Have You Overlooked This Hidden Treasure?
Did you ever realize there is a hidden treasure right here in East Tennessee. Most people have visited it but they don’t know much about it. You may be one of them.
When people think of the Smokies, they think of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge – Dollywood, Soaky Mountain Water Park, Ober Gatlinburg and Anakeesta, to name a few.
Yet there is one place to see that will cost you, at most, a one day $5 parking pass. That place is
You might be saying, “I have been there. I liked driving around the valley. The log homes and the old churches are nice but I didn’t think they were anything special. The traffic was atrocious – over 2 hours to go 11 miles. I saw it once. That’s enough for me. I don’t have any desire to go back.”
If you felt that way, don’t feel bad. That was the way I felt after the first time I drove around Cades Cove. I had seen log cabins and old churches like that elsewhere. I really had no desire to go back. That is, until I started to learn more about it and realized my view was totally wrong.
Based on the way it looks now, most would say it was and is an isolated remote valley where a few farmers lived and farmed.
As Tennessee’s population grew, the sons and daughters of the original people living there probably wanted a more exciting life. So, they left for more desirable places. The cove was so desolate. Nothing was happening there. They moved to Maryville, Knoxville and other places far away.
For God’s sake, there was only one road in and out. Using that, it would take them forever to get to Townsend and Townsend wasn’t much.
A Thriving Community
What most people don’t realize is that at one point, Cades Cove was a thriving community. The first people settled there around 1820. By 1860, 670 people were living there. That was a sizable number of people for that valley. In 1860, Gatlinburg was not much bigger. It had about 900 people.
The Civil War and its aftermath had an adverse effect on Cades Cove. The population dropped. It rose again to around 500 in the early 1900’s and leveled off at that point.
Surprisingly, a post office opened in the valley in 1833. The Sevierville postmaster set up a weekly mail route in 1839.
Electricity and Telephone Service
It is unclear when electricity was brought into Cades Cove. However, it had to be. Telephone service was introduced in the early 1890’s when several of the people living there put in a telephone line to Maryville. There had to be electric service before the telephone service came along.
Roads Leading to Cades Cove
You may be thinking putting that phone line in was quite a job. It had to go along the only paved road to the valley that exists today and then through Townsend and down to Maryville.
You are wrong there. There were 3 other roads leading out of the valley. These were much shorter routes.
The people used Cooper Rd to go to Maryville. This is where the people probably ran the telephone line. Today, it is no longer a road. It has been converted to a hiking trail and goes from the valley to the Abrams Creek campground.
The second road is the Rich Mountain Road. Today, it is a one-way 7 mile gravel road going to Townsend. It is only open seasonally and closed from mid-November to April.
Parson’s Branch is the third road. It is an 8 mile one-way gravel road going from the valley to Highway 129. Highway 129 is also known as the Tail of the Dragon. People took this when going to North Carolina. The National Park service closed this road in 2016 and reopened it in 2022. This road is also closed for the winter from mid-November to April.
Fascinating Things About the Cemeteries
There is a cemetery at each of the churches in Cades Cove. There were quite a few other ones which the National Park Service does not publicize.
Some people may think it is morbid to walk around a cemetery. However, you can learn quite a bit about the people who lived here.
The first people who settled in Cades Cove are buried in one of the existing ones.
You can also see tombstones for many of the other notable people who lived here.
Most of the people in the valley backed the union during the Civil War and they were very vocal about it. Just read the inscription on the tomb stone for Russel Gregory.
Founder of Gregory Bald
Murdered By North Carolina Rebels
The people also had a sense of humor. Here is what appears on the marker for Buel Stanley.
The Arm of Buel Stanley
1864-1946 Amputated 1915
Caused by Fishing With Dynamite
In Toccoa River Below Stanley
Cemetery. His Body is Buried
At Macedonia Church of Christ
Donated by Ralph Stanley
Where Did the Children of Cades Cove Go to School?
You might be wondering if Cades Cove had so many people, did their children go to school there or did they have to go to Townsend?
There were actually 5 schools in the valley. The Flint Hill School burned down in 1911. It was replaced by the Laurel Springs School. The other 3 were the Spruce Flats School, the Consolidated School and the Cable School.
There were also retail stores in the valley.
