I figure that the best way to kick off this blog is to write about one of my favorite places we’ve visited recently. I first went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee around 4 years ago, but for some reason didn’t see Cades Cove. Back then I was more into the funny tourist kitsch of Gatlinberg than in historic sites, was more excited at the prosect of a Dolly-sighting than in seeing a bunch of old log cabins.
I still like kitsch (and there will be plenty of it on this blog), but these days I like the historic sites better. Especially ones that are as beautiful and enjoyable to go to as Cades Cove. We ended up going on a fairly busy April Saturday, and the cars drove slowly along the narrow, 11-mile road, but slowly is probably the best way to see Cades Cove, stopping off as much as possible to wander around the trails and see the buildings and historic markers that dot the place.
Cades Cove is a valley in the Smoky Mountains that was originally inhabited by the Cherokee people. In the early 1800s European settlers moved in, living somewhat peacefully with the Cherokee until Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act chased the native people west (or into hiding in the mountains) in 1830. The settlers continued building log cabins (you can still see and walk around in one of the earliest ones, built in 1822) and farms and eventually an entire town that had a population of over 600 people. According to its Wikipedia entry it was a religious place, and (for the most part) anti-slavery. During the Civil War “Cades Cove remained staunchly pro-Union,” even serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The town looks idyllic and peaceful, but in its day it had its share of murders and barn-burnings, and, not surprisingly for a Tennessee mountain community, a lot of moon-shining.
Its transition from an isolated mountain town to a tourist attraction in a national park seems to have been rocky too. When plans for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in the ’20s the residents of Cades Cove were told that the park property wouldn’t reach their town and that they didn’t have anything to worry about. But eventually things changed, the Tennessee Parks Commission began to seize property, and residents were chased off their homes. To preserve the 1800s Appalachia feel of the town, all modern structures were torn down, leaving only the early log homes and wooden churches. Which means that the town you see isn’t really the town that Cades Cove grew to be; I imagine that it had telephones and ’30s country stores and even cars. But it’s still interesting to see the early mountain buildings in such a beautiful setting.