History of the NHC

History of the NHC and More

This document is intended to serve as an introduction for a new Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC) Appalachian Trail (AT) maintenance crew member.

It contains:

  • the history of the NHC, including information on the predecessor  organizations;
  •  a listing of the milestones of Rev. A. Rufus Morgan, the NHC Founder; and
  •  a review of some of the significant NHC trail construction/maintenance and community activities.

The chronology below speaks to the Rev. A. Rufus Morgan’s legacy and his efforts that created the current-day NHC:

1818 – Rufus’s ancestors settle in the current-day Franklin, NC area. Grandparents Albert and Johanna Siler give land for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cartoogehaye (located near Franklin).

1838 – The Silers give land to local Cherokee Chief Chuttahsotee to give him amnesty from the Cherokee removal, known as the “Trail of Tears”.

1879 – Chief Chuttahsotee and wife Cunstagih die. They are buried at St. John’s Episcopal Church cemetery.

1881 – Rufus’s parents, Alfred and Fanny (Siler) Morgan, married at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

1885 – Rufus is born on Oct. 15th. First boy of 9 children. Baptized at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

1891 – The Morgan family moves to Murphy, NC.  Alfred is an editor and lay preacher. Fanny (Siler) Morgan begins religious services for African Americans. They begin an  Episcopal Church in Murphy. Rufus leaves for schooling in Waynesville, Chapel Hill, and New York City.

1914 – Rufus marries Madeline Prentiss (his German tutor at Columbia University).  The family moves to Penland, NC. Francis and Rufus Jr. born in Penland.

1917 – With sister Lucy, Rufus begins Appalachian Industrial School. Lucy starts Penland Craft School at Spruce Pine NC.

1923 – Rufus moves to SC as a circuit preacher, Superintendent of Schools, Boy Scout Leader, Chairman of Red Cross, and Business Manager at Kanuga Conference Center, running summer camps and conferences.

1925 – St. John’s Episcopal Church torn down and the cemetery is abandoned.

1928 – Rufus’s first trip up to Mt. LeConte in what is today the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1940 – Rufus returns to Cartoogechaye Township (today a “suburb” of Franklin, NC.) to take over AT maintenance with friends. Begins Girl and Boy Scout Troops and the Scouts help on the trails in the local area.

1940’s – Rufus served “local” churches as a “circuit preacher” in Franklin (St. Cyprians and St. Agnes), Highlands (Church of Transformation), Murphy (Church of the Messiah), Sylva (St. John’s), Cullowhee (St. David’s), Cherokee (St Francis), and Hayesville.

1945 – Reconstruction of St John’s Episcopal Church begins (in Cartoogechaye Township) .

1946 – Rufus helps to form the Macon Historical Society to save the Indian Mound in Franklin.

1950 – Rufus builds the Community Center as a Health Center, but no Doctor found to serve it. He erects old cabin for weaving classes. Francis Cargill and Sally Kesler teach the classes.  Rufus develops a craft program for local school children.

1951 – Rufus moves back into the family home at Nonah; begins farming, bees, pigs, chickens, cattle and sheep.

1951-1967 – The informal trail maintenance/hiking club (the predecessor to the NHC) is jokingly called the “one man hiking Club” since Rufus and occasionally a few friends were the entire “club”. Rufus was the “trail crew “leader from 1940-1978.

1953 – Rufus wins “Honor Farm” award for conservation practices.

1968 – Friends and workers convince Rufus to formalize the trail maintenance/hiking club, today known as the NHC. William Hazelden is elected President, with 14 charter members.

1972 – Madeline (Prentiss) Morgan dies.

1975 – Nonah burns down. Rufus reconstructs the old cabin into new home “Talohi”.

1978 – Rufus takes the last trip up Mt LeConte at 93 years of age; it was his 172nd trip.

1981 – Rufus receives “Recognition Award” for serving on the Appalachian Trail Conference (today known as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) Board of Managers for 20 yrs.

