Tag Archives: Tennessee River

Whether the Suck or the Kettle, it Was My Home

If you were to go there today, what you would find is something far different from the place I knew growing up. The community on the Tennessee River is known by a name going back to the days of the settlers, Suck Creek.

If you are unfamiliar with this small section on the Tennessee River just outside of downtown Chattanooga, you may think the name is funny. However, the “suck” or “kettle” was a whirlpool formed by the water from Suck Creek flowing rapidly into the river. It was a serious obstacle to maritime travel.

Family History

My paternal great grandfather, along with his sons, hoboed a train out of Rainbow City, Alabama, and wound up in Tennessee. When he first got here, he went to work in the mountain above Suck Creek as a logger. From what I’ve been told, they didn’t have much and even slept in tents.

But sometime in the 1940’s my great grandfather and my grandfather built my grandparents’ house. It was small, but so well-built you could probably roll it down a hill and it would stay intact! They constructed it out of wood they milled themselves, all true 2×4’s and tongue-in-groove pine. The pine was so hard that when my dad tried to do some remodeling, the saw blades got stuck or broke!

The house that my grandfather built – the one in which my grandmother, my dad, and my uncle would live, too – was in a spot looking down into the Tennessee River Gorge (or Cash Canyon) and right above Suck Creek.

Below is a painting I just finished today. It’s a view of the river as might be seen from the front yard of our house. All I did was leave out houses and “progress” and imagined what it might have looked like 150 years ago.

“Suck Creek as Seen from Home” (acrylic on canvas)

The Whirlpool and Early-American History

But getting back to the story of the whirlpool, most people are unaware of how in 1780 it temporarily trapped the Donelson party. You see, in 1779 John Donelson (co-founder of Nashville) took a large party of settlers in a group of flatboats down the Tennessee River. They were heading to Fort Nashborough on the Cumberland River. But all along the way they were harassed by Cherokee and Chickasaw.

When the Donalson part reached the place where Suck Creek flowed into the Tennessee River, the flat on which Donelson and his family traveled became stuck in the whirlpool. This meant that they became stationary targets, and the result was one death, besides other injuries. The following quote is from an extensive article in Wikipedia.

“Several miles downriver, beginning with the obstruction known as the Suck or the Kettle, the party was fired upon throughout their passage through the Tennessee River Gorge (Cash Canyon); one person died and several were wounded.”

Wikipedia

Skip forward 70-80 years to the Civil War era. Photos and etchings exist of steam-powered paddle-wheelers being tethered to ropes and winched (warped) close to the riverbank in order to avoid the powerful whirlpool.

“Antique illustration of a steamer on the Tennessee River at the mouth of Suck Creek. Engraving published in Picturesque America (D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1872).”

These Days

So, what about Suck Creek these days? Well, to begin with, back in the early 1900’s the government began constructing hydro-electric power dams along the river. These dams raised the water levels of the river just enough to negate the whirlpool and make river travel easier. However, whenever there are torrential rains that cause the creek to swell and flow rapidly into the river, a whirlpool does form, only not as powerful.

And as to how it’s changed since I grew up there? Let’s just say that the old homesteads and property along the river that once belonged to my relatives is no more. Gone are the old shacks. Gone are the front porches where folk would sit and play guitars and banjoes. Gone are the remnants of the long-abandoned moonshine stills. Now all you will find are million-dollar homes, boat docks, and a view that still beats most I’ve ever seen.

Oh, and the old house where I grew up is actually still there! One of my cousins owns it and refuses to sell, even though he’s been offered enough to live comfortably for a long time.

Sometimes a view is worth more than all the money in the world.

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Family, nature, places

Some Places Never Leave You, Even After You Leave Them

This a view from Edwards Point, the mountain bluff above where I grew up and the pinnacle of every hiking trip I made as a kid.

This is the Tennessee River Gorge. Just across the river is Elder Mountain, where my grandfather hid from revenuers.

To the right is Prentice Cooper Game Reserve. The Cumberland Trail weaves its way through there, down from the top of the mountain, down across the creek, then up to where this scene depicts.

I grew up in the community of Suck Creek. Just out of view, just below the rock bluff, the creek would feed the river. Up until a hundred or so years ago, during hard rain the creek and the river would create a powerful whirlpool capable of pulling small boats under and stopping paddle wheelers.

