Robert Davidson of Holly Bend (near Mountain Island Lake) may be the original Catawba Riverkeeper. In 1797 Robin Davidson was appointed as “Overseer and Commissioner” for that part of the Catawba River from Dutchman’s Creek to Tools Ford.
Through most of his life Robert (Robin) Davidson was one of the commissioners for the Catawba River. All men in the county were required to participate in maintenance of the roads, but those who lived along the Catawba were required to keep the river clear of obstructions so that fish could freely swim upstream. There were several fisheries on the river (one was part-owned by James Latta of Latta Plantation) and it is probable that they caught large quantities of Shad during the spring run. They might have used nets, but more likely used fish traps woven of river reed. These fish were probably sold fresh in Charlotte, perhaps in the open market space below the court house. They were most certainly salted down and sold by the barrel. Of course Shad Roe is a great delicacy, so it may have been sold separately. Apparently the river fishing industry was wide-spread in North Carolina for in 1787 the NC Assembly passed a law allowing County Courts to “Appoint Commissioners to Keep Open Rivers and Creeks...for the Passage of fish Up the Same,”
In 1797 Robin Davidson was 28 and living with his parents, Major John and Violet Davidson at Rural Hill. It would be three years before he built Holly Bend and married Peggy Osborne. In July of that year, the county court appointed him an “Overseer and Commissioner” for that part of the Catawba River from Dutchman’s Creek to Tools Ford. Along with two other commissioners for this section he organized the men living near the river in “removing Obstruction in the navigation” of the river. He was appointed again in 1799, 1803, 1812 and 1816. Robin served in this function continuously from at least 1797 until 1816 and perhaps until he died in 1853.
A curious sidelight to Robin Davidson’s connection to the Catawba River is the disappearance of Tools Ford and the roads leading to it. Tools Ford may not have been as important to history as Beattie’s, Cowan’s, Tuckaseegee, or Nation’s Fords, but it was certainly well known and used as a dividing point on the Catawba River. Few of these fords appear on 18th century maps. The first appearance of Tools Ford was on the Strother Map of 1808. That map also showed a road starting at the Statesville Road, just north of John McKnitt Alexander’s Alexandriana, and running due west to Tools Ford. The road extended across the Catawba to Lincoln County where it ended at a road connecting Beattie’s and Tuckaseegee Fords. Tools Ford and its road continue to be shown on maps up to 1882. Then it disappears. On a county map of 1911 neither the ford nor the road leading to it are shown. This is curious. A ford may be used less and less as bridges are built, but it is still always there. And a well-used road usually continues in existence to some extent since it provides access to properties along it.
Also curious is the name change of what we call today McDowell’s Creek. This was originally, at least by 1808, known as Davidson’s Creek. In 1882 it was shown as Davidson’s Mill Creek. However, by 1911 Davidson’s Creek was gone forever and the stream was called McDowell’s Creek. That same map shows a Davidson’s Creek joining the Catawba near the village of Davidson, so that may explain the name change.
- About the Upper Catawba River Basin
- Early History of the Basin
- History of Nation Ford
- Post-Civil War History of the Basin