There is no better way to start this book than with a description which attempts to do justice to this valley hidden high in the western reaches of the Smoky Mountains. A one-way road encircles the fields and streams of Cades Cove and follows the approximate route of one of the many roads once used by families who resided here. It is nine miles west of the Townsend park entrance along Laurel Creek Road. Constructed after the park was established, this access to the Cove follows the course of a railroad built by the Little River Lumber Company in the heydays of the Appalachian log industry. Prior to this, travel to and from the Cove community was along other paths now less traveled.
In order to reach Tuckaleechee Cove, either Crib Gap had to be crossed to the east or Rich Mountain to the north. Cooper Road, which led west-northwest to Maryville, was a Cherokee Indian track widened over time by the settlers. Rabbit Creek exited the Cove toward the west from where John Oliver’s lodge stood near the Abrams Falls trailhead. This Indian trail also grew into a major travel route and was known by many as the Gourley Trail after some of the families who lived along it. Those who chose this means ended up in Happy Valley and the Chilhowee areas. Parsons Branch Road meandered south-southwest from the western end of the Cove to a junction with a turnpike now known as US 129.
Of these main thoroughfares, if you could call them that, only Rich Mountain and Parsons Branch remain as roads. Both of these are one-way trips out of the Cove and are closed over the winter. The Rich Mountain Road drops into Tuckaleechee Cove on the north boundary of the park. Townsend and US 321 are nearby which gives you the option of a drive back into to the Smokies or out toward Maryville. The Crib Gap trail now runs from Anthony Creek at the end of the Cades Cove picnic area over to Turkeypen Ridge. The Cooper Road trailhead is located at Stop # 9 on the Loop Road. Rabbit Creek Trail can be found beyond Abrams Falls and continues on to traverse Boring Ridge, McCully Ridge, and Pine Mountain before a descent to the Abrams Creek ranger station.
At the entrance to the Cove, there is a large area with an orientation shelter from where first views can be seen of the valley as the trees open up and ridges curve away from each other. Tour booklets are available at the small pavilion and ranger programs often start from this point in the spring and summer. A wide grassy strip is ideal for a picnic or play.
Early or late in the day, the fields beyond the entrance gate are often occupied by horses from the stables put out to graze early. To the south rise the heights of Cobb and Horseshoe Ridges. Rising higher n the distance to the southeast can be seen Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain. After decades, this view never ceases to amaze me.
In the first field on the right is a grassy mound. At first thought to be an Indian mound like others found in the southeast, excavation and archaeological searches have proven it to be no more than a grassy hill covered with brush and trees. Even so, it is easy to imagine it constructed by early inhabitants especially after a visit to ancient mounds on the Etowah River not far from my home.
The one lane road continues along the edge of open grassland to the left and wooded ridges to the right. Stop # 2 is soon found at a junction with Sparks Lane, a gravel road that turns off to the south. This road is named for one of the families who lived here. The home of Nathan Sparks was located between this intersection and the creek. John Taylor Sparks lived a few hundred yards beyond the creek on the right. The place Tom Sparks called home was located in the area near the south end of the lane where it enters the woods. The ford across Abrams Creek mentioned later in these pages is located at the first tree line seen along the road. The Upper School was just off the road on the south side of the creek. Sparks Lane crosses the Cove to the southern end of the Loop Road. Two-way traffic is allowed on this road as it is on Hyatt Lane further to the west and both allow for a quicker drive through the loop if time is not available to see it all.
Spaces to park for John Oliver’s place are just beyond Sparks Lane. It is a short walk and can be seen from the road. This cabin was built in the 1820s and only piles of stones mark the nearby location of Oliver’s first home. John Oliver was a veteran of the War of 1812 with no qualms about life in an unknown wilderness. A family friend told him of a place just over the mountains as yet unsettled. He, along with his wife Lurany and year old daughter, crossed over Rich Mountain in the autumn of 1818 into the northeast end of the Cove by way of an Indian trail. It was too late in the year to plant crops and they soon realized their provisions would not last them through the winter. The Cherokee in the area recognized the plight of the couple and brought them food to survive until the next spring. Though documented land grants for the area date back to the 1790s, they would become the first white settlers to remain in this mountain valley. A strange twist of fate twenty years after that miserable winter found John Oliver as a member of the local militia with orders to round up these same Indians for a journey which became known as the Trail of Tears.
Open pastures, wooded hillsides, and mountain vistas continue to appear around every curve. Not far after the road ascends a steep, curvy hill, there is a locked gate on the right with a small pull over. Beyond the gate is a park service road which leads a short distance to Gregory’s Cave. Once used by the local Indians, the Cove residents held social occasions and tours within the caverns.
The entrance is gated off and kept secure to not only protect the cave and its residents such as bats, but also for the safety of human visitors. Caves are not someplace an inexperienced person should wander within. Extra care should also be taken on or near the rocks at the entrance for they are known to be a favorite locale of snakes.