Unfortunate Action by the National Park Service
After Cades Cove became part of the National Park, the National Park Service decided to tear down most of the buildings in the valley. It had the schools, stores and homes destroyed except for those 6 log cabins and 3 churches.
Unfortunately, this has left us with an unnatural picture of what life was like in this valley. We can only imagine what it was really like to live there.
Some Hidden Secret Spots
There are other fascinating things in the valley not mentioned in the National Park brochure which are of interest to many people. Here are three:
This is one of the largest caves in the area. In the early 1800’s there may have been some mining in it. The Gregory family owned the cave and opened it to the public in 1925. The admission fee was 50 cents. There were tours until the National Park bought the property and closed it.
It was even an emergency shelter and could hold 1,000 people.
The National Park put metal bars in place to bar people from entering it. Normally the only ones allowed access are researchers. However, you can still take a short walk to its entrance.
The Pearl Harbor Tree
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Colman Myers, a farmer in Cades Cove, listened to President Roosevelt’s address to the nation. He knew the United Sates would be going to war.
Colman had several sons. The 2 oldest were of draft age. He wanted to do something to mark this tragic day. He found a young gum tree and moved it in his front yard. To protect the tree, he put an old tire rim from an automobile around it.
Colman died of a heart attack in 1945 and his family moved from Cades Cove. The tree remained and grew. The base of the tree grew so large it split that tire rim and the bark grew right around it.
In the mid 1970’s, one of Colman’s sons put a chain around the tree. Attached to the chain is a metal tag that says “Colman Myers transplanted this tree Dec. 7 1941.”
The land has reverted back to nature. The tree lives on with the tire rim embedded in its bark. American flags have been tucked into the chain.
The forest surrounds the tree today. There are no signs of Colman’s home. You would never know this tree stood in his front yard and there was a home in back of it.
During the Depression, unemployment in the United States was at an all-time high. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This program put 300,000 men between the ages of 18 and 25 to work on environmental projects throughout the country. The men were enlisted to work for a minimum of 6 months. Their pay was $30 a month. The CCC program ended in 1942.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was developed during that time. Much of the work to develop it was done by CCC workers. They built hiking trails and bridges. They also restored many of the early settlers’ homes and other buildings.
The people working in the CCC lived in camps. There were about 22 of these in the park. One of those was in Cades Cove.
As is true, with many of the homes schools and stores that were originally in the Cove, almost all signs of the camp are gone. There is a historical plaque near the Missionary Baptist Church.
The camp is believed to have been near the Primitive Baptist Church. There are some remains of buildings there.
One of the big attractions to Cades Cove is the wildlife people can see there.
As people drive around the loop, they may see bears, deer, and turkeys in the fields. Occasionally, they may see other animals like wild boar and coyotes.
There are certain times of the year when they are more likely to see them. In the summer, people might see mother bears with their cubs. In October, bears are eating extra food to get them through the winter. More bears can be seen during this month. Deer can be seen regularly during the fall and winter months.
The best times of day to see bears and deer are earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon and evening before dark.
One thing many people don’t realize is the reason these animals are common in the valley is the fields supply an abundance of the food they need to survive and thrive. Bears eat blackberries, cherries, acorns and walnuts. Deer and turkeys graze in the fields.
None of this food supply would be there if the National Park Service had its way. Their original plan was not to keep the fields as they are today. They were going to allow everything in the valley to revert back to nature.
Fortunately, the public didn’t allow that to happen. If it did, much of the food source for the animals would have been eliminated. Far fewer deer, bears and other animals would be living there. It would also be more difficult to see any remaining ones.
Get Excited Exploring Cades Cove
Hopefully you now know a little more now about Cades Cove than you did when you started to read this post. You may want to go back and spend time exploring the valley.
Prior to your next visit, you may want to read more about it by doing a Google® search or getting one of the books written about it. There are also quite a few videos on YouTube about the valley.
That way you can spend more time picturing where what you read took place and how life was there.
I believe the more you find out, the more excited you will be about Cades Cove. You will want to go back on a regular basis.
Don’t keep all you learn locked up inside of you. Share what you learn with your children and grandchildren. Help them learn what life was like in this fascinating valley.
If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, I would love to know them. Please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.