1983 – Rufus passes away at Deerfield Retirement Home in Asheville on Feb 14th at 98 years of age. The A. Rufus Morgan Trail is dedicated in his honor and he is admitted to the ATC Museum Hall of Fame

Here are some local landmarks associated with Rev. Morgan and his family:

Siler Bald in Macon is named for Rufus’ Great Grandfather William Siler.

Siler’s Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is named for Jessie Siler, William Siler’s brother.

Albert Mountain is named for Rufus’ Grandfather, Albert SilerRufus Morgan Trail and Morgan Shelter is named for Rufus .

Some historical notes about the NHC, it’s significant maintenance/construction activities and the Appalachian Trail:

1921 – Benton MacKaye conceives of a 2000 mile trail from the highest point in the North to the highest point in the South.- Mt. Washington to Mt. Mitchell.

1923 – Early trails are constructed by hiking clubs in New England.

1925 – Appalachian Trail Conference holds first meeting March 2-3.

1930 – George Tabor, of Almond, NC, begins the Nantahala Appalachian Trail Club and blazes a trail in the Nantahala National Forest.

1936 – George dies and the Nantahala Appalachian Trail Club disbands.

1937 – The last section of AT is finished at Hanover, NH.

1939 – The first issue of Appalachian Trail News is published.

1958 – AT terminus is moved from Mt. Oglethorpe to Springer Mountain, GA.

1963 – The Standing Indian Campground in the Nantahala National Forest is built.

1966 – The ATC recorded that 234 persons had walked the entire AT.

1968 – Congress passes the National Trails Act to preserve the AT. Friends and workers convince Rufus to formalize a hiking/trail maintenance club, today is known as the NHC.

1977 – The Winding Stair part of the AT is relocated due to new US Hwy 64 construction.

1980 – Wesser Creek Trail (near the current Nantahala Outdoor Center) is abandoned as part of the AT, but kept as side trail.

1981 – A. Rufus Morgan Shelter is completed.

1983 – A. Rufus Morgan Trail is dedicated.

1985 – NHC is incorporated and formally recognizes volunteers with Forest Service awards..

1990 – The NHC begins “Easter on the Trail” with goodies for thru-hikers and started regular Wednesday work hikes which are called “Trail Maintainer (TM )“ hikes.

1991 – A new platform is built on the Wesser Tower.

1994 – Club members design what becomes to be known as the “Nantahala-style” shelter and build 6 shelters from 1994 to 2007. Three other shelters are modified to comply with the Nantahala-style” shelter design.

1995 – The NHC builds a bridge over Moore Creek near Winding Stair Gap.

1996 – The NHC creates a website.

1997 – A trail relocation is accomplished at Wesser (the Nantahala Outdoor Center) due to the widening of the highway.

2001 – The first privy is built in Nantahala section of the AT at Siler Shelter.

2004 – Licklog Gap landslide occurs and the AT is relocated.

2005 – Appalachian Trail Conference becomes the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with broader stewardship mission.

2006 – NHC launches “Trail to Every Classroom” program in cooperation with the Macon County School District.

2007 – Wayah shelter is constructed, privy upgrade project initiated, Cold Spring shelter rehabilitated.

2008 – New steps are installed on the north side of Winding Stair Gap.

2010 – Town of Franklin, NC is designated the first “AT Community”, assisted by NHC efforts to promote that designation.

2012 – Long Branch shelter is constructed.

2016 – NHC initiates “Trail Ambassador Program”.

2018 – Betty’s Creek campsite is augmented with several designated tent campsites.

The NHC has had an average of 119 volunteers annually for the last five years (2013 – 2017). Work hours accumulated by those volunteers in those years are 38,821. The breakdown is as follows:

  •  Trail Maintenance: 27,328 hours
  •  Club Activities: 10,583 hours
  •  Personal Travel: 910 hours
  • As of 2018, twenty-eight Club members have completed the Appalachian Trail.

Many thanks are due to the women and men who have served through the years to maintain the 58.7 miles of the AT and 30 miles of blue-blazed side trails.

Additionally, tremendous thanks to the NHC members for following our founder’s charge to:

“Keep ever clear the open trails which lead to mountain tops”.

The Nantahala Hiking Club – Keeping the Legacy Alive Through Community Service