Sowing Seeds

04 Jun 2024

Discovering and sharing stories of Macon County’s remarkable women

By Dawn Liles Photos by Wofford Sculpture Studio

Delving into the history of any community can feel like putting a salve on a wound – messy and sometimes painful. But ultimately, sharing stories of the strength and determination of the people who came before us can be healing and inspiring, and it often brings a community together.

Some of Macon County’s founding women and mothers are on display at the Women’s History Trail (WHT) in Franklin, NC. The trail is one of the first of its kind in our area. The idea for the project was first proposed in 2016 and was brought to fruition this spring by the women on the board of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) and others in the community. It’s an auspicious time in our country’s history to shine the spotlight on our area’s women and their unique contributions.

According to the FHAMC’s website, the Women’s History Trail is dedicated to discovering and sharing stories of Macon County’s remarkable women from the past through various public art mediums and markers along a designated walking trail. The WHT’s goals of education and preservation are mirrored by the FHAMC’s purpose: To provide living history experiences and to preserve the heritage of Macon County for generations to come.

“The trail connects industrious Macon County women from all walks of life,” explains Theresa Ramsey, treasurer of the FHAMC and a member of the WHT Leadership Team. “Even though those honored along its path are diverse in the groups they represent, the strong bond that weaves them all together is their story of ingenuity, endurance and commitment to improve the lives of their families. The designated trail gives individuals an opportunity to “Walk in Her Steps” and bring history to life.”

The idea for the WHT was initially envisioned by Barbara McRae, a true Renaissance woman whose foresight to preserve the history and stories of Macon County lives on after her death from ovarian cancer in 2021. Barbara had a career with Duke Energy before becoming editor of the Franklin Press and being selected to the Franklin Board of Aldermen (now Town Council) and later selected to serve as vice mayor. During this time, she represented Franklin on Mountain Partners, the group that created the Nikwasi Initiative, dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting the culture and heritage of the original homeland of the Cherokee people.

Barbara informally met with interested parties in 2016 to share her ideas. According to the FHAMC, the group was filled with passion for preserving community history and connecting previous disparate threads of the past. They decided to meet again as a steering committee to establish initial subcommittees and discuss next steps. The board voted to take on the project under the umbrella of the FHAMC and formed a WHT Leadership Team to spearhead the project. Many of the volunteers on the initial steering committee were also members of the FHAMC Board, and more interested individuals were encouraged to join. After a couple of years researching and identifying key historical women/groups of women, the Walk in Her Steps Women’s History Trail officially opened in 2018 with nine sites. Additional plaques have been added, bringing the current total to 20 sites along its designated walking path.

Community Celebration Day and WHT Statue Unveiling

In March, a Sowing the Seeds of the Future sculpture to mark the trailhead was unveiled at a new pocket park, called the Women's History Park, during a town-wide celebration.

Wesley Wofford, the artist who created the sculpture, explains, “The sculpture tells the story of three women whose lives intersected - a Cherokee woman named Na-Ka Rebecca Morris, who married Gideon Morris, a farmer and Baptist preacher from South Carolina; an African American enslaved woman, Salley, who was likely born into slavery around 1799 and at some point, came to live with the Cherokee, probably as a servant to Na-Ka; and a pioneer woman named Harriet Timoxena Siler, born in 1835, who was the daughter of the early settlers Jesse and Harriet Siler. They are all connected by a specific piece of property that was on the Little Tennessee River across from the Noquisiyi (sometimes rendered as Nikwasi) Mound.”

The sculpture is a metaphor for the evolution of modern society, a narrative about three local women, as well as a history lesson with embedded historically accurate details, according to the FHAMC Board. It is intended to acknowledge and celebrate women's contributions, to inspire future generations of girls and women to pursue their dreams and to challenge us all to learn from the past and aspire for a more equitable future.

During the celebration and statue unveiling, the WHT Leadership Team, consisting of FHAMC Board Chair Ann Hyder and board members Theresa Ramsey, Mary Polanski, Marty Greeble and Claire Suminski, joined 500 people to celebrate these three remarkable women and mark the moment in the town of Franklin’s history. Each of the three women represented in the statue had a woman at the celebration speaking on her behalf.

