The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Kaolin Clay

By LaVonda S. Harris © 1986

Issue: October, 1986

As the Sunday sun fell behind the western mountains of North Carolina, the light softly dimmed and a rose glow crept across the old unpainted farmhouse, setting high on the hill above Green's Creek in Jackson County.

The sixteen year old Lela Dell Brooks, braided her long dark hair and stuffed the last of her cotton dresses into a carpet bag. The slow steady pounding of horse's hooves became louder as they neared the front of the house. Lela took the bag and ran down the stairs. Out on the porch she heard the young, fair haired, John William Wilson, telling her Father, he had come to take her for his bride. After protest from Lela's Father, Swanson Brooks and tears from her Mother, Ida Ash Brooks, John took Lela's hand and lead her to the waiting buggy. Down the creek at Preacher Wesley Green's house, John and Lela were married, that summer evening of 1911.

The tram line ran from the mill at Hog Rock to the Dillsboro railroad station. The clay was dug by hand, then washed and sent by wooden flume to the mill. There the water was pressed from the clay with large manual presses. The clay was then formed into cakes and placed on a kiln to dry.

The Kaolin clay produced from the mine was a fine white clay used in the manufacturing of porcelain. Kaolin was first discovered in Jackson County in the early 1880's. The first company to mine the Kaolin was the Carolina Clay Company. Later, in 1891 the mine was purchased by the Harris Clay Company and the tram line was built to transport the large cakes to the train. The tram was constructed like a narrow railroad track with wooden cars. The cars were pulled by two horse's, one horse in front of the other. This was more efficient than the wagons used in previous years. The clay was shipped to potters thoughout the United States and England.

The clay company was the beginning of industrial development in Jackson County. To John and Lela, as to many other mountain families, it was a beginning of a new life. John went on to hold many other jobs in his seventy five years of mountain living. He and Lela enriched their lives with two sons, Jack and John Jr., three daughters, Evelyn, Gertrude, and Berta, in their fifty six years of marriage. Of those children, Berta became my Mother. A beginning built on Kaolin Clay.