Block Number: 48


By Terry Wilson

To both travelers and local citizens alike, it appears that a common feature of small Southern cities and towns is a town square. A weathered, historical monument of some type usually dominates the town square. From statues of Revolutionary War heroes astride gallant warhorses to statues of Civil War soldiers ever at the ready, these monuments to the past often dominate the small-town scenery of today.

Standing in the middle of the town of Old Fort is just such a monument, a 30-foot tall piece of granite shaped like an arrowhead. This monument has dominated the center of Old Fort since its unveiling on July 7, 1930. Mention “Old Fort” to almost anyone around McDowell County and they will usually think of this unique connection to the town’s past.

This unusual monument is well suited to Old Fort because Old Fort is a historical town of some note. The first Europeans in the Western North Carolina area were Spanish explorers under the command of adventurer and gold seeker Juan Pardo. Evidence of Spanish settlements has been discovered in nearby Burke County, and there is little doubt that the Old Fort area was visited by the Spanish before they abandoned the area entirely.

The next Europeans to settle the area were British colonists who were slowly pushing westward from the Carolina coast. The wall of the Blue Ridge Mountains stopped the westward movement of these settlers at a time when revolution was brewing in the colonies.

Old Fort (Davidson’s Plantation) soon found itself on the western border of a bloody civil war. The Native Americans of the area allied themselves with the forces of those loyal to the British Crown, and the stage was set for conflict to erupt.

Mr. Samuel Davidson had settled the Old Fort area around 1770, and a small fort was erected nearby for the protection of the local settlers. It was from this fort that General Griffith Rutherford lead a force of local militia across the Blue Ridge into the Cherokee lands to the west. General Rutherford’s men destroyed 30 Cherokee villages and towns along their track, and in doing so, removed the Cherokee as a threat to the western border settlements of North Carolina. Following the Revolution, Old Fort was a “jumping-off place” for those who desired to move still further west.

The name of the settlement was changed from Davidson’s Plantation to Catawba Vale in 1871. After a land speculation plan collapsed in 1872, the current name of Old Fort was adopted under the guidelines of a declaration issued by the General Assembly of North Carolina the following year.

The massive arrowhead-shaped monument was created and dedicated in 1930 to honor the historical past of the Old Fort area. Marie Nesbitt, a 12-year-old descendant of Martha Burgin, first child born in the original fort, was the one chosen to dedicate the monument in front of approximately 6,000 visitors.

For many, the Arrowhead immediately becomes the symbol of Old Fort. Travelers and home-folks alike accepted the monument as uniquely Old Fort’s, and it remains so even today.

The quilt block “Arrowheads,” was placed on the Old Fort Town Hall on Friday morning, July 30th, by the McDowell Quilt Trail. This is a traditional design quilt block created to celebrate Old Fort’s heritage. Jean Buchanan, member of the McDowell Quilt Trail committee and president of the Mountain Glory Quilters, selected the block’s design, after an extensive search of patterns. While the block does not portray a single arrowhead, the individual sections of the block are indeed arrowheads in design. The color scheme was developed with the idea in mind of coordinating the colors with those of a historical print created by local artist and Old Fort resident, Nada Carroll. This print hangs in the Old Fort Town Hall and recalls Old Fort’s rich heritage.

The square itself required approximately 20 hours to construct and features the talents of Quilt Trail committee members Mike Lucas, Martha McCauley, and Kathy Brendle.

Present at Friday’s ceremony were members of the McDowell Quilt Trail committee, the Mayor of Old Fort and representatives of the Board of Aldermen, representatives of both the McDowell Tourism Authority and the Old Fort Mountain Heritage Alliance.

“Arrowheads” proudly takes its place as the 48th block on the McDowell Quilt Trail. Quilt blocks are now being noticed throughout McDowell County largely due to the efforts of the McDowell Quilt Trail committee. Each quilt block pays honor to a special event or individual found in the rich tapestry that is the history of McDowell County.

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