Many generations of Merrie-Woode girls carry with them stories of overnight trips to Panthertown. In the early days of Camp, Panthertown Valley was a fairly inaccessible wilderness, located generally North of the Camp property between Laurel Knob and Lake Toxaway. Locals called the area “Painter Town,” since it was inhabited by “painters,” their name for panthers or mountain lions, now believed to be extinct in the Eastern United States. Panthertown includes several streams that form the headwaters of the Tuckasegee River, as well as a variety of geographic features including mountain bogs and granite rock faces.
During Merrie-Woode’s formative years, much of the land in Panthertown belonged to the Moltz Lumber Company, which logged it during the 1920s and 1930s. After the logging, a large fire burned through the Valley, clearing much of the remaining growth in the forest and on the granite domes. A group of investors began assembling parcels of the land formerly owned by Moltz Lumber, as well as Wolf Mountain Lumber Company and other private owners. Eventually, Liberty Life Insurance Company acquired the entire property, with the intent to create a resort development. They planned to flood the Valley to form a lake, in a manner similar to the creation of Lake Fairfield, Lake Toxaway, and Lake Glenville. These plans never materialized, and the owners looked for other possibilities for the land. The U.S. Park Service considered bringing the Blue Ridge Parkway through Panthertown, but chose another route instead. In 1988, Liberty sold the property to Duke Power, which had acquired the Nantahala Power Company and sought to connect its power grid at Lake Glenville to the South Carolina plant Keowee/Toxaway. Duke Power constructed a power line of approximately 30 miles through the heart of Panthertown. They sold the property to the Nature Conservancy in 1989, which then facilitated its transfer to the U.S. Forest Service. Panthertown is now part of the Nantahala National Forest and is a designated Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
Through the early 1990s, Merrie-Woode campers hiked to Panthertown Valley directly from Camp property over the gap between Old Bald and Cow Rock. Packs were brought in by the Jeep pickup over what is now the trail off Cedar Creek Road (Salt Rock Gap entrance). For many years, all cabins in the Page and Yeoman groups took the trip together, picking blueberries along the trail and making hobo stew and baked apples at the campsite. Girls enjoyed sleeping in the “Panthertown Hilton,” a nickname for the A-frame shelter that Merrie-Woode staff constructed at the campsite. Stories of girls packing a hair dryer or tennis racquet, thinking they were going to a real Hilton, still bring laughs! Long-time Staff member and trip leader Doug Cameron remembers that in earlier years, the shelter consisted of two tent platforms with Army tents that he and a few other staff members would set up the week before Camp opened.
Our present day mountaineers begin their hikes from the National Forest trailheads at Salt Rock Gap or Cold Mountain, but they discover many of the same delights of the wilderness that these campers described in their account of a 1925 trip:
The First Panther Town Hike
The Gray and Green A’s were greatly thrilled at assembly on Monday when M.T. announced that they would be the lucky ones to go on the first hike to Panther Town.
As soon as sweaters, hats, etc., were gathered up, we gayly started over “Big Bald”. After reaching the top we took a new trail over Chestnut Ridge and became real pioneers. Before we knew it we were at Uncle Cal’s cabin, in a beautiful rhododendron grove. There never was such good cold water as we got from the spring and our lunches were the best ever. We toasted our sandwiches and ate them as slowly as possible. We took rest hour and then were on our homeward way.
The eventful part of the trip now began. We climbed up Green Mountain and a wonderful view stretched before us. While we were up there we saw a band of ants, regularly organized, carrying a huge spider. Not the least enjoyed were the huckleberries which were eaten by everybody.
Coming home we passed through Panther Town itself and enjoyed the sights of Main Street.
We crossed several natural bridges of North Carolina and came up under the foot of Green Mountain where a sheer cliff rose up for about two hundred feet.
Calamity Creek was reached and we stopped to wade. The water was very cold so we soon got out and put on our shoes. Here the creek was christened because Rena’s stocking fell in and Barron in rescuing it went in too deep and had a hard time getting out.
After minor hurts were fixed up, we started again. Soon Bald was reached and while we meant to take the short cut we missed it and came down Big Bald. As it turned out we were glad we did because we had another exciting experience. We met two rattle snakes and after leaving Barron, Lulu and Happy as slayers we started on. We stopped at the Glen for a few minutes and soon we were home after a wonderful and exciting trip.
Jessie Hall and Sarah Welch,
A favorite place in Panthertown for many campers is Schoolhouse Falls. Local resident Martha Burrell recounted this story about how Schoolhouse Falls got its name:
“After World War I (1914-1918), Panthertown Valley was logged extensively by the Moltz Lumber Company, which was based in Lake Toxaway. The company specialized in logging hemlock, which could not be harvested profitably by most lumber companies. A small human settlement grew up around the logging camps and the children needed to walk 3 miles across rugged terrain to reach the closest school: Rock Bridge School. The Moltz Lumber Company responded by building a school house near what is now called Schoolhouse Falls. But on October 29th, 1929 the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. The logging camps were closed and no children ever attended the school in Panthertown. Several different people took up residence in the house at various times, and it was often used as a shelter for campers and hunters. Eventually the building fell into disrepair and disappeared. It may have been victim of the floods in the summer of 1940, in which a record rainfall of 8.7 inches fell in Jackson County along the Tuckasegee River in a single 24-hour period.”
We hope that these stories bring back great memories of Pathertown trips. Please share your favorite personal stories in the comments below.
If you’re interested in more of Panthertown’s history, take a look at these links:
And if you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here: