Copperhill and Ducktown Tennessee

Re-publishing a blog about the place I was born.  I actually wrote it last year but wanted to share it again.  I’m thinking about simpler times today.  Reflections, if you will.  Hope you enjoy the story of my birth place:

I was born in copper-mining country, in Copperhill, Tennessee, which if you look on a map, is right where Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina intersect.   It is up in the mountains, and is some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see.  Parts of it were not always beautiful, however.   When I was growing up, we lived in Atlanta, but made frequent weekend trips to Copperhill and Ducktown to visit family.   Back then, some 40 years ago, the hills were barren red clay, with very little vegetation.  This was a result of the smelting (heating) process the mining company did to separate the bits of copper from the rest of the rock they pulled from the mines.  In order to provide the fuel to heat and extract the copper, they cut down and burned most every tree around. The extraction of copper from the rock released sulfur dioxide, and when it combined with the water in the air, created sulfuric acid.  That sulfuric acid fell back down and killed all vegetation within 50 miles.   And all that damage was done to Copperhill and Ducktown, Tennessee in just a few short years… growing-up years.       (Pictures are from google images)

Road between Copperhill and Ducktown Circa 1965

Burra Burra Coppermine in Copperhill

My sister, cousins and I ran and played on those red clay hills.  Many times, I remember reporting to my Maw Maw’s kitchen for supper, covered in red mud from head to toe.   Maw Maw was my Mom’s oldest sister, and like a grandmother to me, as my grandmother had died before I was born.  She promptly yelled at us kids to go outside and hose ourselves off and get rid of that red mud, which was almost impossible, and my sister and I would end up riding all the way back to Atlanta with much of it still stuck in our hair and who knows where else.   It did not make my Mom happy, I will assure you!   That red clay never came out of any clothes we were wearing, especially the seat of our pants………… we slid down some of those steep red clay hills on our butts, which was fun fun fun!

The copper mines closed and eventually, over the years, the vegetation has all grown in, and Ducktown and Copperhill are now beautiful country towns up in the mountains of Tennessee.  There is a river called the Ocoee that runs along the highway from Ducktown to Cleveland, Tennessee.  It starts out who knows where, and by the time the road starts running along it, the river is not very wide, more like a creek really.   Before the Olympics took it over for kayaking and completely changed the landscape of the river, that portion was called “Rock Creek”.  Well, it probably still is called Rock Creek…………only difference is, the big boulders and smooth sandstone flat rock that used  to clutter the entire width of the river at that point, are gone.   There may be some, but the whole area was cleared for the Olympics, and after that, the river became a very popular white water rafting venue.   But, way back when I was a kid, we used to go swimming at Rock Creek.  There was no swimming pool or water park that could compare with this place!  You could stand out in the middle of the river, on one of those boulders, and dive down into a crystal-clear pool of water…….and you’d just keep diving because it was so deep.  There were lots of holes and crevices in those boulders, too, and we kids used to swim through them, squirming our way through some mighty narrow spots, as well.  People have drowned doing just that, and right there where we swam all those years ago.  I don’t know what kept us kids safe, because it surely wasn’t from us being careful.  We just had fun.

Ocoee River

Rock Creek part of Ocoee River

Kayaking on the Ocoee

My mother was from Ducktown, born and raised.  Ducktown and Copperhill are only about 7 miles apart, if memory serves. I was born in Copperhill, but we moved away, and visited on holidays and in the summer.  Maw Maw’s house was where everyone congregated.  She was a preacher, had her own little church down the hill from her house.  My Mom was the youngest of all the brothers and sisters, and my Maw Maw was the oldest.  Maw Maw is the only one of my Mother’s sibling’s still living, and she’s now in a nursing home.

Life does go on, but some things will never quite match up to what once was…so simple, natural and delightful.

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dr. Tom Bibey
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 05:56:28

    Enjoyed this post. I’m a red clay kid too; North Carolina is home. The Nashville Bluegrass Band does a song called “Red Clay Halo” you might like. My wife and I sing it together in a bluegrass band. It was written by Gillian Welch. The words go:

    All the girls all dance with the boys from the city,
    And they don’t care to dance with me.
    Now it ain’t my fault that the fields are muddy,
    And the red clay stains my feet.

    And it’s under my nails and it’s under my collar,
    And it shows on my Sunday clothes.
    Though I do my best with the soap and the water,
    But the damned old dirt won’t go.

    But when I pass through the pearly gate,
    Will my gown be gold instead?
    Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings,
    And a red clay halo for my head?

    Now it’s mud in the spring and it’s dust in the summer,
    When it blows in a crimson tide.
    Until trees and leaves and the cows are the colour,
    Of the dirt on the mountainside.

    But when I pass through the pearly gate,
    Will my gown be gold instead?
    Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings,
    And a red clay halo for my head?

    Now Jordan’s banks they’re red and muddy,
    And the rolling water is wide.
    But I got no boat, so I’ll be good and muddy,
    When I get to the other side.

    And when I pass through the pearly gate,
    Will my gown be gold instead?
    Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings,
    And a red clay halo for my head?

    I’ll take the red clay robe with the red clay wings,
    And a red clay halo for my head.

    Check out my book, “The Mandolin Case” if you get a chance. It is a medical legal mystery solved by local bluegrass musicians. As far as I know I am the only physician bluegrass fiction writer around.

    All the best,

    Dr. B


  2. robin craig
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 06:56:14

    Very beautifully done Sis! That really brought tears. I remember how we kids would go up the paths around Maw Maw’s house and pick blueberries by the gallons just to get to go swimming. One time I was following dad through a little path and while swimming and he got alittle ahead of me and I came face to face with a fish. Scared the cramp out of me. And sliding down the little water falls. And those wonderful slides down Paw Paws red hill. And Maw Maw would bake the most heavenly blueberry cobbler. So may of our people have passed away since then. It will always feel like home, but it”s still to painful to go there for me. I see our Mom every , and I miss her so very much! Love Ya! lil Sis


  3. Dave
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 07:16:15

    For those of us who grew up back east and down south, I think we all had a place like that to go to. That brings back so many memories of growing up in Ohio. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! What a place and time to be growing up! Our biggest worries were if we were going to make it home in time for supper. If you didn’t, you didn’t eat! What a great time!!!


  4. Sherri
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 07:55:28

    Awww, it sounds like a magical place to have grown up. Back then we just had simple fun. Our kids and grandkids haven’t enjoyed the simple times that we had as children and we didn’t have the fears they have today.
    thinking of you today.
    I know you mom is smiling down on you today and proud of the person that you have become.
    Love ya!


    • tsonoda148
      Nov 14, 2010 @ 08:13:28

      @Sherri……..It was magical back when we were kids. I didn’t mention much about my Maw Maw’s house in the article. It was way up on a hill, and they had to dig a well and make a dirt road to get to it when they first built the house up there. Maw Maw had chickens and dogs and a hog or two, and even a shack out back (we called it the sugar shack, can’t remember why……but it was a fun place to hide or play). Last time I was up there was 7 or 8 years ago, before Maw Maw went to the nursing home. The place was pretty run-down, and all the beautiful trees had that kudzu vine over-growing them. It was so sad to see, as I’d spent many summers there in my youth. I think the saddest thing for me was knowing that neither of my sons would have those kinds of memories. Ok, I’m done now. Gonna get gushy again.
      Thanks for reading, my friend.


  5. tsonoda148
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 08:00:53

    @Dr Bibey………thank you so much for stopping by! I love the song. Many of my relatives will be reading this and will enjoy your comments as much as my posting, I am sure. Thank you so much for sharing. What an interesting life you must have….physician bluegrass fiction writer. I am humbled and also intrigued, and will most certainly be checking out your book, “The Mandolin Case”. Thank you again! 🙂

    @LIL SIS………hey girlie, I had a feeling you would like this one. I was thinking about you all day yesterday, knowing your heart was heavy and you probably had the blues. You know, all the troubles we had growing up (and there were many) seem pretty pale when compared to the large family country life we were actually privy to. Some nice memories indeed! Oh yea, and we called them huckleberries back then, remember?

    @Dave……I know what you mean, Dave. I was never late for supper! LOL May be why I’m trying to get healthier now……all that southern fried chicken and biscuits and gravy. OMG, drooling here! I’m so looking forward to Thanksgiving with my Dad and family in Georgia this year.
    Thanks for your comments, my friend. Always appreciated.



  6. Helena
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 13:55:41

    Wow, I would love to see this place someday. It’s crazy how much it’s changed since you were little. One thing that really stuck out to me was, she was a preacher?? That’s amazing.


    • tsonoda148
      Nov 14, 2010 @ 14:06:23

      Hi Helena……….thanks for popping over! Yes, my aunt was a Holyness (not the playing with snakes kind, more like southern baptist I think) preacher for as many years as I can remember. She had that little country church and a small congregation of relatives and countryfolk who came to church when they could get there. She even drove and picked some of the older ones up, brought them to church, and then drove them home. She was an amazing woman as well, with very little education but more common sense than most of us have. Cool lady, especially for her times.
      Thanks again,


  7. Linda
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 06:27:58

    Aww..what a Great childhood memory… I have many memories with my Grandma..Playing, getting dirty..etc..
    At one time her home use to be a Rail Road Depot. so cool!
    We would walk the tracks to the creek, and spend hours swimming..
    Awww…those were the days!

    It’s funny, but the hubby and I were thinking about a place to retire to, and we thought maybe somewhere southeast Tenn.
    When I read your location (Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina intersect) I thought…Hey, that’s where we thought would make a good retirement area.
    It will probably never happen, but it was a nice retirement dream.

    Thanks for sharing this great memory!



    • tsonoda148
      Nov 15, 2010 @ 09:11:16

      Hi Linda;
      Rail Road Depot……very cool indeed? Do you have any pictures? That would make a really cool blog! Geez, I’m always thinking up blog subjects… mind’s set on “blog control” and veers that way every time.
      Anyways, Copperhill would be a nice summer vacation spot, if you like the wilderness, but the winters can be pretty brutal there. Not as bad as Ohio, but darned-near. You should retire in Vegas! There’s a crazy woman here who loves to gamble and go to shows and go to the pool, and generally have fun……….I could hook you up and you could hang out with her! OK, I’m talking about me, yes, and by the time you retire, I will most likely be in a big old rocking chair on some porch somewhere, rocking back n forth, and cussing the neighbor kids for running across the lawn. OK now I’m depressed………..Have a wonderful day!


  8. cindy
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 23:58:49

    Terri- Thanks for the sweetness of this story! I loved it! Your such a cool lady! I’m glad to call you a friend!!
    Take care!


  9. tsonoda148
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 04:50:44

    Hi Cindy;
    Thank you for the kind words. You did a lot of reading last night huh? Woke up to lots of different blog comments…..what a treat! Thank you so much for stopping in. And right back at ya…..the coolness…..and the friendship.



  10. Rachel (Totally Ovar It)
    Dec 18, 2011 @ 10:35:36

    Wow, this is a beautifully written post. I love getting to know more about you. The manner in which you write about the little details of your life makes me feel like I was there too. Lovely, lovely writing.


  11. Vidya Sury
    Dec 18, 2011 @ 21:00:23

    Terri, that was an absolutely charming read. Took me right back to my childhood, but mine was nothing like this, although there were many fun moments. This reminded me of the stories my Mom related about her childhood. Now hers was magical (to me) and so fascinating. Ah yes, I think I will write a post about my mum and her gramma. My son so wishes he was born at least fifty years earlier you know,because in his mind, life was so much simpler and fun.

    But you, Terri, weave a picture so wonderfully with your words. Am very glad you republished this!


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