ELIZABETHTON — It has been more than 230 years since the Ovemountain Men gathered at Sycamore Shoals on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain, but the spirit to overcome seemingly impossible odds is still strong in this community.
Supporters of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area are currently engaged in a contest that could yield the park as much as $100,000 to be used toward the restoration of the park’s latest acquisition, Sabine Hill, the historic home of Gen. Nathaniel Taylor.
While the group got a late start, they are more than making up for it in a dramatic and exciting surge toward the Sept. 6 finish line. On Monday, the group gathered at the Chick-fil-A restaurant just down the road from Sycamore Shoals to enjoy chicken sandwiches and to socialize while they pound away at their laptop computers in order to cast votes in a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola to award $100,000 to the park that gets the most votes.
When the group gathered in the restaurant, Sycamore Shoals was in 11th place, behind the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Within half an hour, the voters had pushed Sycamore Shoals into the top 10. An hour later, their smoking hot computers had pushed their favorite park past D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and into ninth place and pulling away.
While the voters at Chick-fil-A on Monday night were the most visible supporters, they were only the tip of a large and ever-increasing network of park supporters who are donating their hours and computer time to helping get funding for Sabine Hill’s restoration.
“We have received a lot of emails from people who said they couldn’t make it to Chick-fil-A but they would be at home voting for us during the evening,” said Tammy Ward, one of the organizers of the effort.
“It’s fun to watch our numbers just keep going up and up and to watch us zoom past the competition,” Ward said. “When we started we were in 3,600th place, now we are in ninth place after less than two weeks.”
They are still a long way behind first place Oak Park, which at 8 p.m. Monday had 1,339,083 votes to Sycamore Shoals’ 83,600. But the group’s logistics coordinator Becky Magill has a strategy to overcome the gap.
“If we can get 4,000 people to pledge to vote 50 times a day for for five days, that is a million votes,” Magill said. “That is what we have to do, get people to pledge to vote.”
Magill said voting is not hard, and the average computer user can cast four votes a minute without any difficulty. The site is located at www.livepostively.com. Once on the site, go to the lower left corner and click on the “vote for your park” icon. When the map comes up, go to the “search for your park” box above the map. Start typing Sycamore and a box with options for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area will appear. Be careful not to vote for options such as Sycamore Shoals Park. Those will not count. When the park is selected, click “go.” A box will appear with Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area’s totals and a red box on which a vote may be cast.
More detailed instructions on how to vote for Sycamore Shoals can be found at www.bemycu.org.
The park’s supporters are playing catch up because they just found out about the contest less than two weeks ago.
Park Manager Jennifer Bauer was looking for alternative funding sources for the Sabine Hill restoration after learning there was no money in this year’s state budget for the project. During her search she discovered the Coca-Cola contest and spread the word of her find to the park’s supporters.
The word quickly spread by email and Facebook and the effort appeared to explode Monday, when more than 10,000 votes were cast.
“We got a late start,” Ward said. “But I am excited about the community spirit that is being shown, and when I say community spirit, I don’t just mean Carter County but the entire area. I just got an email from a woman in Gray who said she couldn’t be at the Chick-fil-A but she was still voting with us.”
“There is so much history at this park that people all across America should identify with it,” Ward said. In addition to the muster of the Overmountain Men in 1780, the park was also the site of the formation of the Watauga Association in 1772, when the first majority rule system of government was established in America. The Transylvania Purchase in 1775 was the largest private real estate transaction in American history and helped open the way to settlement of much of Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1776, Fort Watauga withstood a Cherokee attack that helped make John Sevier and Bonnie Kate Sherrill historical figures.
Sabine Hill House was built after the War of 1812 by Gen. Nathaniel Taylor, one of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s key lieutenants. Taylor did not fight in the Battle of New Orleans because he was placed in charge of defenses for Mobile, Ala. Taylor was also the first sheriff of Carter County.
That Sabine Hill still stands is a testament to community spirit. A businessman had acquired the property several years ago in order to build a residential development. Sabine Hill would have been moved or demolished.
Two prominent citizens, Sam LaPorte and Helen Wilson, talked the developer into selling the property to them for around $300,000, with the understanding the state would eventually buy the property. They eventually sold it to the state for an amount less than they had paid for it.
Wilson was one of the citizens who attended the vote-casting party at Chick-fil-A on Monday.