ELIZABETHTON — A piece of Carter County’s earliest history was deposited in a place of honor in the Carter County Courthouse on Thursday morning.
Former Elizabethton City Councilman Junior Stanley presented a limb from the fondly remembered sycamore tree that stood on the bank of the Doe River near what is now the intersection of Hattie Avenue and Riverside Drive. In May 1772, the leaders of the community gathered under the shade of the tree to form the Watauga Association and to enact the Articles of the Watauga Association. Later writers of American history would declare the Watauga Association as an important first step in American self-government. Theodore Roosevelt said the members of the Watauga Association were the “first men of American birth to establish a free and independent community on the continent.”
The tree is also said to have shaded Andrew Jackson when he served as one of the state’s first circuit judges.
The tree survived for another two centuries until it finally succumbed to old age and disease. It was cut down in 1988. Stanley said when the tree was cut down, one of the citizens who hated to see the end of the tree was Ed Nance. He received permission to cut off a limb from the fallen tree and keep it. When he died, Stanley said Nance’s widow gave it to him.
Realizing the links the limb had to the state’s beginnings, Stanley took it to Elizabethton High School and had the woodworking class remove the bark, smooth and varnish the wood. Then he took it to his home and forgot it for the next 19 years. It was not until he was cleaning out his garage this year that Stanley came across the limb and decided it should have a place of honor. He met with Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey and Elizabethton City Archivist Joe Penza about finding a place of honor for the limb.
As a result, the limb now rests in a glass case on the first floor of the courthouse.
Stanley said the Cherokee call the sycamore tree the ghost tree because of its pale white bark. “This is fitting because the Watauga Association Sycamore Tree, removed in 1988, is now a ghost that lives only through our memories. While none of the records of the court, or of the Articles, survived to the present day, this branch reminds us of the lives and ghosts of those bold pioneers who blazed a trail over the mountains and laid the foundations for a free and just Carter County.”