It was only after a system of dams were built along the Tennessee River (operated by TVA), that the river was tamed enough for safe navigation.

This is also where my Cherokee ancestors on my paternal grandmother’s side resided. They were the ones who actually attacked the early settlers of Nashville when their boats were stuck in the “suck.”

The mountains and the river will always be in my blood. The peaceful drift of the water. The fresh air of old-growth forests. The legends and unforgettable scary bedtime stories from the old-timers.

Unfortunately, much has changed over the last decade. Much of where I spent my childhood and teen years are unrecognizable. Time has exacted a heavy toll from both progress and neglect. And where there was family land that outsiders feared to visit, now there’s million-dollar homes where outsiders moved to “preserve” the beauty.

Yet, I still remember. I still dream. I still imagine. That will never change. Time will only make the memories sweeter and the stories even better.

I may have left, but it’s never left me.

View from Edward’s Point, Signal Mountain, TN

Leave a comment

Filed under community, Family, History, nature, old age, maturity

Viewing Home

There’s a place I used to go when I was younger, when I was in much better shape, and when my family still lived down by the river (but not in a van). It was a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge, right above where we lived.

Just the other day, as I walked out of the cardiologist’s office, I saw in the waiting room a photo on canvas, a photo of the very place I used to hike to as a kid. Emotions took my breath away.

I moved a chair out of my way and used my phone to take a picture – this picture – of the picture.

There it was, the view like no other in Tennessee, like few in the world. It was the view of my home from on top of that rocky outcrop that I’d gladly hike for a few hours to reach.

Oh, how I’d love to go there again, except this time with my wife and girls! I would love for them to share in the awe and grandeur of God’s perfect river view.

If you were to sit on the edge of the rock, to your left you would see the Tennessee River flow down from the direction of Chattanooga. Below your feet would be a hundred-foot drop to the tops of maple and oak trees. To your right would be (as you see here) the river on which we’d fish, ride in a boat, and watch the rains from every storm approach us like a white wall.

This was Cherokee country. This was moonshine country. This was the place where my great grandfather immigrated to after hobo-ing a train out of Rainbow City, Alabama. This is where my grandfather married a half-Cherokee woman and built a house out of rough-cut pine that he and his father cut at the saw mill. This is where my dad and my uncle would sneak across the river at night to take food to my grandpa Baker who was hiding out from the revenuers.

This was where my dad got his first and last whiskey still at the age of 14, but gave it up after the plum whiskey nearly killed him.

This is where we would later live after my dad met my mom, gave his heart to Jesus, and displayed what it really looked like to be changed by the Gospel.

This is where I learned to shoot, hunt, fish, and be proud of my “hillbilly” roots. It’s also where my cousin and I snuck what we thought were .22 cal. blanks out of my uncle’s gun cabinet and then proceed to shoot at each other across a field at night. Actually, I had the blanks, but Danny had the bullets.

I can say with all certainty, he missed.

This is where I would accept the call to preach at age 16.

This is the place I used to call home, but no longer. Even if I wanted to move back there, the millionaires have bought up much of what used to be my stomping grounds, at least what’s not now part of the Tennessee River Trust. I’d never be able to afford a place to build a campfire, much less a house, even if the old family property was available.

But that’s OK.

Sure, there’s a sentimental ache in my heart to stand on that bluff again, to look down on my old home. But the older I get, the more I have a longing to see someplace else, someplace where I’ll be welcome forever… A place I’ve been reading about in an old Book.

From what I’ve been told, well… the view there is spectacular! Even infinite!

And there’ll be no cardiologist waiting rooms, either.

 

16 Comments

Filed under Family, General Observations, Life/Death, places, wisdom

July 4th, Chattanooga, Tennessee River

Last night I played bodyguard to my daughters Katie and Haley. They wanted to go downtown to walk around and take pictures before the fireworks, so I went with them…armed to the teeth 😉

Well, I’m sure their pictures from last night are much better, but here are a few I took from the Walnut Street Bridge. The drawbridge in the pictures is the Market Street Bridge.

The red, white, and blue mansion is the Hunter Museum. We passed by it as we walked back to the car, and right before it started pouring rain!

We love our city. We love our river. We love our country.

2 Comments

Filed under America, places