Cades Cove, Tennessee

When traveling I always look for some connection to clothes or textiles, and I usually find it. However on a recent visit to Cades Cove, which is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I failed. It didn’t seem like a total loss because the previous day was spent in two small museums and in the archives of Maryville College. More on that later.

The Smokies are partly in North Carolina, and partly in Tennessee. It’s the country’s second most visited national park, partly because it is so close to large centers of population like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, and partly because it is a truly beautiful place. When the idea to make a park in the Great Smokies was developed in the 1920s, the mountains were far from being a pristine wilderness. Large lumber and paper companies owned much of the land, and most of the virgin timber had been cut down years before.

It was also a place where a lot of people lived. When the National Park Service took over in the 1930s, numerous communities and small farms were bought by the government, and most of the people who lived there were displaced. As the people left, the Park Service assessed the many buildings that remained. It was determined that some of the communities would be somewhat preserved, and today visitors can visit Cades Cove in Tennessee, and Cataloochee in North Carolina.

This is the John Oliver cabin in Cades Cove. Probably built in the 1820s, it’s the oldest structure remaining in the cove. It’s exactly the type of house visitors expect to see in the Smokies. In spite of the fact that people lived in the Smokies well into the twentieth century and had easy access to sawmills, most of the preserved houses are log cabins.

What happened to the other homes? The park service removed them, in favor of the more picturesque cabins. It leaves a false impression of how people in the Smokies lived after the initial time of settlement. In 1900 over 700 people lived in Cades Cove, but today only eight dwellings remain. Only one is not a log cabin.

There is a one dollar guide book available at the entrance to the cove. I was the only person I saw stopping to purchase it, and while in the cove, I was the only person I saw referring to it.

This is the view from the back of the John Oliver home. You can see the paved walkway leading from the parking area. It’s an easy five minute walk, yet I was the only visitor who stopped to see the cabin. All the other cars and a big tour bus just passed on by.

That’s a real shame, because I had a very close encounter with this mother and her nursing child. There are lots of deer in my neighborhood, but they refuse to let people get close. These deer seem to know they were protected, and thus showed no fear.

I stopped at all the structures which also included a mill and two churches, but in most cases I had them pretty much to myself. Interesting, because there were plenty of people there even though it was a cold, bleak November day. Some people seemed to be content to just drive the eleven mile loop, but every once in a while, there would be a huge traffic stoppage. It dawned on me why people were seemingly driving around aimlessly.

They were looking for bears.

In all I saw four black bears. They were foraging, getting ready for the winter, and they were absolutely unconcerned about the tourist hoards and their cameras. They didn’t get very close to the people but that didn’t matter because I was the only person there with just a cell phone to document the bears. You would have thought I was at an important press conference there was so much photographic equipment. I’m sure some great photos were captured that day, but all I got was a bunch of furry black blobs.

The Methodist Church is one of three remaining in the cove. There were originally only two churches, a Baptist and a Methodist, but issues such as the Civil War and missions split the churches. That’s not surprising as church splits were common.

Note the two doors. It’s not because there was a door for the men and a door for the women, as some sites about Cades Cove claim. It was simply because the only plans the builder had access to was this two door model. The preacher built the church himself for $115.

One thing I love about this site is the access to the buildings. All of them were open for visitors to wander around in. For the most part they were unfurnished, but I imagine a lot of that is to protect things from theft. Most of the buildings were unattended.

It just seems like some people feel an overwhelming need to leave their mark on an historic building. Jerks.

As I said, after the mid 1800s people in Cades Cove had access to sawed lumber. Many, like the Dan Lawson place above, added onto their cabins with lumber. I suspect that lumber also covered the log section. Quite a few people in this region have bought old clapboard houses only to find an intact log cabin beneath.

This grist mill was built and run by John Cable. He also had a sawmill at the site. It was powered by water and has the longest mill race I’ve ever seen. Cornmeal is still being ground in the mill, and is available in the gift shop.

There are two of these marvelous cantilever barns remaining in the cove. This one is on the Tipton Place, which was inhabited by teachers Miss Lucy and Miss Lizzie Tipton. And yes, the teachers were known by their first names. Even in the 1960s my third grade teacher went by Miss Helen.

If you are ever in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Cades Cove is not to be missed. I do have a few suggestions. Summer and early fall are the worst times to visit. The traffic is often bumper to bumper with no parking spaces to be had. The eleven mile loop can take hours and hours to complete. If at all possible, go very early, when the park opens. I made the drive into the cove around 7:30 am, and I had the road to myself. When I left at noon the traffic was very heavy.

Plan to get out of your car and explore. By staying in your car you miss the best stuff. Be a big spender and buy the $1 guidebook. Don’t worry about missing the bears. The traffic jams will point them out.

And speaking of bears, the best bear sighting I’ve ever had was not in Cades Cove, but was on the much more accessible Roaring Fork Auto Tour, which is just a few miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This May we saw a mother and three cubs, one of which was climbing a tree. And there were only three parties who witnessed this, not the hoards that scared off the bears in Cades Cove. You just have to keep your eyes open.

Cades Cove was originally Cherokee land. The only remains of the Cherokee seem to be some of the roads, which were originally hunting trails. Any Cherokee living in the cove were likely gone by the time the first White settlers arrived in 1818.


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11 responses to “Cades Cove, Tennessee

  1. mwoolf001

    This was fascinating, and I’ve saved it in hopes of visiting one day. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. miamicoconuts

    Thank you so much for this wonderful story, it was so relaxing and interesting to read it.

    Liked by 1 person


    It is fascinating. Most people do not know this- however , just 60 miles west (less tan one hour) from Washington DC on /in the Catoctin mountains -outside the entrance of Camp David the Applacian Trail and the same gorgeous terrain is the same dense forrest and cabins and what is left of mountain life like Cades Cove.Growing up there was a blessing. Thank you for reminding us of a lost treasure.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Christine Seid

    What a great post,Lizzie. I don’t know if I will ever get to the Great Smokey Mountains or to Cades Cove but I so enjoyed your pictures, descriptions, impressions and trip advice. You are such a delightful companion for MY armchair travels. Thank you for all the details!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Laura Mary Lake

    Thank you!


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