As the trees open up again to your left, watch for a pullout. The view back across to the south is channeled through a break in the distant wood line with a mountain backdrop. It is not hard to imagine this view from the porch of a cabin or house. Signs of spring with daffodils among the grass tell us someone had this view. These flowers are not native to the area so their appearance, along with other non-native flowers and bushes, whisper silently to those who will listen of a previous human touch. In this case, that touch was given by Tyre Shields whose house was at the edge of the field near the road.
|Author Gene Harmon|
After the road curves back into the woods, a sign soon points down a dirt road toward the Primitive Baptist Church. Albert Hill’s store and house stood to the right at this intersection. Go slowly along the dirt and gravel for it can be rough in places. For a short distance, it travels straight and then angles to the right into a large gravel area in front of the church.
The Consolidated School, created by the combination of the Upper and Lower Schools in 1916, was located at this angle and in 1924, the large two-story structure sustained heavy damage to the upper floor in a storm. When it was repaired, it was left in a one-story configuration.
The Baptist Church of Cades Cove was officially organized in June of 1827 but had already met for about two years. Services were held in the homes of members until a log structure was built in 1832. Soon after, differences in the church’s direction caused a split within the congregation. Several members left to form their own church, the Missionary Baptist Church. Those who stayed with the original membership adopted the name of Primitive Baptist Church.
Due to the communal upheaval caused by the Civil War, the Primitive Baptist Church suspended services from 1862 to 1865. Their reasons were explained in church records.
“We the Primitive Baptist Church in Blount County, Cades Cove, do show to the publick why we have not kept up our church meeting. It was on account of the rebellion and we was union people and the Rebels was too strong here in Cades Cove. Our preacher was obliged to leave sometimes but thank God we once more can meet tho it was from August 1862 until June 1865 that we did not meet but when we met the Church was in peace.”
The original log edifice was located just behind the current structure which was built in 1887. Its cemetery contains graves older than any other church graveyard within the Cove.
Back out on the paved loop, another church comes into view ahead. This is the Cades Cove Methodist Church which began in much the same manner as the Baptist congregation. Members met in homes until 1840 when a log meetinghouse was built. The floor of this simple structure was dirt and smoke from a fire in the center of the room escaped through a hole in the roof. After the Civil War, it was also used as a school.
In 1902, a blacksmith and carpenter from Tuckaleechee replaced the log church with the one which remains today. Rev. J.D. McCampbell, who would later become the church’s minister for several years, finished the job in 115 days for $115. It has two entrance doors which usually signified the men and women entered by separate doors and sat apart on the benches. However, these Methodists did not abide by this particular practice. The construction plans used were from another church which still used the custom and Rev. McCampbell elected to strictly adhere to the plans without alteration.
As with other congregations, problems arose in the years prior to the Civil War. In the mid-1840s, there was a split among Methodist churches caused mainly by beliefs with regard to the issue of slavery. It was made plainly visible after the Civil War when the Hopewell Methodist Church formed. It was built on a hill above the southern end of Hyatt Lane and the property of Dan Lawson who donated the land for the church. To ensure this land could never change hands again, Lawson deeded it to “Almighty God”. I assume this is probably the only tract in the park not owned by the National Park Service. No signs remain of this church except for tombstones, many too weathered to read, which mark graves of those buried in their shadows.
Just past the Methodist church on the left of the road is a hill where the home of Leannah Lawson Spangler Chambers stood. In spring, the flowers she planted continue to grow and adorn the hillside.
Fields slope down to a dirt road which turns off to the left and allows for two-way traffic. Hyatt Lane is named after the family of Shadrack Hyatt who left the Cove for Missouri in 1840. It crosses to the south side of the Cove and intersects with the Loop Road at Dan Lawson’s home site. Beyond Hyatt Lane, the road curves into the trees toward the juncture with Rich Mountain Road at the Missionary Baptist Church. Cowan Russell lived and ran his store near this junction.
The Missionary Baptist Church sits to the left across from the Rich Mountain turnoff. It was founded in 1839 by the group forced to leave the Primitive Baptist Church. Their name is derived from one of the differences in doctrine that caused the split. While deemed important to those who worshipped under this roof, missionary work was not considered necessary by the Primitive Baptists. It met in homes until 1846 when its size required them to share the Methodist’s house of worship. The services here too were put on hold throughout the Civil War. Resumed afterwards, they did not include previous members who had been loyal to the Confederacy.
In 1894, Hyatt Hill Missionary Church was built on Hyatt Hill along the lane. This was replaced in 1915 by the construction of the present structure. Services continued to be held in this church until 1944, a full ten years after the park was created.
The Great Depression and the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrought a multitude of changes to the country. FDR’s New Deal programs provided relief and jobs to many young men in dire need of an income. One of these was the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. There were seventeen of these camps in the Smoky Mountains alone. Much of the original trail and campground construction, historic restoration and park service structures were completed by the CCC camps. Cades Cove CCC Camp #5427 was located in the field directly west of the Missionary Baptist Church.
