photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

The Tuckasegee River flows alongside several miles of U.S. Highway 74 West on the way to Bryson City — pretty as any mountain waterway you could ask for. It runs smack through the middle of Bryson City, beneath the Everett Street bridge, and past the stately white courthouse built in 1908, which is now home to the Swain County Heritage Museum. The Great Flood of 1940 is remembered here through sepia-toned photographs of individuals standing thigh-deep in water on Main and Everett streets, and of listing farmhouses and outbuildings that stand like islands in the swollen river.

Earl Kirkland, a Bryson City native and employee at the museum, points out the framed, yellowed front page of the Bryson City Times, which reports that the lovely midstream island where Bryson City residents loved to picnic and relax was ruined. The article goes on to apologize for the paper’s late delivery, because “the office was under 26½ inches of water.”

“Hogs, horses, cows — everything went down the river,” Kirkland says, though his family’s log cabin homestead, a mere 30 yards above the flood, survived.

Study the maps. Gaze out the wide, second-floor windows at the Tuckasegee running peacefully by. Then recall the time it ran amok.

Swain County Heritage Museum
2 Everett Street
Bryson City, NC 28713
(828) 488-7857

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.