Carter Falls in northeastern Wilkes County has gained attention due to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation’s proposed acquisition of property that includes the falls as a focal point on the Mountains to Sea Trail.
A little over a century ago, Carter Falls was a topic of discussion for its role in the burgeoning town of Elkin about four miles away in Surry County.
Starting with Allen’s iron forge in the 1700s and then manufacturing operations in the 1800s such as the predecessor of Chatham Manufacturing Co. (now True Textiles Inc.), Big Elkin Creek was the engine that fueled Elkin for generations. Dams at multiple sites were built for this purpose.
Elkin was recognized in 1899 as one of the smallest towns in the South with electricity, which was provided by a 220-volt system driven by an engine fueled with cordwood. H.G. Chatham, A.M. Smith and R.G. Roth started the system in connection with a roller mill owned by Chatham Manufacturing, but it provided electricity elsewhere.
Recognizing the need for a larger source of electricity to meet Elkin’s growing industrial and residential needs, the Carter Falls Power Co. was established a little over a decade later with R.L. Hubbard as president, A.W. George as vice president and T.G. Trivette as secretary and treasurer. Directors were Hubbard, George, J.F. Hendren, A.G. Click, E.E. Harris, J.A. Allen, Z.H. Nixon, G.T. Roth, C.E. Holcomb, E.F. McNeer and Alex Chatham Jr.
Starting with capital stock of $25,000, the company installed a 150-horsepower dynamo on a dam built by the Town of Elkin at the top of Carter Falls in 1914-15. The town had already bought the site.
The company leased the system to the town for 10 years and the town reserved the right to renew the lease or assume ownership at cost.
Dr. S. Jason Couch, a pharmacist and historian in Elkin, said a large pipeline carried water from the impoundment created by the dam down the east side of the waterfall to the power plant, where the water powered the 150-horsepower dynamo that generated electricity carried to Elkin via power lines and poles.
Couch said the pipe was made of wooden boards placed end-to-end and side-by-side and bound together by steel bands. He said people were known to walk on the wooden pipeline.
Couch’s great-grandfather, George F. Couch, operated the power plant for several years and during that time lived in a town-owned house near Carter Falls.
Duke Power acquired the Carter Falls property about a decade after it was first used to generate electricity for Elkin.
Billy Carter, who lives and owns property near Carter Falls, said his grandfather, Ed Carter Sr., operated the power facility on Carter Falls for Duke Power from 1924 to 1942.
Carter is a member of the family for whom the waterfall was named.
He said his direct ancestor, Samuel Carter, moved from Morristown, N.J., to the area near the waterfall around 1760, when it was part of Rowan County. Surry County was created from Rowan in 1771 and Wilkes County was created from Surry in 1778.
Carter said Samuel Carter had at least 12 children and one of them, Barnabas “Barney” Carter, was born in 1775 and established a grist mill on Big Elkin Creek about 200 yards downstream from Carter Falls. He said some of the foundation stones of this mill are still in place beside the creek.
Carter said Barney Carter had about 15 children and one of his grandsons, Charlie Carter, built another grist mill, 200 to 300 yards farther downstream in the early 1900s.
He said another mill was built in 1896 even farther downstream on Big Elkin Creek. The site is near Elkin Creek Vineyard.
Carter said the Carter family cemetery was near the intersection of Pleasant Ridge and Carter Mill roads, which is near Carter Falls. The Carter family reunion is held annually at nearby Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church.
Crescent, a subsidiary of Duke Power (now Duke Energy), owned the Carter Falls property for years after it was no longer used to generate electricity. Dan Park, an attorney in Elkin, bought it from Crescent in the mid-1980s.
A draft memorandum of understanding shared during a Wilkes County commissioners meeting last week calls for the state to use NC Connect Bond funds to buy property or easements on property in Wilkes for the MST, and for county government to lease it from the state for 40 years for $1.
The property isn’t identified in the agreement, but county and Elkin Valley Trails Association officials said it’s 40-50 acres, belonging to Park, that encompasses Carter Falls. Park told the Wilkes Journal-Patriot that he is willing to consider what was proposed.
The Elkin Valley Trails Association is trying to secure easements to build a 24-mile segment of the Mountains To Sea Trail from Elkin to Stone Mountain State Park and so far has built about 12 miles of trail. Most of the 24 miles is in Wilkes.