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THE BELDING TUNNEL
By Marshall McClung
Stories about gold and silver mines, and searches for minerals abound in Graham County. Their locations or if they actually exist or not is uncertain. One that for sure exists is the Belding Tunnel that was built around 1887 by employees of the Belding Lumber Company which conducted logging operations in the area.
The Belding Tunnel is located on the main dividing ridge between Big Snowbird and Little Buffalo Creeks at an elevation of 3900 feet. The tunnel, built through solid rock, extends about seventy-five feet back into the mountain, and is around eight feet high and eight feet wide and required the continuous use of explosives to build it. It is just about seventy-five feet or so from the top of the mountain, indeed if the tunnel had been constructed another one hundred feet or so deeper into the mountain, they would have tunneled through to the other side.
A.W. Tucker, a Consulting Mining Engineer from Salisbury, N.C. did a mineral search of western Graham County in 1917 including the Belding Tunnel and surrounding areas. Tucker had been contracted by the U.S. Forest Service to do mineral examinations on close to 24,000 acres of land on Big Snowbird, West Buffalo, and Big and Little Santeetlah Creeks. The land was what was known as the Olmsted Tracts and had been seized from the Olmsted family by the Federal Government for back taxes.
Tucker employed Ronald Lovin who lived on West Buffalo Creek and D.A. Stewart who lived on Big Santeetlah Creek as his field assistants. In his field notes, Tucker described western Graham County as being very mountainous with peaks reaching 5,600 feet in elevation. He described the general terrain as having steep, heavily timbered ridges and streambeds with large boulders.
Tucker kept a daily field diary that contained the names of several locations some known to us, others not:
OCTOBER 14, 1917:
Traveled from the John Adams residence on West Buffalo Creek up Teoatlah Branch to Cedar Top and through Saint Marr Gap, down Cedar Cove, across Big Santeetlah Creek and on to the D.A. Stewart residence.
OCTOBER 15, 1917:
Left D.A. Stewart residence, went along Big Santeetlah Creek, to main dividing ridge between Big and Little Santeetlah Creeks, over Buzzard Cliffs, through Flat Cove and back to the D.A. Stewart residence.
OCTOBER 16, 1917:
From D.A. Stewart residence along Big Santeetlah Creek to Doc Stewart Ridge to Big and Little Huckleberry Knobs, Oak Knob, an down Arch Stewart Ridge.
OCTOBER 17, 1917:
Through Poplar Cove (now part of Joyce Kilmer Forest), to Little Santeetlah Creek, over Haoe and Hangover Peaks to Pleasant Gardens (thought to be what we now call Naked Ground), down main divide between Wolf Laurel and Little Santeetlah Creek, by Mule Spring, through Locust Gap, Goley Deadning, Steer Cove, Flat Cove, and back to Big Santeetlah Creek.
OCTOBER 18 - 19, 1917:
Big Santeetlah, area, John Adam's store, West Buffalo Creek, Santeetlah Gap, Santeetlah Mountain Ford.
NOVEMBER 21 - 30, 1917:
Deep Gap, King Meadows, lower house on Hooper Bald, Patrick Meadows, Fork Ridge (between Squally Creek and Patrick Meadows), to old Forest Service camp on West Buffalo, Hooper Mill Creek (also known as Huffman's Creek), Obadiah Branch, Little Buffalo Creek, Deep Gap Knob, King Meadows, Fire Scald Ridge, Chestnut Flats Branch, Squally Creek, Mouse Knob, to Ronald Lovin residence.
DECEMBER 1 - 3, 1917:
West Buffalo through Santeetlah Gap, Flat Cove, to Pleasant Gardens, across Haoe Bald, down main divide between Deep Creek and Little Santeetlah Creek, through Jenkins Meadows, over Oak Knob and Grasshopper Knob and back down the leading ridge between Horse Cove and Indian Spring Branch to Little Santeetlah, up the trail to the Taylor Stewart residence and on to Big Santeetlah Creek, then down to the Indian Settlement by the Santeetlah Mountain Trail to the headwaters of Teoatlah Branch and down it to the John Adams Store.
Also found in Tucker's field diary is his record of visiting the Belding Tunnel:
NOVEMBER 28, 1917:
"From Ronald Lovin's house we went up West Buffalo Creek and Little Buffalo Creek into Deep Gap, across King Trail Ridge to Fire Scald Ridge and turned down the main divide between Buffalo and Snowbird and dropped off to the Belding Tunnel."
"The opening of the tunnel is partially closed by caved in material. There is two feet of water standing on the tunnel floor. I cut a four inch groove across the roof of the tunnel six feet back from the opening which showed typical rock formations consisting mainly of mica schist containing small bits of glassy, barren quartz. No trace of any economic minerals of value was found."
The Beldings evidently had the tunnel dug on the assumption that the copper vein mined extensively in Copperhill, Tennessee extended into this area. why they chose this particular location so close to the top of the mountain is unknown.
Tucker did find evidence of gold mining at "the old Carver Place one mile east of Adam's Store" done prior to the Civil War. He reported that pieces of gold about the size of "pin heads" were found where Teoatlah Branch joins West Buffalo Creek.
Tucker mentioned that at several points along the Murphy Branch of the Southern Railroad between Topton and Murphy, that Brown Hematite ( a mineral constituting an important iron ore) was being mined and shipped to a smelter at La Follette, Tennessee. Tucker also mentioned the copper mining on Hazel Creek above Proctor.
Tucker concluded his mineral examination in western Graham County indicating that no economic minerals were found, but that bad weather and snow covered ground hampered his work and that further investigation should be considered.
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