Every year since 1938, Freemasons have been getting together for the Great Smokies Summer Assembly of York Rite Masons. This year, the 75th anniversary, this gathering includes Fantasy Golf, meetings and dinners and the annual address at the Masonic marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Masonic marker is quite large but not a feature that a visitor driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway will bump into accidently. It's located at Black Camp Gap on Heintooga Road at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Heintooga Road, considered a minor entrance into the Smokies, is only open from mid-May to the end of October. Eventually the road ends at Polls Gap, the trailhead for Hemphill Bald.
The multi level monument was built with rocks sent from most states and 41 countries. This website catalogs the origin of every stone. Many stones are labeled - Summit of Pikes Peak Colorado, Malta and the former Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Other stones come from the local area, including a token from Waynesville Masons. Waynesville is one of the closest town to the marker.
A metal fence surrounds the monument, protecting it from vandals. The marker is covered by a wooden roof. Thirty-four concrete steps lead to the monument. The vertical part of each step honors a local mason group—most are from North Carolina but Ohio, New Jersey, and Oregon are represented.
The short trail is lined with mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and maple trees. Now spring flowers such as bluets, Robin's plantain, and wood betony are in bloom. Elk occasionally graze in the fields below the monument.
According to a large information plaque put up by the Blue Ridge Parkway next to the marker, Family Gatherings, Revivals and Assemblies are rooted deeply in the culture of Appalachia. So gathering of Freemasons can be likened to Decoration Days at cemeteries for descendants of families who lived in the parks.
The plaque ends with The scenic setting of this marker, surrounded on all sides by national park lands, was chosen to signify the universality of the Masons. Their ideals of equality, morality, charity, and a brotherhood of humanity are symbolized in the cement that binds these stones and bricks.
Finding the Marker: On the Blue Ridge Parkway heading south toward Great Smoky Mountains National Park, make a right turn on Heintooga Road at mile post 458.2. Drive 3.6 miles to Black Camp Gap. Park at a parking area on the right. Take one of the two trails for a couple of hundred feet to the monument.