Cowee School project part of a larger plan

To the Editor:

I’ve been a fan of The Smoky Mountain News for 12 years since you very ably reported on the Needmore Tract conservation story: a locally-led campaign to conserve 27 miles of Little Tennessee River. The then-Macon County Commission, chaired by Harold Corbin, helped to lead that campaign to keep the Needmore in the public trust.

As such, I was disappointed by your story last week about the Cowee School which left the reader believing that Macon County was funneling money through a “special-interest group” called The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT). LTLT is not receiving funds from Macon County. Quite the opposite, LTLT and the Cowee Community Development Organization are raising funds to support the county-led investment in the school to serve as a heritage arts center, local food facility, and proposed incubator for cottage industry in Macon County.

The county’s investment in Cowee School was made in September by a County Commission chaired by another Corbin who also cares deeply for the county, Kevin Corbin. Your article failed to mention that these funds are being administered by the Macon Economic Development Commission. Given that the exceptionally intact cultural and natural heritage of northern Macon County are amongst the county’s greatest economic development assets, Cowee School as an EDC project makes great sense.

In the article it was also suggested that the Cowee School is nothing more than one more decommissioned community school, as if it had no special merits that would justify county investment. The historic Cowee School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it anchors the largest historic district in Western North Carolina with 27 structures spanning 1,400 years of history. The principal Cherokee town of Cowee was at the geo-political center of the South in the middle 1700s and the first military campaign of the American Revolution in the South was the attack on Cowee two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One reason to invest in Cowee School is to build on the extraordinary history that surrounds the school.

The Cowee School is the largest building, and the only publicly owned building, in the historic district. It was built of local stone by the WPA 70 years ago on the site of a CCC camp. Re-use of Cowee School has much greater economic development potential than any other local decommissioned community school that I know of. The question of county investment in the county’s cultural heritage, one of its greatest assets, is one that the next Macon Commission will undoubtedly grapple with over the next two years. I have faith that under the leadership of Kevin Corbin, the right decisions will be made.

Paul Carlson

LTLT Executive Director


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