The Muskrat Skinner's WifeEvery island is unique. Wild or manicured, it dreams its own dreams and wakes to its own rhythms.Each has a tale to tell.I think of Governor’s Island, just north of marker 5 on Lake Norman. The island has a unique history: it wasn’t always an island.It has gone through many phases, from wildly primitive to luxuriantly dignified.Creating an island, any island, is no small matter.It goes something like this: You take a chunk of land, add water and – zingo – you’ve got yourself an island.But of course, there’s more to it. A lot more.Governor’s Island began as a small slice of hostile Indian territory on the west side of the Catawba River. Then came pioneers, with wagons loaded with family furnishings.One of these early settlers was John Beatty, who crossed the river in 1749. He saw that the land was fertile, the weather was mild and the river provided ample water. The pioneers had giant dreams and a willingness to work sunup to sundown to achieve them. These brave men and women found it hard enough to hack a homestead out of the wilderness – let alone fork over yet another British tax.Before they knew it, farmers were trading plows for guns, and they were drawn into a bitter, bloody conflict against the Crown. Fortunately, the colonists prevailed, and a new nation was born.The place where John Beatty came across the river became known as Beatty’s Ford. People began to settle there in the mid 1700s and, before long, it was considered prime real estate.Two distinguished Lincoln County lawyers, Roger H. and Alfred M. Burton, established fine homes at Beatty’s Ford. They were well connected, being cousins to Hutchins G. Burton, who served as Governor of North Carolina from 1824 to 1827.Early in 1836 Governor Burton saddled up his horse and left his Halifax County home for a visit with his cousins at Beatty’s Ford in Lincoln County. Unfortunately, the governor suddenly became ill during the journey and never reached his destination. He died April 21, 1836, and was buried in the Burton Plot of Unity Church graveyard near Beatty’s Ford.Notice the historic marker at the corner of Route 16 and Unity Church Road. It reads: “Hutchins G. Burton. Governor 1824-1827. Attorney General of N.C; Congressman. Grave is 1/2 mi. E.” Look around a bit, and you’ll find the headstones in the old Unity Church graveyard.It’s too bad the governor never made it to his cousin’s home overlooking the mighty Catawba River. It was a two-and-a-half story, eight-room plantation house that was both comfortable and elegant. Built on a bluff above the river to provide protection from spring floods, the home came with a lovely view as well as an endless supply of fresh shad and trout. They called it the Burton Place.The idyllic life beside the river was destined to disappear as the agricultural era slipped away, and the industrial age steamed ahead. The advent of electricity changed the Catawba River Valley forever.Three visionaries were convinced they knew the secret to the development of the South. These men, William S. Lee, Dr. Gill Wylie and James B. Duke, shared a plan in 1904 to harness the power of the entire Catawba River Valley in a series of dams and lakes. In 1928, with 10 dams and a dozen powerhouses, the Catawba was being referred to as the most electrified valley in the world.In the quest for power, the river was dammed and huge parcels of land disappeared beneath Lake Norman. In the original plan, the land that was to become Governor’s Island was under water. Revised calculations revealed the island would not be underwater but instead would end up being an extension of what is now the Westport Peninsula.The power company asked permission to make the Burton land into an island to facilitate better water flow and easier access to the main channel. The owners of the land agreed with Duke Power’s request to create an island, as long as they would have the right to eventually build a bridge.Fast forward to 1977 – the first time my family saw Governor’s Island, or Goat Island as it was generally known at the time. Many weekends we’d take the kids out for a boat ride, often stopping to feed the wild goats who mistakenly thought they owned the place.We watched the island’s evolution – its transformation from a tangled wilderness for goats to an exclusive gated neighborhood for more than 40 fortunate families.Vast visions indeed. And the story is not finished, not by a long shot. Standing on Governor’s Island bridge waiting for the sun to rise, I think how we are all but a blink of the geological eye, just a moment in time.And quite a lovely moment it is!Diana Gleasner has lived in Denver for more than 30 years. She has written and published two books on the Lake Norman area, “Lake Norman – Our Inland Sea” and “Lake Norman Reflections.”

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