Park & Pilgrimage Information
Historic Areas of the Park
Cades Cove contains more historic buildings than any other location in the park. Among the collection are a working gristmill, three churches, cantilever barns, and homes, which reflect a variety of 19th century construction styles.
The Cherokees called the cove Tsiyahi—otter place—presumably because river otters lived there. Although there are no signs Cades Cove was ever a major Indian settlement, the Cherokee did hunt and gather food in the cove and they developed a trail system that was used by European-American explorers and settlers.
Most historians attribute the name “Cade” to the Cherokee also, either from Chief Kade who frequented the area or Kate, wife of Chief Abraham of Chilhowee. When the first whites, John and Lucretia Oliver, attempted to settle in the cove, they were given food by the Cherokee, likely saving the Olivers from starvation.
With the Calhoun Treaty in 1819, the Cherokee relinquished rights to Cades Cove, though a few remained in the immediate area through the 1820s.
Non-Indian settlement of Cades Cove was rapid. Newcomers found the land fertile and amenable to the cultivation of corn, wheat, oats, rye, flax, sorghum, and vegetables. Game was plentiful, livestock could be fattened on grassy highland meadows, and wild chestnuts, berries, greens, and herbs were free for the taking. Between 1821 and 1850, the number of households mushroomed from one to 132.
A one-way, 11-mile loop road takes you through the cove at a leisurely pace and a self-guiding auto tour booklet interprets the various structures. The Cable Mill area, located midway around the loop road, features a visitor center, grist mill, and other historic buildings and is the site for occasional special events and demonstrations.
Native Americans from the Woodland Period used Cataloochee valley as long as 2,000 years ago, though little is known of their lives. Later, the Cherokee visited the valley and had well-worn trails through the mountain gaps.
The first people of European descent started moving into Cataloochee from Tennessee and North Carolina in the 1830s. They grazed livestock, hunted and fished, and began the long hard process of clearing trees and rocks from fields. While the trees might simply be stripped of their lower bark and left to die standing, the rocks had to be pried from the ground and hauled off on sleds pulled by a horse or ox.
Fortunately, the soil beneath the ancient forest and rocks was gloriously fertile. A variety of crops thrived there, including corn, oats, rye, tobacco, turnips, potatoes, and cabbage. According to Hattie Caldwell Davis, who was born in the valley, “food was never a problem in Cataloochee. They had all the food they could eat.”
Even by early 19th century standards, Cataloochee was remote, wild country. Mountain lions, wolves, and black bears roamed the wilderness, occasionally preying on livestock and attempting to enter cabins. Going to town meant climbing up and over rugged mountains to the village of Waynesville, NC, a journey that took two days each way.
Before long, however, Cataloochee transformed itself from an isolated, “back of beyond” settlement to a relatively prosperous rural community. Cash crops, especially apples, and tourism helped some families afford ornate, two-story, frame houses painted with some of the liveliest colors Sears & Roebuck offered. Many homes were fronted with picket fences and adorned with lavish plantings of roses, lilacs, hollyhocks, and gladiolus.
Churches, schools, post offices, and general stores were raised to meet the needs of the growing community. By the early 1900s, Cataloochee could boast nearly 200 buildings and over 1,000 citizens.
In order to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1930s, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina bought up the land from timber companies and farmers throughout the Smokies. Long-time residents of Cataloochee Valley were some or the most reluctant to leave. During a century of habitation, they had forged a tight-knit community in a beautiful setting where hard working people could make a good living from the land.
Yet, even those who fought relocation hardest take some comfort in actions by the National Park Service to preserve a few of Cataloochee’s historic buildings and the mountain scenery so that generation after generation can visit the remote valley and experience anew its wild, gentle grandeur.
Only 75 years ago, The Sugarlands was a thriving mountain community, complete with 600 homes, three schools, several blacksmith forges, gristmills, and five or six stores. It took its name from the sugar maples that grew there when the first European settlers arrived in the 1790s, trees that provided the sweet sap for making sugar and syrup.
Stretching from Bullhead Mountain on the east to Sugarland Mountain on the west. The Sugarlands spread out across the hillsides and along the banks of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
There are still signs of the valley’s former inhabitants, but observers have to look closely. The small cemetery behind the park headquarters building once lay in the shadow of Evans Chapel No. 1, a Baptist Church. But it takes a sharp eye to recognize that the flat bank next to Fighting Creek is an old road, or that a stand of small, sun-loving pines and tuliptrees behind the visitor center indicates an abandoned cornfield.
Even when they identify these tell-tale signs, visitors can only imagine the community described by former Sugarlands citizens. Their accounts, painstakingly preserved in the park archives, tell of families whose mountain isolation brought them closer together. Lucinda Ogle, who lived nearby in Gatlinburg, and in fact appears in the new film at Sugarlands Visitor Center, told of a night when she and her two siblings were small.
“This panther kept screaming around the house and screaming around,” she said, and so her mother “built a fire so it wouldn’t come down the chimney.” The next morning her mother took the three of them down the trail to their aunt’s house, “and she carried the gun and she finally had to shoot to keep it from…following us.” A week later a neighbor killed the mountain lion-“six foot long and sort of beige-colored.”
Families in The Sugarlands had to rely on their own resourcefulness in many ways. They grew much of their own food-including corn and beans on the steep hillsides-and grew and sold ginseng roots. Their “homeplaces” often included several buildings: a smokehouse for meat, a springhouse to keep perishables cool, and a corncrib to store feed for livestock.
The men hunted rabbit, bear, raccoon and fox for meat and hides. Children worked hard during the week so they could spend time on the weekends with friends. “We’d have enough ‘til we really could play games and have a good time,” remembered Ogle. “Day was never long enough for me.”