The celebration was an emotional day for many, including Sam McRae, Barbara’s son, who spoke eloquently about his mother’s vision. “Mom was an amazing person. Not only did she have a vision for herself and the community, but she had the ability to listen, really listen to others, and see great things in them. She would listen to anyone – from children to seniors – because she felt everyone’s opinion mattered, no matter their skin color, or age or socioeconomic background. She felt every human had a story to tell and something to contribute, and she wanted to give everyone a voice.”

Many others who called Barbara a friend and colleague shared similar sentiments. FHAMC Board member and former co-chair of the WHT Leadership Team Mary Polanski shares, “The WHT project was underway when on an October day in 2017 while lunching with Barbara, she spoke to me about her concept of a large public art sculpture depicting three women from Macon County's past. There was sheer delight in her description of meeting sculptor Wesley Wofford and feeling the spark - his sincere interest in the lives of these women.

I think Barbara lived her life like this - think big, give big, explore big, splash big. She was a true visionary, and also the keenest realist I have known. To work with Barbara was to share her positive energy and her sharp humor. When we were together and in conversation, I don't remember a time that she didn't come up with a new idea to stew on. It’s easy to see why working with Barbara McRae was a huge privilege. Each one of us on the Leadership Team grew in resilience, persistence and patience. I grew to know one of our best, and to love and admire her.”

Adds Sam McRae, “Wesley’s incredible sculpture is profound and requires more than just a passing glance. We’re hoping it will spark peoples’ interest to do more research into the lives of these women and many other women who have made a significant mark on shaping the community so many of us love and call home.

Everyone involved in the project hopes the interest in the history of our community will spread to other counties and states. This has brought a resurgence in community pride that could be replicated in other towns.”

To learn more about Na-Ka Rebecca, Salley, Timoxena or the work of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County, go to or

For more information about Wofford Sculpture Studio commissions ranging from portraits, site-specific garden pieces or monumental public installations, contact Studio Director Odyssey Wofford at or

“On March 24, the day after the unveiling event, I had someone call me to say the sculpture has already changed the life and history of Franklin, NC. As the days have passed, I would agree based on visuals of locals and visitors alike viewed at the park every time I travel by the site.” – Anne Hyder, Chair of FHAMC, Member of WHT Leadership Team

“Celebrating the unveiling of Wesley Wofford's sculpture, Sowing the Seeds of the Future, was a once in a lifetime experience. His attention to detail has created a beautiful story of three diverse women who are part of the history of Franklin, NC. The day was absolutely perfect including the interpretive dancers who left all of us with tears of joy when they held hands and encircled Na-Ka Rebecca, Salley and Timoxena. It has been my honor to co-chair this extraordinary project as a gift to the people of Franklin and all of Macon County.” – Marty Greeble, Vice Chair of FHAMC, Co-Chair of WHT Leadership Team

“I am always impressed by the people who are gathered at the site to view and experience this historic piece. Older couples, young moms with children, middle-aged individuals (both men and women) and teenagers – the mix of generations and ages attracted to this unique place by the river is varied yet similarly connected by their appreciation of history and art. Comments from visitors to the area as well as shared on social media platforms target the Women’s History Park as a destination and place they plan to see in person in order to behold this incredible artwork.”– Theresa Ramsey, Treasurer of FHAMC, Member of WHT Leadership Team

“The Celebration Day was incredible. We had over 500 people attend! In the weeks following, there has been a lot of daily traffic at the sculpture site. The sculpture has affected the people who live here way more than I ever imagined. I hope when school groups and other children visit the sculpture, they will realize that the women in Sowing the Seeds of the Future were strong and resilient, and all had to overcome great obstacles. That is truly the message that I want to leave for the next generation. That they too can be strong and resilient and make an impact on the world, each in their own way.”– Claire Suminski, Board Member of FHAMC, Member of WHT Leadership Team

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