The Mountain that Hugh Morton found so fascinating was already famous. This account of Muir’s visit, written by Hugh Morton’s son Jim, shows the family interest.
On September 25, 1898, America’s most celebrated conservationist and naturalist, John Muir, visitied Grandfather Mountain. Then 60 years old, Muir was traveling with his friends, botanist Charles Sprague Sargent and banker/naturalist William M. Canby, whom he persuaded to join him in a climb to the mountain’s ridge.
A brief account of the visit is mentioned in a postcard which Muir sent to his daughter on the following evening while awaiting a train from Lenoir to Biltmore. Wrote Muir: “Yesterday we rode 38 miles through a very beautiful forest of many kinds of trees, most of them with colored leaves, and climbed a mountain called Grandfather covered with very fine flowers, shrubs and trees.” On the same card Muir shared the following opinion of the Grandfather region: “The drive from Roan Mountain to Lenoir, 75 miles, is I think the finest in America of its kind.”
Another more colorful account of the Grandfather climb comes from a 1915 article by Melville Anderson in the American Museum Journal, titled “The Conversation of John Muir,” where Muir provides this recollection:
I couldn’t hold in, and began to jump about and sing and glory in it all. Then I happened to look around and catch sight of Sargent, standing there as cool as a rock, with a half-amused look on his face at me, but never saying a word.
“Why don’t you let yourself out at a sight like that?” I asked.
“I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve,” he retorted.
“Who cares where you wear your little heart, mon,” I cried. “There you stand in the face of all Heaven come to earth, like a critic of the universe, as if to say, ‘Come, Nature, bring on the best you have. I’m from Boston!’”
Muir’s visit to Grandfather Mountain was approximately six years after his founding of the Sierra Club in 1892, and five years prior to his historic camping trip in Yosemite with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, when together they devised a strategy for Roosevelt’s innovative conservation programs.