Where did we hike when PATC was first created?

by Tom Johnson
(Where did these photos come from?)


PATC came into existence on November 22, 1927, when the “six immortals” (Myron Avery, Andy Anderson, Homer Corson, P. L. Ricker, and Frank Schairer) met in the Metropolitan Bank Building in Washington.  Within a few years, the club had “created” 240 miles of new Appalachian Trail.  In a single day, it is recorded, PATC workers had laid out 10 miles of new trail in Maryland to “boulevard proportions,” according to Avery.

It was a phenomenal achievement, but we do not know, today, just where the trail was.  It has long been suspected that PATC adopted whatever existed at the time – woods roads, faint tracks through the mountains from one farmer’s hut to the next, even animal trails.  

A descendant of a PATC member in the 1930s has recently donated seven picture albums, showing PATC hikes (and even a few work trips, but mainly hikes).  The photos give us an idea of what the trails looked like in the early days.


Hiking the AT near Linden, Virginia


The first thing that is likely to strike the reader is the lack of vegetation compared to today.  There were dense forests, as one can see below, but large areas were denuded.  The mountains had been farmed and grazed for decade and looked very different than they do now.  And even vegetated areas were characterized by immature trees.  A second striking characteristic of the Appalachian Trail in those days was that they generally used dirt roads, even as late as 1938 and 1939.


AT going through gates
Bypassing farmers’ gates was a common event

Hiking near Big Flat
Hiking Big Flat (now referred to as Lewis Mountain)

AT years ago
A forested trail in Northern Virginia


Future articles will give us a better understanding of what hiking was like in the late 1930s, as they are revealed in these remarkable photographs.


Where did these photos come from?

The photos above come from a set of seven photo albums (consisting of hundreds of photos) that just arrived in March, having been donated by a woman living in West Liberty, Ohio.  Most of the photos were taken on PATC hikes, which is why she donated them to us.  They were taken by a Dr. Curl, a pioneering organic chemistry professor who co-developed the process of freezing orange juice.  For a period of years, he lived in Washington, D.C. and worked for the Department of Agriculture.  The photos are almost all labeled (which greatly enhances the value).  Dr. Curl was evidently a member of the club.  Myron Avery appears in several of the photos, but he is not specifically identified.  Kathryn Fulkerson is identified in some of them.  Some of the forest looks the same as it does today, but there are many more wide meadow expanses, as one would expect.  For example, there are photos taken on a trail section that shows absolutely no vegetation – just bare ground.  Today that same section is densely forested.


Our benefactor's husband was a distant relative of Dr. Curl, which is the apparent reason that she came into possession of them.  When she first discovered the albums, she had  no idea what “PATC” was, so she went on the Internet and found us.  She decided that we would be the best repository for the albums although many of the photos are not relevant to the club.