The Rich Mountain Road is a one-way road out of the Cove and out of the park. Built in the 1920s by the state of Tennessee, it winds through mostly second growth forests with intermittent views of the Cove. Traveled by few, it is sometimes a quiet respite from summer crowds in the more popular areas. It exits from the park into Tuckaleechee Cove and Townsend.
From the Rich Mountain turnoff, the Loop crosses over Tater Branch, makes a sharp S-turn and meanders up toward what I think is the most spectacular sight in the Cove. Pull over and grab your camera. From this point, the view stretches for miles back toward the east across the center of the Cove to distant peaks. On clear days, mountains and ridges seem to go on endlessly. The remains of a tree on this rise mark the spot of the “wedding tree” which is mentioned later. Across the road in what is now a wooded area stood the Gregory Store, Jonathan Myers’ house and store, and Murray Boring’s house. Myers and Boring also both ran a post office at different times.
From here, the road meanders back and forth along the edge of the woods before a sharp turn angles it back into the trees. This was the site of Charlie Myers’ house and his barn bordered right up to the trees. The fields open up again on the left after a short section of woods. A few hundred yards farther is a small pull-off for the Cooper Road trailhead at Stop # 9. Originally an Indian trail, it became one of the main thoroughfares to and from Maryville for the Cove residents. Polly Harmon, one of the midwives who practiced in the Cove, lived with her husband, Samuel, and family about half a mile out this road. It is now a 10.5-mile trail that terminates at the Abrams Creek Campground on the western edge of the park.
Beyond this trailhead and a downward S-turn is Stop # 10, the Elijah Oliver place. Elijah was born in 1824 to John and Lurany Oliver. He left the Cove with his family before the Civil War but moved back after the war. A short hike will bring you to his cabin set back in the woods. One noticeable thing is an extra room on the front porch added so strangers could shelter for the night without the possibility of harm inflicted on the host. This was common not only in the Smokies but throughout the Appalachian region.
|Author Gene Harmon|
Just ahead, the remnant of an old road is apparent on the left. This led to the house of Noah Burchfield and now takes you to the Burchfield and Davis Cemeteries.
Once again in the shade of the trees, the road runs very close to Abrams Creek and crosses it over a wooden bridge. On the right before the bridge can be seen a modern wire fence which has been erected to keep wild boar out of this sensitive area. River otters are quite common in this creek as well as other waterways in the Smokies. However, they can be very elusive to those who want to see them. I have overheard conversations of people who have, but I myself have never seen one in the wild. Past the bridge, a side road angles off to the Abrams Falls trailhead.
The next section of the Loop road is a great example of what travel along the same road over decades can do. The banks rise high on each side for a couple hundred yards. Years of travel by wagon wheels, horses, and livestock wore it down to a sunken lane. The Lower School was located on the right at the top of the rise.
At the next intersection, the Loop continues to the left. Straight ahead is Forge Creek, a two-way road out to Parsons Branch. The Cable Mill Visitor Center is to the right. Use caution for this is usually very congested except for the winter months. This area consists of several examples of what homesteads looked like in the Cove. The only structure on its original site is the mill and its millrace. Others located here are the visitor center, a blacksmith shop, smokehouse, barn, corncrib, cantilever barn, sorghum mill, barn, and the Gregg-Cable house. This is also the only place to find restrooms until arriving back at the campground.
The Gregg-Cable house was built by Leason Gregg on Forge Creek Road in 1879 near where the road first crosses the creek. The lumber used was sawed at John Cable’s sawmill that was powered by the same wheel as the gristmill. He operated a store for years from the first floor of the house. In 1887, Rebecca Cable and her brother Dan bought the house from Gregg. They kept the store up for another eight years before they made the decision to sell off their goods and turn it into a boarding house. Dan and his wife both became very ill and all of the operations of the farm fell upon Rebecca’s shoulders. She tackled the responsibility with typical Appalachian steadfastness, lived a full life and was 96 years old when she died in 1940. The house was moved to its current location near Cable Mill after her death.
John Cable’s gristmill and sash sawmill were built in 1870. The sawmill used a heavy blade that made a cut with each stroke. This type was outdated before 1900 by steam powered sawmills that used circular blades much like today’s table saw. The emergence of sawmills in the Smokies changed the look of homes, new and old alike. New log homes became rare and many had additions built with the new lumber. Often, residents would place new boards on the outside of their logs in the fashion of siding.
In addition to the mills, Cable worked in the fields of his farm. If a customer arrived and John was nowhere near, they would ring a large bell mounted on a pole. His son, James, continued operation of the mill into the 1900s, but could not keep up with the mills equipped with the newer machinery. Today, the gristmill is all that remains of the Cable operation and is run by the Great Smoky Mountains History Association.
for Gene Harmon
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