Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an American national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.
Summer is the perfect time for a vacation to East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Last year I wrote about my childhood visits to the park and all it’s natural beauty. Today we’ll visit a special place in the park, Cades Cove. I must confess this is the most popular time of year when the traffic is the heaviest. Be patient and you’ll discover a wonderful world filled with nature’s best. Be aware that the name Smoky Mountains is due to the fact some days are misty, foggy and the mountains are shrouded with what looks like smoke. Luckily this summer day is a gorgeous day with blue skies. (Autumn is another great time to visit with the mountains covered with fall colors.)
Cades Cove is an isolated valley located in the Tennessee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA. The valley was home to numerous settlers before the formation of the national park. Before Europeans settlers, Cherokees Indians traveled through the valley to hunt the abundant deer, elk, bison and bears, but there is no archaeological evidence that they ever settled there. Yes, before settlers arrived wood bison in Tennessee were plentiful. Within a few years of Europeans arrival, they were scarce.
The first European settlers arrived in the Cove in the early 1820’s. They quickly built log homes, barns, corn cribs, smokehouses and cleared land for farming. They also built both a Baptist and Methodist church. The land was rich and fertile and provided the settlers with abundant crops, such as corn. By 1850, the population was about 685. It was a remote place in the wilderness, and it took 1 day in a bumpy wagon pulled by horses to reach the “town” of Maryville about 59 miles away to sell crops or buy supplies. One day in town and then you rode another day back. The Indian trails up the mountain home were not easy.
For an interesting look at life in the mountains in 1912, the novel Christy was written by Catherine Marshall back in 1967. Although she wrote of a fictional community, the book was based on her mother’s experiences teaching in a impoverished Appalachian community.
When the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began to purchase land for the creation of the national park, the first large piece of land purchased in 1927 included most of the land in the mountains north of Cades Cove. Some families welcomed the idea of a park and willingly sold their land. Others fought in court but eventually lost. Some families signed life leases allowing them to remain in their homes throughout their lives following the Park restrictions on hunting. Lease holders received less money for their land. As families moved out, the school and post office closed. Eventually there was an abandoned community in the the most popular national park in the U.S. For more information on the formation of the park, see Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Elkmont Ghost Town in The Great Smoky Mountains.
Today Cades Cove is the single most popular destination for visitors to the park. The abandoned community attracts more than two million visitors a year because of its well preserved homesteads, scenic mountain views, and abundant display of wildlife. The Cades Cove Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The valley has had several names. Before the American Revolution, Cherokee Indians discouraged settlers from moving into the area and used it as a summer hunting ground. Back then, the area was called the cove Tsiyahi, or “the place of the river otter.” However when the European settlers moved in, they changed the name to Kate’s Cove in honor of Kate, the wife of Chilhowee tribe chief Abraham. Later the name was changed to Cades Cove in remembrance of Cherokee chief, Chief Kade.
Let’s wander the valley for a little while on the Tennessee side.
The John Oliver Cabin was built around 1822. This log home has no electricity, no plumbing, no bathroom, no kitchen, no dining room, no windows in the upstairs bedroom. A fireplace downstairs with steps to a loft are the simple structure.
Many of the buildings surrounding the John Cable Grist Mill were moved from elsewhere in Cades Cove, including a chicken coop, carriage house, barn, molasses still, and a sorghum press. The National Park Service also built a replica of a traditional blacksmith shop that used to exist in the valley.
Let’s visit Henry Whitehead’s cabin.
Come for the beautiful views, wildlife, history, and a glimpse into a past way of life long gone. There is something about an abandoned community that I find both fascinating and sad.
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