Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park postpones Overmountain Men gathering until Veterans Day

John Thompson • Sep 18, 2018 at 8:22 PM

ELIZABETHTON — One of the biggest annual events of the year for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is being postponed for several weeks. The September gathering of the Overmountain Men and crossing of the Watauga River by Revolutionary War era re-enactors has been moved to Veterans Day.

Eric Ward, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said: “Sycamore Shoals had to postpone the Overmountain Victory Trail Celebration until Nov. 10-11 because there were not enough volunteers to run the event. The Crossing of the Watauga will take place that Sunday, Nov 11.”

The event commemorates the gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals during the last week of September 1780, the start of a military expedition to take on a British force of American loyalists led by British Maj. Patrick Ferguson. The Overmountain Men defeated the British force on Oct. 7 at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Park and state officials gave no reason why there was a problem with getting enough volunteers this year. There was no comment about a proposed gathering of white nationalists at the park the following weekend.

People who have been involved with the event for many years say the annual river crossing has had be be cancelled in some years because the water level was too high at the ford. Although the flow of the Watauga River is controlled by two upstream dams, the uncontrolled tributaries of Stoney Creek and the Doe River can raise the river level at Sycamore Shoals high enough to make a crossing unsafe.

But this is the first year the annual weekend observance of the gathering has been postponed.

Many of those who have long been associated with the event hare taking a positive approach. “If they can’t do it on the anniversary, then Veterans Day is definitely the second best time to do it,” said Chad Bogart, historic interpreter for the park.

Mel McKay, a member of the board of directors for the Overmountain Victory Trail Association, said there was no reason why the date for the observance could not be changed if there were concerns.

Tom Vaughan, another director, said not all events on the annual trail march from Abingdon, Virginia, to Kings Mountain take place every year.

Vaughan said a few other events already on the schedule for this year’s march have already been cancelled. Hurricane Florence has caused the cancellation of an observance at Tryon Palace in New Bern, North Carolina, that had been scheduled for this Saturday.

But just because the weekend gathering at Sycamore Shoals has been postponed, McKay and Vaughan said there are still plenty of activities associated with the march that will still take place in Carter County.

At the top of the list for both men is the chance to educate school children about their county’s place in the history of the Revolution. “These children are our future leaders and some of them don’t know the history that took place right in their back yard,” Vaugan said.

Instead of going to the Sycamore Shoals, the fourth-graders from Elizabethton City Schools will be meeting with the OVTA re-enactors at Kiwanis Park, near  Elizabethton Fire Station No. 2, on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

The students from the Carter County School System will meet the re-enactors at Roan Mountain Community Park on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Both men are also excited about some new events that will take place because of the changes brought about by the postponement of activities at Sycamore Shoals and by the repairs to Boone Dam.

“I guess that next to the contractors for TVA, we are about the only ones that have enjoyed seeing the lake go down,” said Vaughan. He said the drawdown has exposed historic Choates Ford, so the re-enactors are able to follow in the footsteps of the Virginia portion of the Overmountain Men.

While their crossing of the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals won’t receive the media attention it usually gets, this Overmountain Men crossing of the Holston River is one that will soon be lost forever, at least that is the hope of property owners on Boone Lake.

Another difference this year will be the location of the sermon and prayer presented by the re-enactor portraying the Rev. Samuel Doak. Since the Overmountain Trail re-enactiment has been taking place, that sermon and prayer has been done at the park. This year, it will be performed at the newly restored Sycamore Shoals Monument.

“That is the location where it was actually given,” McKay said. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of holding it there.“ The sermon re-enactment will take place at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26.

While the annual celebration won’t be held at Sycamore Shoals this year, that does not mean the park will be closed this weekend, it will just be a lot quieter than it usually is on the third weekend of September.

In fact, Bogart will be leading a guided walk in the park at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, to celebrate National Public Lands Day.

While leading the hike, Bogart will discuss the vital role that Sycamore Shoals played in the early frontier community, and how its significance would impact our nation’s history. Participants will meet at Fort Watauga, located behind the Visitors Center.

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