The Trip down the Yadkin from Hell

"Adventurous Voyagers", or, as I like to call it, "The Trip down the Yadkin from Hell"

Excerpts from an 1880’s newspaper article

Capt. W. H. Bixby and Lieut. Taylor, of the U. S. Engineers, Mr. Frank Brown of Salisbury, with a colored boatman. The boat, a flat-bottomed skiff, with two oars. This stage of the journey begins in what is today Tuckertown reservoir.

The next day they started at about 6:30 in the morning and stopped at 9:30 in the evening, but made only 14 miles. The river was full of tumbling falls and rapids, and before they had gone three miles the boat struck a rock which made a crack in one side about three feet long and a quarter of an inch wide. When the boat struck it swung around and went down the stream stern foremost, plunging over a fall about four feet high. It was full of water, but had fortunately lodged on a rock which prevented its sinking. Before starting on their journey the party had laid in a store of oakum and tools, and with these they stopped the leak sufficiently to enable them to bail the water out of the boat and get it ashore. Further repairs were made and the journey was resumed. About a mile from this stopping-place the river was found to be very shallow with a swift current and full of rocks. It was necessary to turn the boat with the bow upstream, the colored boatman in the water holding the boat to keep it from going down stream too fast and being dashed against the rocks. Three fourths of a mile further they struck deeper water, when the boatman jumped on board straddling the bow. The channel had narrowed to about sixty or eighty feet, and through this the boat went stern-foremost, Lieut. Taylor guiding it with the oars. The river at this point was full of ugly looking rock and the current so swift that the boat was carried along for about a quarter of a mile at a speed that could not have been less than twenty miles an hour. The waves made by the force of the current were about three feet high. A few miles further the voyagers encountered a fall, nearly vertical, of about eight feet. They went down, but when they got through the boat was submerged by the waves and went to the bottom. Mr. Brown was knocked overboard by the waves, and when he rose to the surface the boat had been swept beyond his reach. He managed to gain the shore without suffering more than a wetting. The remainder of the party were also thrown into the water but held on to the boat and finally succeeded in getting ashore. Lieut. Taylor relinquished his hold of the craft before reaching the bank to swim after some of their effects which were floating down the river. After they got ashore the boat was turned over and emptied, and all the baggage of the party secured, with the exception of a small valise belonging to Mr. Brown. Several bundles of clothing, a tin case of maps and some rope, were recovered about two miles down the stream from two colored men who found the things while crossing the river in a boat. After getting the boat ready two of the party went on a short reconnoisance down the stream and found a fall over which it would have been impossible to pass the boat, which was finally lifted over the rocks near the shore and past the dangerous fall. The rowlocks had been lost and the only means of working the boat was with the aid of poles. About one mile further the boat was hauled out and carried around the “Narrows,” some five miles, the party stopping as evening then drew on, at Mr. Lowders, at Kirk’s ferry.

The next day the boat was thoroughly repaired, and the journey continued. A short distance from the ferry they went through Gunsmith’s shoals, with an experience almost equal to that of the day before, but fortunately no accident occurred. …

The scenery in the vicinity of the Narrows is very beautiful. The river is contracted to a width of about one hundred feet, and sweeps through a gorge formed by walls of rock thirty to forty feet in height and sloping back on either side to mountains clothed with verdure which rear their tops some three or four hundred feet. The gorge is two miles and a half in length.

For Thurman, the only old Blue-er who's been nice. I take requests. :-)

Not exactly what I'd call "navigable". I have never seen a single account of anyone who's gone down the Narrows in a boat.


I better frame this...

Lately it seems I've been starting fires and arguments everywhere I go, so being called "nice" is something of a rarity, both appreciated and unexpected. :)

Dad and his friends floated down from somewhere above Winston-Salem (where they all lived), spent the night at Boone's Cave, and were picked up at Idol's Dam, just below Clemmons. They traveled on two rafts they built with my grandfather's assistance, and I've heard about the adventure my entire life. Dad still has the very yellow newspaper write up from the old Winston-Salem Sentinel, laminated on a board in his office.

I've wanted to duplicate the trip for years, but old age and frailty are coming at me fast, the window of opportunity is closing quickly these days. Thanks for the post, I'll be sure to share it.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Better be careful not to be nice to ME

Sounds like fun! :) I hope they didn't spend the night in Boone's cave. It's filled with beer bottles and condoms. :) I've never gone beyond the initial opening. You have to crawl on your belly, and I'm sure there are a lot of spider webs.

I've got a soft spot for the Idol's Dam. It was the first hydroelectric project on the Yadkin (1898), beyond the old water wheel approach, and is considered a mechanical engineering landmark. It was still in use until there was a fire in 1998. We had a problem with its preservation a few years ago. When it passed out of FERC's control, it should have been protected, under federal preservation laws. But, because there were no threats at that time, our cracker jack State Historic Preservation Office didn't include any terms to do so in the Memorandum of Agreement. A few years later, Winston-Salem wanted to demolish the old power house because it got in their way. Fortunatey, John Larson from Old Salem and some citizen groups were able to save it. It seems we always have to do everything the hard way.


I got my geography all fouled up this morning. The trip began at Idols dam and the scouts were picked up somewhere down around Salisbury. Otherwise that was a helluva feat spending the night at Boone's Cave. Been away from home too long it seems.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Idol's Dam

I remember that fire well. My work took me to the site shortly after it happened, and I've done a good bit of reading online about the history of that landmark since then. It should definitely be preserved, but alas our society doesn't seem to value it's history until it's been all but obliterated.

AS far as being nice to you. That's one of the three commandments I try to live by. We actually fall on opposite sides of this issue, but that's beside the point. The state and the big corps will do what they're going to do despite what an old socialist like me has to say about it.

More important than who gets to claim ownership, to me, is that the river itself is protected and preserved, and made available for public enjoyment and productive use for generations to come.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Protecting and preserving is my middle name

Well, just so happens protecting and preserving is what I'm all about. :) I can tell you the State won't do that. We've got one of the worst records in the entire country.

Something that never gets mentioned where never is heard an encouraging word is all Alcoa's land holdings, about 15,000 acres, all but what's in and around Badin being undeveloped. We've got long stretches of wooded areas around the lakes - wonderful! One of the provisions of the new license (and it's one the State can't match) is that Alcoa has agreed to donate over a thousand acres, and make available for purchase for conservation purposes another 5,000 +/-. A lot of people are very concerned about what would happen to that land if Alcoa were to be driven out of the state. I wouldn't blame them if they got the best price for it they could, and that would be from developers. It could be devastating.

Big bad corporate Alcoa has kept those lands all these years, paid taxes on them. The only income they get from them comes from occassional timbering. They're open to the public as game lands, obviously provide wildlife habitat and watershed protection. And I know they sincerely care about it.

Have fun?

I hadn't looked at your website. You're great! I once worked for a short time for a friend whose corporate policy was "If it's not fun, we don't do it." He had people who were getting paid who sat around watching TV. Being a Type A personality myself, I couldn't do that without feeling guilty, so I was working away on something tedious. He came by and asked if I were having fun. I said "no." He started to take the work away from me! I thought about it for a second and decided I could make it fun.