Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

The Gunter Cabin

The Gunter Cabin - Fontana Village NC

The Gunter Cabin – Fontana Village NC

Welch Cove Pioneers:
The Gunter Family

Jessie Gunter was born in the Stecoah Valley to Hiram and Bettie Gunter. He and seven siblings grew up helping work their small farm. When Nancy Catherine Richardson arrived from South Carolina to teach at the Stecoah School, she and Jessie became smitten and decided to marry.

In 1875, Jessie and Catherine traveled with their four children to Welch Cove where Jessie’s brother Cyrene lived. The brothers constructed a cabin for Jessie’s growing family that has since been hailed as some of the finest carpentry in all the Smokies. The walls were made from large tulip poplar trunks, split and joined with half dovetail notches. Cherry and poplar puncheons, slabs of wood flattened on one side, comprised flooring across squared joists. A staircase was built to reach the upper floor and white oak shingles were hewn for roofing. The fact that the cabin has survived so long stands as a testament to the quality of the brothers’ work.

Sadly, the family only enjoyed the cabin for a short time. A great blizzard assailed the area in the winter of 1884. Two of the Gunter children, 10 year old Bettie and 14 year old Hiram, fell gravely ill. In the absence of a doctor, both children succumbed to their illness and passed away as the blizzard raged outside.

Jessie, refusing to bury his boy and girl in a “green wood coffin,” used the only dry lumber available: his puncheon floors. In a coffin wide enough for both children, they were laid to rest in what would become the Welch Cove Cemetery. Catherine battled depression for four years after this horrific loss until she, too, passed away in her sleep in 1888. Jessie fashioned her coffin in the same way as the first before leaving the cabin floorless and returning to Stecoah Valley.

~Excerpt from Fontana Village Plaque that hangs in the restored Gunter Cabin.


Last week some folks at work had to go to Fontana Village for a few classes and that got me to thinking about the Gunter Cabin and the sad sad story of Jesse and Catherine. I wonder if the people who moved in after Jesse left replaced the floor…and if they knew why it was missing.

I went to elementary school with a girl who’s last name was Gunter I wish I could go back in time and tell her to ask her grandmother or grandfather if they knew of Jesse Gunter.

If you’ve never been to the Stecoah and Fontana Village area of Graham County NC you need to go-a beautiful place indeed.


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  • Reply
    James Daniel Gunther
    March 14, 2021 at 10:18 am

    Jesse Gunter was my Great Uncle. I was born late in life to Wayne Dewey Gunter, the son of Jasper Gunter, who was Jesse’s brother. My father remembered Jesse quite well, and often told me stories about him and Jasper. My father got very upset when visiting the Cabin a long time ago, as they had an inscription there that stated that Jesse Gunter would struggle to read the signs there today. It made him furious, because he said Jesse was an intelligent litereate man, not the ignorant settler they described. Jesse and my grandfather Jasper both bought in the Civil War. In later years, my own father changed his name from Gunter to Gunther, hence my last name is not spelled Gunter either.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Hi I am the great great granddaughter of Jesse Gunter. My grandmother’s maiden name is Martha Jane Gunter and I told her about this article and she was wondering if maybe she is the girl you went to school with and wanted to know, what school did you go to? She knows what happened to Jesse in the years following the tragic deaths. Sorry to comment so long after this was written we just visited the cabin today and I was searching the internet for any articles on the cabin.

    • Reply
      March 18, 2019 at 6:54 am

      Savannah-good to hear from you! No your grandmother wasn’t the girl I went to school with. The girl’s name was Tina. I went to school at Martins Creek School which is in Cherokee County NC. I’m glad you’re researching your history 🙂

    • Reply
      Gloria Hardy
      March 21, 2019 at 5:14 pm

      Jesse Cornwell Gunter is my 3rd great-uncle. His sister, Samantha Holloway Drake is my 2nd great grandmother. I’m a big ancestry enthusiast. Do you mind if I ask about your mother’s line: parents, geandparents, etc. My father, Ernest Stiles, Sr died a few months ago at age 97, and I realize now that you can never ask enough questions from those who have the answers…

  • Reply
    Joe Gunter
    November 14, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    I’m really late to this but I’m the great great grandson of Cyrene. In fact that was very nearly my name.
    We’ve got plenty of history on the cabin and there’s a Facebook group dedicated to getting it restored and placed on the historic registry.
    I don’t have much to add here except thank you for sharing my family’s history.

    • Reply
      November 17, 2018 at 9:39 am

      Joe-thank you for the comment. So glad you all are actively preserving your history!!

