By Mike Steely
What may be the oldest settlement in our region is only an hour or so away. The village of Tellico Plains is, indeed, a gateway to the lower Smoky Mountains. The little town is just south of Madisonville and is an historic site that is the entry to the Cherohala Skyway. That highway tops the mountains and leads to Robbinsville, North Carolina, a great scenic drive for cars and motorcycles alike.
Tellico Plains, home of the pre-history Cherokee town of Telliquah, holds many mysteries for anyone taking the time to stop and inquire. The little town is full of many unanswered questions.
Take the former Johnson Mansion, just across the Tellico River, for instance. Built by a northern businessman the home has vanished but was said to have a hidden underground tunnel that led to the river for easy escape.
Johnson and his brother owned the Tellico Iron Works which had supplied items to the Confederate Army although Johnson was a Union Loyalist. When Union forces destroyed the facility Johnson was pardoned, fled north, and never returned.
It is said that the site of the former Johnson mansion was also the site of a fort built by John Sevier’s Tennessee soldiers during the Cherokee Wars.
Back across the river, near the highway, is a mysterious rock wall that leads down to the water and is rumored to have been built by the Native Americans prior to white settlement. It is possible the wall was built or incorporated into the iron works there.
Tellico Plains was the junction of two major Native American pathways, the Trading Path and the Warrior Path. The Unicoi Path or Turnpike also led from the east coast into the old village site. The Cherokee town of Telliquah was first visited by white long hunters and traders and is a noted place in the journals of Henry Timberlake, appearing on a map he created during his journey in 1761.
It is estimated that the Cherokee and possibly others have lived there for more than 10,000 years. More than 14 mounds were discovered in Tellico including a large temple mound. Much of the pre-history has been plowed under by farming.
In the 1500s Spanish forces under Hernando DeSoto visited Telliquah for two days. One of the goals of the early visitors was to search for gold but the Native Americans apparently steered the foreigners away from nearby Coker Creek where gold was discovered in the early 1800s.
Tellico Plains has a small “downtown” area, a shopping center, some fine restaurants, several bed and breakfast inns and the rapids of rushing river.
Nearby is Bald River Falls, which can be viewed from the bridge, and a lesser falls that is very popular with adventurous kayakers.