Valley Rewind: Earliest trail known to have been used in the Swannanoa Valley

Special to Black Mountain News
This photograph, taken in 2020, shows a remnant of the wagon road in Swannanoa.

This month, the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center is exploring early travel and transportation through its weekly Valley Rewind. The earliest known trail through the Swannanoa Valley was the “Sualinunnahi.” Although the etymology of the name is not completely certain, in the Cherokee language the word “nvnohi” (ᏅᏃᎯ) means “road” and it seems that the “Sualinunnahi” referred to a road that led to Native peoples further south and east, possibly Saraw or Catawba Natives. The Sualinunnahi followed the Swannanoa River, likely exited near what is now the location of Ridgecrest Summer Camp, and continued to follow the Catawba River drainage further east.

The Sualinunnahi would have been used by many different Native peoples traveling through and living in the Swannanoa Valley, including the inhabitants of an early Cherokee village that existed from ca. 1200-1500 AD at what is now the Warren Wilson College campus. It is possible that Hernando De Soto used this route in 1540 during his expedition through southeastern North America, and fairly certain that the conquistador Juan Pardo used the path in 1567. During the Revolutionary War, General Griffith Rutherford led a devastating raid against Cherokee towns in southwestern North Carolina using this pathway. After the American Revolution, the Cherokee, who had sided with the British, were forced to cede their lands, and portions of the Sualinunnahi pathway were adapted by settlers to become a wagon road. The photograph, taken in 2020, shows a remnant of the wagon road in Swannanoa. The name “Swannanoa” is an anglicization of Sualinunnahi.