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks Tipper, what a wonderful story!! That area of the mountains leading out to Fontana Village along Route 28 is just beautiful…! Arriving there is like a nice big warm hug from your hunney upon coming home from a long trip… We happened upon it a few years back while visiting WNC and afterwards purchased our ‘retirement’ land near there overlooking Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park… What a gorgeous area to call home…and all the folks… What can I say…you all are just as friendly and warm as the hearths of Gunter Cabin & Grove Park Inn combined…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 24, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Fontana Village was originally a town built by the TVA to house workers during the construction of Fontana Dam. I read that there is an association of the children of the workers who lived there. They call themselves the “Dam Kids” and try to stay in touch and have reunions.
    Gloria Stiles Hardy is the pastor at the Fontana Community Church there It was started at about the same time as the dam and served the workers and their families. Since people came from everywhere to help build the dam and had many different way to worship so the church was non-denominational and remains so to this day. Gloria’s father Ernest Avery Stiles was the pastor before her from 1986 to 2009. Gloria is the consummate expert on the church history and knows more about the people of the region than anybody I know of.
    Gloria is my 4th cousin. Those are all my people!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing this bittersweet slice of history and to Ed for the follow-up.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    February 24, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    After moving to Tennessee in 1954
    My wife and two boys spent many
    Week ends at Fontana village in
    One of the cabins. A very good place
    To relax and enjoy a good week end.
    Lot of things to keep busy. When I started
    Coming to the village there was a nine hole golf course, swimming pool, ball fields, church, cafeteria, square dancing Lessons and a good old square dance every Saturday night .

  • Reply
    February 24, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Cynthia-thank you for the comment! Yes you can visit the cabin. It is on the premises of Fontana Village Resort. You could give them a call to make sure they about when they are open-seems like there is a gate at the main entrance. Go here to visit their website:

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 24, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    After Catherine died in 1888, Jesse’s brother Syrene died in 1889 leaving behind his widow Martha and 4 young daughters. Jesse then married Martha and had 2 more daughters and a son Jesse Oliver Gunter. The family moved to Quallatown in Jackson County and then on across Balsam into Waynesville where Martha and Jesse lived out their lives .

  • Reply
    February 24, 2017 at 11:26 am

    I love informative stories of our area of Appalachia. They sure built a nice home back in those days.
    There is only a rock chimney left standing in the Cole Bottoms with some of the biggest and heaviest rocks you ever saw, and it makes you wonder how in the world they were placed. Just park at the Parking Place at the Forks of the Nantahala and after you cross the bridge on the Nantahala River, keep looking to your right as you walk down the paved path. I’ve got pictures of this sight somewhere and this thing goes plum down to the Double Bridges. (Winding Stairs Road) …Ken

  • Reply
    February 24, 2017 at 10:26 am

    So very many sad stories back when death seemed to come too easily. I often wonder about the children who were left after these tragedies and how they were able to survive.
    I’ve read of so many stories including one in my own area, and I once lived in that area and often walked alongside the river where they were massacred. “The Clover Bottom Massacre of 1783” often reminds me of how difficult it was for our ancestors to pave our way. The children were murdered, but the parents managed to overcome and move on with life. If life had a do over, I would surely have been a history teacher, because I am so amazed at the resilience of our ancestors.
    My great grandmother died during the great flu epidemic of 1918, and unfortunately left a whole house full of children. My grandmother was the oldest at 16 and was already married. Children were scattered all about, and I was fortunate enough to have met great uncles who seemed to have survived quite well. As a matter of fact, they were a fun loving family who laughed easily.
    As usual, Tipper you have rolled back the years with this post….makes us remember. I keep saying each post is one of my favorite, but I believe this one actually deserves the award.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 24, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Tipper–I would encourage readers, if they have an opportunity, to attend a concert at the old Stecoah School auditorium. It’s a lovely room and, according to folks who know a great deal more about such things than I do, the acoustics are exceptional. That whole area of Graham County, along with Sweetwater Valley between Robbinsville and Fontana Village, is absolutely beautiful country.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 24, 2017 at 8:45 am

    How sad. I am gor the most part happy about modern medicine

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    February 24, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Fontana Village, Stecoah, and the surrounding area are indeed special. I’ve always felt a kinship to the NC mountains. Even though I have no family history there, I’ve always felt like I belonged.

  • Reply
    Cynthia Morris
    February 24, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Is it possible to see the cabin now or is it on private property?

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 24, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Oh Tip, that breaks my heart. I can understand how losing two children like that would cause a mother to lose her will to live. Those were hard times.

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