5 billion each year in damages and control costs.”
- Through the years, Blowing Rock has been a part of eight counties, usually at the intersection of county boundary lines. Before Watauga County was even a jurisdiction, Blowing Rock started out as a part of Rowan County, and later related to Surry, Burke, Washington, Wilkes, Ashe, Yancey, and Caldwell before Watauga was formed.
- During the Civil War, Blowing Rock was the epicenter of an Underground Railroad to get Union soldiers who had escaped Confederate prisons back to the north. Sudderth reported that as many as 640 returned to their homes in the north this way.
- Four escaped Union soldiers were “befriended” by a Confederate general near Morganton during the Civil War, even aiding their escape by pointing them to a boat that would take them to the other side of the Catawba River. Sudderth reports that the general described by one of the men later as having “piercing black eyes, a handsome face, mounted on a magnificent horse with two heavy revolvers and having a bright sabre by his side” was Gen. John Porter McCown.
- “The Martin House” was built in 1870 by Harry Corpening Martin, a descendent of a guide and frontier longhunter, John Perkins. Martin was a prominent businessman and newspaper editor in Lenoir, having founded the Lenoir newspaper. He was also the president of the Caldwell & Watauga Turnpike Company in 1896, the company that led to what eventually became U.S. 321 connecting Lenoir with Blowing Rock.
- At one time there were two “community wells” in downtown Blowing Rock from which to retrieve water.
- The area now known as downtown Blowing Rock was first called “Laurel Ridge.” By 1856, residents had decided on “Blowing Rock” as what they would call their community. The town’s first post office was opened on July 26, 1856.
This is just a sampling of some of the historical tidbits found in Sudderth’s book, “Trails Through Time.” The author intentionally starts out identifying broad (and very early) demographic trends, from the Native Americans and the Spanish, as well as the “longhunters.” Ultimately, he narrows the scope to stories and facts specifically about Blowing Rock.
The first printing of “Trails Through Time” was in April 2020, by Imaging Specialists, Inc.
In addition to being available at the author’s website, https://steve-sudderth-books.square.site/, the book is also available for purchase at:
- The Blowing Rock
- Sunset Tee’s & Hattery- Blowing Rock
- Footsloggers — Boone and Blowing Rock
- Caldwell County Heritage Museum — Lenoir
- Wilkes County Heritage Museum — Wilkesboro
- Boone Drug Deerfield — Boone
- Fred’s General Mercantile Store — Beech Mountain