According to Garth, the first center of population in Clay County, NC was at Fort Hembree, which once stood a mile west of present-day Hayesville. The fort was erected in the early 19th century. It was a log structure, built in the shape of the letter T. Three staircases led to its second story where there were four huge fireplaces. Beneath it was a big, cool cellar where food was stored.
A hamlet grew around the fort, and in 1843 it became a post office. By 1850, there was a small academy there. But several years earlier, in 1832, Fort Hembree served a historicl purpose. That year this fort, among others in western North Carolina, was used as a staging area for the Trail of Tears.
Eventually, both the Post Office and Hicks Academy moved to Hayesville, and the fort passed into private hands. Its original logs were covered with weather boarding and became a private dwelling.
Garth Thompson's family once owned the old fort and he lived there until he was eight years old. He spoke knowledgeably of the time when the Cherokees in Clay County, NC were rounded up in preparation to their relocation to Oklahoma.
None of the Indians offered any resistance during the roundup, he said. Only five of them ran away from the soldiers.
Near the fort was a barn where horses were kept, but above the horses was a good floor. It was onto that second floor of the barn that the Indians were herded.
Garth spent his formative years within the fort's solid walls. He helped tear it down during his senior year of high school.
"One of the rocks in the chimney," he said,"bore the inscription, '1817.' " And he recalls a sentence, written in pencil on a closet door apparently by a kind-hearted soldier, which read, "We hope the white people at the land where the Indians go will like them and won't give them any trouble and they have good hunting."
Perhaps an early example of governmental bureaucracy was the discovery of Roman numerals written on the locust pillars which formed the fort's foundation.
Materials from the razed fort were given to members of the community. Houses were built from some of these materials, and the Hayesville First United Methodist Church received some of these rocks.
--Brenda Kay Ledford