Out My Back Door: Sycamore trees and Watauga River visible from backdoor of Dr. Robert Schubert’s office12:56 pm | January 11, 2012
I started the new year with an appointment at the doctor’s office, that of Dr. Robert Schubert. Dr. Schubert’s office is located on West Elk Avenue next to the VFW. The front door of the doctor’s office also serves as the backdoor since Dr. Schubert’s office is located at the rear of the building, which overlooks the Watauga River and the Sandy Bottom area. The view out the backdoor is very scenic as large sycamore trees line the riverbank. Across the river is pastoral land and a large farmhouse or two as well as other houses.
Located in the Rio Vista community, the site on which the doctor’s office is located was once familiar ground to the Cherokee Indians and early settlers along the Watauga River. It has long been famous for the many Indian artifacts found along the river’s bank. Several Indian graves were discovered nearby and removed in the early 1960s to the University of Tennessee.
Rio Vista, which means “river view,” is among the oldest communities in the state of Tennessee, having been settled around 1770 when Matthew Talbott settled near the mouth of Gap Creek. About the same time Joshua Houghton, Ralph Humphreys James Taylor and Jon Reneau settled near Talbott.
According to the writings of local historian Robert Nave, Talbott was a pioneer Baptist preacher from Bedford County, Va., who was a leader in the government there. It was in the Talbott house that the first revival meeting was held in the state of Tennessee around 1772 when the Chasteen brothers, John and James, both preachers, came through the area and stopped for a few days for some church meetings. The two brothers later became well known in South Carolina as pioneer Baptists and church founders.
During their time in Rio Vista an attempt was made to organize a church. However, the infant church could not survive the ravages of the Revolutionary War, which soon broke out. After the Revolution, Matthew Talbott moved to Georgia and sold his property in Rio Vista to Josiah Clark. Talbott’s son, Matthew Jr., became the first governor of Georgia.
It was on the Talbott land that the Watauga Fort was built before the Revolutionary War, providing a safe haven for the settlers from the Cherokees, who often attacked.
In more recent years Rio Vista was the home of Fuddtown, which was started by the late Clyde Campbell. After Campbell’s death, the property on which Fuddtown was located was sold along with the buildings and the many antiques that Campbell had accumulated over the years. Fuddtown was located just a stone’s throw down the street from Dr. Schubert’s office and was once home to a popular antique store and an American Indian Museum. It was the site of a popular flea market on Saturday morning, which drew collectors from around the region. Campbell also owned a restaurant nearby that was shut down when the state exercised its eminent domain, expanding West Elk Avenue into a five-lane highway.
Each time that I visit the doctor’s office I notice the large sycamore trees which line the riverbank. At this time of the year they are stark naked as their leaves have fallen, leaving the trees bare and exposing the light gray bark. Some of the trees are very old as evidenced by their height and the many gnarled branches from which numerous sycamore balls hang.
Through some research I learned that the American sycamore tree can grow as much as four feet per year, reaching a height of over 120 feet. It can live for over 500 years. A hard and tough wood, I read that early colonists cut logs of the tree into cross sections through which they bored a central hole to use for the wheels of ox carts. It was also used for butchers’ blocks, barber poles, wooden washing machines, etc. It is very likely that the Cherokees used the trees to make dugout canoes for transportation on the nearby river.
Dr. Schubert noted that his kids loved to play along the river when they occasionally visited the office with him. “It is a very calming place,” he said.