|The dream of the Cherohala Skyway began in 1958. Television was America's new brand of entertainment and the wild west was a Hollywood staple. Gunsmoke and Wagon Train captured weekly audiences. Wagon Train, dramatizing the settling of the American frontier, was a favorite show of Sam Williams. Williams dreamed of his own wagon train from his home in Tellico Plains to the Unakas of North Carolina. He brought up his idea, jokingly, at the Kiwanis Club meeting in the spring of 1958. There were roads that joined the two locations but at the time were only fit for covered wagons. After some derisive laughter, the idea started to take a serious tone and the new Wagon Train Road was born.
Six weeks after the original idea, sixty-seven covered wagons and over three hundred horseback riders gathered at the Tennessee - North Carolina state line to make history. This first Wagon Train traveled to Murphy, North Carolina. The politicians loved the idea, which would evolve into the construction of a highway between Tellico Plains and Western North Carolina. The success of the first wagon train took the organizers by surprise. Promotion of the highway was important, but the experience of an authentic wagon train was the reason it became an annual event.
Efforts to assure the construction of a highway from Tellico Plains to Western North Carolina took a turn in late 1962. The original route from Tellico Plains to Murphy was not feasible. It was discovered that a highway could be built between Tellico Plains and Robbinsville entirely on federal land. Robbinsville was the only Western North Carolina town to which such a route was possible. Late in 1962, Congress made the first allocation for the new highway.
After 100 million dollars and thirty-four years, the Cherohala Skyway was official opened in October 1996. At that time the US Forest service estimated that five million cars a year would use the new road. This figure, which calculates to 10 cars a minute year-round, was extremely unrealistic. The actual figure today is more like ten cars and fifty motorcycles a day.