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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Remembering Elisha Mitchell

Posted October 2, 2007 9:24 a.m. EDT

Did you know that Grandfather Mountain was once considered the highest peak in North Carolina?

UNC science professor Elisha Mitchell wasn't so sure, though. He noticed that several peaks in the Black Mountain range seemed to be taller than Grandfather in the Blue Ridge chain of peaks. Back in the 1800's before all the haze and pollution it was easier to view a wide range of mountains on a clear day.

But there was no GPS or other modern measuring devices in those days. Scientists had to use temperature and barometric pressure as guides to calculating elevation. And they had to move fast covering as many as 40 miles in two or three days moving up and down those laurel thickets brimming with bears and snakes.

Eventually it was determined that Mount Mitchell was the highest peak at 6,684 feet. Mitchell got its name from the professor who died exploring the mountain in an attempt to verify his measurements. Dr. Mitchell slipped on a rocky ledge, suffered a serious head wound and drowned in a waterfall below. His body was discovered a few days later by Big Tom Wilson, a well known hunter and tracker. That was just four years before the start of the Civil War.

Today’s question: what is your favorite North Carolina mountain and are you planning an autumn foliage journey this year?