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The Valley River is a tributary of the Hiwassee River that begins as a pair of springs in the Snowbird Mountains of Cherokee County, North Carolina and descends 2,960 feet (900 m) in elevation in approximately forty miles (64 km) to enter the Hiwassee embayment at Murphy, North Carolina. The Valley River flows generally southwest, roughly paralleling US 19 between Topton, North Carolina, and Murphy, North Carolina having a total watershed of 120 m2 (11.15km2)
The Valley River’s origin dates from the uplifting of the Appalachian chain during the Paleozoic Era, Devonian Period, in an event known as the Alleghenian orogeny. Earlier in the Paleozoic the area was the site of shallow seas which resulted in large limestone deposits. The Alleghenian orogeny caused both uplift and the metamorphism of rock at the highest pressure points within the various Appalachian mountain chains. The Snowbird and Unicoi Mountains which border the Valley River contain silver, gold, copper, limestone, sandstone, marble, brown iron ore in economically recoverable quantities. The erosion of the mountains over a 480 million year period allowed the Valley River to carve a broad flat valley with rich fertile soil.
Near Rhodo, North Carolina is Silvermine Creek, said to be the location of a small silver deposit. Silvermine Creek is a tributary of the Valley River. Silvermine may derive its name from the following story:
In the counties west of the Blue Ridge, there has been as yet no exploration to any depth beneath the surface of the ground, with perhaps the single exception of the old excavations in the county of Cherokee. According to the most commonly received Indian tradition, they were excavated more than a century ago, by a company of Spaniards from Florida. They are said to have worked there for two or three summers, to have obtained a white metal, and prospered greatly in their mining operations, until the Cherokees, finding that if it became generally known that there were valuable mines in their country, the cupidity of the white men would expel them from it, determined in solemn council to destroy the whole party, and that in obedience to that decree no one of the adventurous strangers was allowed to return to the country whence they came. Though this story accords very well with the Indian laws which condemned to death those who disclosed the existence of mines to white men, yet I do not regard it as entitled too much credit.
Talc has been mined in Cherokee County since at least the 1850s.
The settlement of the area by indigenous people occurred between 8000 and 1000 BC. Two miles (3.2 km) east of the terminus of the Valley River in Murphy, North Carolina lies the Peachtree Mound, an Archaic Indian Mound excavated by the Smithsonian in 1933. A second mound, the Andrews Mound is located on private property on the Valley River near Andrews, North Carolina. It is believed to be of the Qualla Phase (1500 to 1850) of the Cherokee. By 1000 AD, the Cherokee had moved into the area settling into a series of evolving towns that came to be known as the Valley Towns. During the Pisgah Phase of the Cherokee (1000 to 1500) the Valley River was known first as the “Gunahita” or “Long River” to the Cherokee, then later as “Konehetee” or Valley River. The Valley River, along with the Hiwassee River was the location of the Valley Towns, one of six (6) subsets of the Cherokee nation identified by the South Carolina British by 1700. The Cherokee towns of Conoske, Tomatly, Little Telliquo and Nayowee were located along the Valley River. The confluence of the Valley and Hiwassee Rivers was called Tlanusi’yi, ‘The Leech Place’ by the Cherokee, and was home to a legendary giant leech that ate the ears and noses of its Cherokee victims.
Hernando De Soto was the first European to enter the area on May 25 to 30, 1540. De Soto’s march paralleled the Valley River on an old Indian trail (today US 19) from the Cherokee town of Xuala (modern Tryon, SC) to the Cherokee town of Gauxule (modern Asheville, North Carolina). Although no clear record exists, De Soto probably passed near the Cherokee Valley Towns of Conoske, Tomatly, Little Telliquo and Nayowee.
The first permanent settlement of Europeans in the area was a Baptist missionary outpost near Peachtree, North Carolina on the Hiwassee River in 1817.
The Valley River saw a succession of administrative and political changes as the counties of western North Carolina were formed and subdivided. In 1753 the Valley River was part of the as yet unsurveyed western end of Anson County, North Carolina. Jacques Nicolas Bellin's Map of Carolina and Georgia of 1757 shows but does not label the Valley River. The Map of Georgia and Carolina by Bellin shows the Valley Towns of Euforsee, Comastee, Little Telliquo, Cotocanahuy, Nayowee, Tomatly, and Chewohe
In 1768 the Valley River became part of Tryon County, North Carolina. In 1779 the Valley River became part of Rutherford Co., North Carolina. In 1791 the Valley River became a part of Buncombe County, North Carolina. In 1808 Haywood County, North Carolina, which was to contain the Valley River, was carved from Buncombe County. In 1828, Macon County, North Carolina which was to contain the Valley River was carved from Haywood County. Until 1835, the lands around the Valley River all belonged to the Cherokee.
The 1835 Treaty of Echota ceded the land to the state of North Carolina. Beginning in 1838 at Fort Butler, the Cherokee were marshaled for removal to Oklahoma. The Cherokee were forcibly removed on the order of President Andrew Jackson, despite a ruling in favor of the Cherokee by the US Supreme Court. The march would be known as the Trail of Tears. In 1839, Cherokee County, North Carolina, which now contains the Valley River, was constituted from Haywood County and a land lottery was held, opening the land to permanent European settlement.
The town of Murphy, at the confluence of the Valley and Hiwassee Rivers was founded in 1835. The town of Andrews was founded on the Valley River in 1890 as the railroad moved up the valley. When the towns of Marble, Rhodo and Topton were founded is uncertain; they are the other three communities along the Valley River.
The Valley River area remains largely rural and agricultural. The lower reaches are navigable in a canoe but there is little activity on the river beyond fishing. At Murphy, the Konehette (“valley” in Cherokee) Park borders the Valley River, providing a greenway.
The State of North Carolina has identified nine tributaries of the Valley River as having some form of impairment, including the entire Valley River between Gipp Creek and Hiwassee Lake. Most of the impairments are minor and result from runoff from pasture or impervious surfaces.
US 19 traverses the Valley River valley providing panoramic views from the Unicoi to the Snowbird Mountains. Historic sections of Murphy and Andrews have been restored and bring some tourism to the area; there are also a large flea market, and recreational opportunities provided by the Hiwassee Lake.