The Kings Were Squatters

Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 2/1989

The Mountain’s early settlement, and for that matter, the whole U.S. Western movement was inexorably tied to both homesteading and “squatter’s rights.” With so much land, it was politically acceptable to believe that if it wasn’t being used, you could use it. The political steam toward homestead rights culminated in the Homestead Act of 1841, which let you claim title, on up to 160 acres of vacant government land once you had been on it for five years. Any land not previously awarded under Mexican land grants was U.S. government land and subject to homesteading – including most of the land north of Purisima Creek and west of what is  now Skyline. Both legal homesteading and illegal but similarly appearing, “squatting” were widespread.

Much has been made of George Harkins through the early writings of Davenport Bromfield. But it was George’s father, John Harkins who set the stage, by homesteading a piece on the very north end of the mountain, approximately where the Rhododendron Farm now is. Little is known of John, and I can’t find anything on Mrs. Harkins, but they had three kids, Eliza, Charles and George, who was born in 1865. John later bought more land, further west, but not the land folks now think of as Harkin’s land in the Harkins road and Comstock road area – George Harkins bought that 342 acre piece much latter – after it had been a working ranch for 20 years.

The Harkins kids attended the Pharis school, located at Summit Springs (500 yards below what is now King’s Mountain Road and Skyline–about,where Peter Garratt’s place is). The school was, named after kindly lumberman “Purdy” Pharis who gave the land and lumber for it (more on Pharis in a future article – he is to me the most fascinating of our early mountain pioneers). But if the Harkins were classic homesteaders, the King family, after whom the Mountain is now named were just classy squatters.

In 1868 Frank and Honora King squatted on the border between the large parcels of John L. Greer and the Bordon & Hatch lumber operation. King, a wildly overweight German, built a saloon and barber shop where he was often arrested but never sentenced for serving liquor without a license – while Mrs. King built a reputation as a cook and ran a boarding house to rival the nearby Summit Springs House. (The area was then generally known as Summit Springs, while the coastsiders called the Mountain’s north end: “The Widow Devine’s Ridge”, after Lena Devine – more on her in another article.) The Kings inn was at the current intersection of King’s Mountain Road and Skyline, and according to Theadate Maskell’s small 1942 History of King’s Mountain – from the porch of the “King’s Mountain Brow House” you could see the coast. With it’s views, the more modern King establishment became more popular than the  Summit Springs House and from its visitors praise came our Mountain’s name. In 1888 the Greers took the Kings to court, but the judge, as was common in the day, found the Kings guilty but gave them the three acres around their inn anyway. Below is a short 1904 letter from Mrs. King discussing the prime topic of the Mountain–wood.