Great Smoky Mountains National Park
When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began development in the 1930s, it was created in a region that had been settled many years previously by mountain people of European descent. Many of the local Native Americans had long since been displaced, but there were thousands of highlanders living within what would become the boundaries of the park.
Through thousands of negotiations, the United States government reached agreements with people living in the area, many of whom earned their living from farming or other traditional livelihoods. The highlanders were financially compensated for their forcible displacement. They left behind houses, barns, mills, churches, and other structures, many dating from the mid-19th century. Some residents resisted the park movement, and one family remains on park land today.
The Park Service preserved many of the highlanders' old buildings. The Mountain Farm Museum, adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, is an uncommon collection of southern Appalachian farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park. Visitors can explore a chestnut log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and blacksmith shop. Most of the structures were built in the late 19th century and were preserved in the 1950s. During the summer park staff and volunteers give demonstrations of traditional mountain crafts and folkways.
The park also holds a variety of annual events, including Old Timers' Day, storytelling, a quilt show, Women's Work, Mountain Life Festival, sorghum molasses, and apple butter making, as well as living history demonstrations. A half-mile north of the Mountain Farm Museum is Mingus Mill. A working mill, this piece of living history processes corn into meal using restored 19th century equipment. Hours vary, but generally the mill is open daily in the summer and on spring and fall weekends.
The turbine-powered gristmill used water power to grind cornmeal and flour. Its millrace leaves a lively creek and spills toward the mill under arching mountain laurel. Stones used to grind wheat came from France. Cornmeal stones were of local origin.
Cades Cove is a National Historic Site within the park. Located near Townsend, Tennessee, this beautiful area receives two million visitors each year, making it the most crowded park destination. Visitors to Cades Cove can look into the past, and see preserved homes, churches, and a working mill along an 11-mile (18-kilometer) loop road.
The Cable Mill area in Cades Cove presents the largest group of restored structures on the Tennessee side of the park. Farming is still permitted in Cades Cove itself to preserve the open fields of the rural scene there. The loop drive takes you by numerous log and frame structures. The Elijah Oliver place is a particularly beautiful log structure with outbuildings in a cozy, shaded setting. The stream flowing through Elijah Oliver's springhouse once kept his milk supply cool.
Other pioneer structures include the Little Greenbrier School off Little River Road and cabins and houses along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Close scrutiny of the many log structures shows subtle variations in notching and other details.
Living history demonstrations are offered in season at Cades Cove, Mingus Mill, and the Pioneer Farmstead. Check the visitor center and campground bulletin boards for schedules. These may include craft demonstrations and concerts of traditional mountain music. A "Mountain People" leaflet is available for a small fee at any of the park's visitor centers.
To visit an area like Cades Cove, but without the crowds, go to Cataloochee Valley, on the North Carolina side of the park. The valley nestles among the most rugged peaks in the southeastern United States and offers moderate to strenuous hiking trails. Surrounded by 6,000-foot mountains, this isolated valley was the largest and most prosperous settlement in what is now the park. Visitors can visit restored houses, churches, and other structures. Once known for its farms and orchards, today's Cataloochee is one of the Smokies' most picturesque areas.
Along with preserved houses, churches, and farm buildings, Cataloochee offers extraordinary views of the surrounding mountains. It is also known for its wildlife populations and good fishing.
Cataloochee is open year-round. Access is via a long and winding gravel road from Hartford, TN or by Cove Creek Road (mostly gravel) near Dellwood, North Carolina. A paved road runs though Cataloochee Valley. RVs up to 32 feet can stay at the campground.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication