A History of Preservation
Held for nearly a century by timber and mining interests, the land which is now the Preserve remains one of the largest unspoiled landscapes in the region.
Champion International Paper Company’s primary alteration of the 19th-century landscape was the installation of roads and trails used for logging purposes. Today, these roads are intact and provide ready access to the Preserve, lacing around and through the coves and hollows of the topography to provide dramatic mountain vistas. The natural vegetation has encroached upon these mountain byways over the years, resulting in an extraordinary and beautiful tapestry of undisturbed, indigenous flora and fauna.
In close proximity to major cities, charming towns, a national forest, and one of the country’s most beloved scenic highways, this impeccable community is truly a rare find.
It might be those with a curious nature who, while wandering the Preserve, kneel down and spy an apparent artifact that was either chipped out of native stone or acquired through trade with a nomad from the Tennessee River valley and came to rest here. Western North Carolina’s human history is replete with these types of discoveries and the Preserve is no different.
The Preserve hired an archaeological consulting firm to comb the property and catalog, interpret and report their findings. The results of that work yielded thousands of artifacts – the finest examples of which are on permanent display at the Nature Center. Those artifacts are accompanied by a final report detailing the findings.
Aside from the indigenous peoples’ artifacts that span the greatest period of time, roughly 9000 b.c.e to 1700 c.e, the Preserve’s history is also represented by European settlers’ artifacts and their attempts to forge successful relationships with the land and its bounty. One such entrepreneur was Colonel Silas Jones and his almost 30-year investment in the mining trade.
What began as an earnest attempt at finding precious gems – what Jones advertised as rubies (to attract investors) – ended with milled ore fit only for making sandpaper. The ore was a non-gem grade of garnet species called pyrope (formerly rhododite). Jones’ business came to be known as the Ruby City Mine operation. It operated from 1890 to 1928 when it went bankrupt, upended by the early 20th century version of globalization when Canadian ore became cheaper to buy.
In its heyday, the mine engaged about 30 full-time employees and, after its closing, became both a sanctuary that assisted the convalescence of an older Colonel Silas and, after the colonel’s departure, as a place for bargain hunters of building materials to dismantle, board by board.