By Harley Nefe
Fifth generation Blowing Rock resident Steve Sudderth wrote a book titled “Trails Through Time: A History of the Blowing Rock Area” to preserve the early history of the town of Blowing Rock.
The narrative contains a history of the Blowing Rock area from 1400 A.D. to 1900 A.D. including the people and events that led to the development of Blowing Rock as a tourist destination and home.
Sudderth, who was born and raised in Blowing Rock, remembers the old Blowing Rock and how the town wasn’t what it is now.
Sudderth attended Blowing Rock Elementary and Watauga High School. After high school, he worked for a couple of years in construction before going back to school to get a degree in business administration. Sudderth then worked for Old Northwestern Bank in Lenoir and transferred back to Blowing Rock before First Union bought them out. Then Sudderth took a different career path and went to work for ten years selling fire trucks and fire equipment, got married and had two children before working as a fire inspector and building inspector in Watauga County. He ended up working as the emergency management coordinator before retiring.
Sudderth is also known for volunteering for the Blowing Rock Fire Department for 24 years and serving 10 years as the assistant chief.
“When I first got on, I think we had 13 calls the whole year, and now they respond at 200-250 calls,” Sudderth said. The role of the fire department expanded to get into Emergency Medical, search and rescues and car accidents among other scenarios.
While Sudderth is well known locally for his work with the Blowing Rock Fire Department, he also has an interest in history.
“As far as history, you’re sitting around listening to that older generation talk about some of the stories, and when you’re talking about horses and wagons and moonshining, a lot of the different things that are so totally different from my environment — I found it totally fascinating,” Sudderth said. “And so, I paid attention to it. And I listened to them, and the only thing I can kick myself for is I didn’t ask the right questions to the right people back then. I learned later that you need to ask the right questions to the right person before that history passes away. Everybody’s family has that and so when you talk about history, you get to see it from another perspective or from someone who actually experienced an event. I enjoy talking with people and getting those different connections to the same story.”
When Sudderth’s last living grandmother and his father died in 1975, it dawned on him that the historical knowledge would soon disappear and there was so much to learn.
“All of a sudden I was thinking, there’s just so much that I don’t know that I wish I would’ve thought to have asked,” Sudderth said. “So, I spent time with my aunts and uncles and older people. I was just curious and listening.”
With Sudderth’s retirement, the internet, the re-publication of many long out-of-print books, and new archaeological discoveries and academic research, Sudderth felt that he could add a significant amount of information regarding the formation of Blowing Rock.
“I titled it from 1400 to 1900 for several reasons,” Sudderth said. “That early history hasn’t been recorded, and we’ve learned so much more in the last 25-30 years than we used to know with all the reprinting of books and primary sources. I just felt that the time frame hadn’t been reported or was really under recorded.”
In order to write his book, Sudderth compiled information from lots of history and archaeology books, discussions with people, libraries and different periodicals.
“There’s just a lot more information out there now, and it’s more available to us because of the internet,” Sudderth said.
Some of the things that he found out were a little different than the common knowledge.
“One of the biggest things is that they found that the Spanish were in this area 20 years before the Lost Colony of Roanoke,” Sudderth said. “With the discovery of Fort San Juan just north of Morganton and that the Spanish were in Northeastern Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia. So, the question becomes how did they get from Fort San Juan in Morganton to the Saltville, Virginia area?”
By going back through old Spanish records, Sudderth got into the study of distance and elevation and learned how easy or hard it was to go from area to area by walking historically known Native American trading routes or locally known routes.
“Locally known trails or routes are an important part that a lot of historians don’t have, because it’s such a small area to cover for a larger story. You know where the trail is going into the woods behind your house, but somebody writing about it from another time era or unfamiliar with the area just might not know that,” Sudderth said. “So, there’s a disconnect in there, and what I’ve tried to do was take that local knowledge and the overall larger historical picture that they are writing about in archaeology magazines and history books and combine them to give people an idea of activity that was going on in this area in that time period.”
Sudderth said he might be proven wrong but he took the available evidence that exists at this time, trying to make an assessment of when and where the Spanish came through this area.
“You go back and look at the maps of the time period, the journals and reports; then you evaluate that to see if it works out. And I think I got it worked out. So, that would push back the time the Europeans were in the High Country by about 180 years.”
This history information along with answers to other questions such as who the English explorers, long hunters, and early settlers of Blowing Rock were can be found in Sudderth’s book.
From the time Sudderth started writing to the time he got his work in, it took 31 months.
“There’s a difference between what I was trying to do here and writing a novel where you don’t have to double check your footnotes, endnotes and that type of thing,” Sudderth said.
His book is all factual and was time consuming to put together.
“I found so much on the internet that it sounded interesting but once I dug into it, especially in that early period of Native Americans and Spanish, once you got to digging into it, not so much,” Sudderth said.
Sudderth also said that as other information arises or resources that he didn’t use come about, the information can be added to the understanding of our early history.
The 1890 Blowing Rock voter registration is included and is of value to genealogists because of the loss of the 1890 census.
“Someone might comment that there’s not a whole lot about Watauga County,” Sudderth said. “Well, Watauga County was only from 1849-1900, and so the majority of the early history of what is now downtown Blowing Rock, has at one time or another been part of 7 counties up until 1849.”
The book focuses on the Blowing Rock area, but it interrelated to other communities.
“The two main things I hope to do with this book is to record that early history that is being lost from generation to generation because people did not write it down and then to encourage other people to take their families’ stories and local histories and talk to the older generation before the stories are lost. There are so many stories of local characters and events wherever you grew up that we just lose because we don’t write it down,” Sudderth said.
Those who are interested in purchasing “Trails Through Time: A History of the Blowing Rock Area” can find the book at the following locations:
The Blowing Rock
Sunset Tee’s & Hattery – Blowing Rock
Footsloggers – Boone and Blowing Rock
Caldwell County Heritage Museum – Lenoir
Wilkes County Heritage Museum – Wilkesboro
Boone Drug Deerfield – Boone