Cades Cove: An Open Air Museum

Spending the day at Cades Cove is a must for every visitor to the Smoky Mountains. You won’t want to miss the diverse wildlife, great views of the national park, and all of the history that is found within the old buildings and structures at Cades Cove.

Cades Cove is a broad valley surrounded by mountains. An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the cove.

Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For most of its history Cades Cove has been a place to visit. But for more than 100 years it also was a great place to live. The first settlers in the cove arrived sometime between 1818 and 1821. By 1830 the population of the area had increased to 271 and by the 1850s the population of Cades Cove peaked at 685, occupying 137 households.

Visiting Cades Cove allows you to take in the quiet beauty that welcomed the early settlers. Around two million visitors come each year. It’s one of Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most popular places to visit.

We had visited twice previously; over 30 years ago and about 12 years ago when we gave up due to gridlock on the loop road. On that day, the traffic was heavy, bumper to bumper at times. On this visit, we purposely avoided the weekend.

Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Pictured above the John Oliver Place. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Pictured above the John Oliver Place. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings in any area of the national park. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored 18th and 19th century structures. Trailheads to seven hiking trails are easily reached from the Loop Road.

Our first stop was the John Oliver Place, one of over 80 historic buildings in the park. John Oliver arrived in the cove prior to 1820 and bought this land in 1826. It remained in the family until the park was established more than 100 years later. Large families often lived in such small building.

Our next three stops were churches—Primitive Baptist, Methodist, and Missionary Baptist. Some of the earliest settlers established the Primitive Baptist Church in 1827. A log building served their needs until this one was built in 1887. The church closed during the Civil War.

Scattered along the loop road are three churches. Pictured above Methodist Church. This building and its furnishings were reportedly the work of a single man, J.D. McCampbell. A blacksmith and carpenter, he built the church in 115 days for $115. He later became a preacher; serving the area’s Methodist population and doing away with the use of circuit preachers for this less dominate faith. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scattered along the loop road are three churches. Pictured above Methodist Church. This building and its furnishings were reportedly the work of a single man, J.D. McCampbell. A blacksmith and carpenter, he built the church in 115 days for $115. He later became a preacher; serving the area’s Methodist population and doing away with the use of circuit preachers for this less dominate faith. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

J.D. McCampbell, a blacksmith and carpenter, built the Methodist Church for $115. He later served many years as the minister. Methodists were not as numerous as Baptists in the Cove, but enough of them got together in the 1820s to establish the church in a log building that lasted until this one replace it in 1902.

A group of Baptists expelled from the Primitive Baptist Church because they favored missionary work, formed the Missionary Baptist Church in 1839. The church ceased to meet during the Civil War. It resumed activity after the war. This building dates from 1915.

Wandering the Cable Mill Historic Area, we explored the Visitor Center, Blacksmith Shop, LeQuire Cantilever Barn, Millrace and Dam, Cable Mill, Smokehouse, Gregg-Cable House, Corn Crib, Drive-through Barn, and Sorghum Mill.

Built in 1972,the Visitor Center is a place for visitors to obtain information and buy books, post cards, maps, guides, batteries, and other items. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1972,the Visitor Center is a place for visitors to obtain information and buy books, post cards, maps, guides, batteries, and other items. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1972,the Visitor Center is a place for visitors to obtain information and buy books, post cards, maps, guides, batteries, and other items.

Large barns were common in the Cove where farmers needed shelter in the cold months for livestock. The overhang in cantilever barns such as the one here provided shelter for animals as well as storage space for farm equipment.

A second barn in the Mill Area with a drive-through in the center and stalls on either side, was more typical in East Tennessee than the cantilever barn. Two men with pitchforks, one on a wagon of hay in the drive-through and the other in the loft, could transfer the hay to the loft in a short time. The drive-through sometimes served as a storage place for farm animals.

The Cades Cove Mill is still working and visitors can stop in and sample or purchase corn mill and flour as our ancestors once did. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cades Cove Mill is still working and visitors can stop in and sample or purchase corn mill and flour as our ancestors once did. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John P. Cable bought land in the Cove in the late 1860s and built a water-powered grist mill and sawmill in about 1870. Today, Great Smoky Mountains Association operates Cable Mill as an historical exhibit.

Leaving the Cable Mill Area we made brief stops at Dan Lawson Place, Tipton Place, and Carter Shields Cabin.

Absorbed in this idyllic setting, we can easily appreciate what drew early pioneers to make this fertile valley their home. Being history buffs as well as nature lovers and photographers, we are drawn to Cades Cove more than any other place in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The drive-through barn was popular in East Tennessee. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive-through was the most popular type of barn built in East Tennessee. The LeQuire Cantilever Barn also popular is shown in the feature photo. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.
—Ashley Monroe

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