Cades Cove

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is an isolated valley located in the East Tennessee section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA. The valley was once home to numerous settlers before the formation of the national park around it. Today Cades Cove is the single most popular destination for visitors to the park, attracting over two million visitors a year, due to its well preserved homesteads, scenic mountain views, and abundant display of wildlife [] .


Cades Cove is a type of valley known as a "limestone window," created by erosion that removed the older Precambrian sandstone, exposing the younger Paleozoic limestone beneath. [Harry Moore, "A Roadside Guide to the Geology of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park" (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988), 29.] More weather-resistant formations, such as the Cades sandstone which comprises Rich Mountain to the north and the Elkmont and Thunderhead sandstones which comprise the Smokies crest to the south have surrounded the cove, leaving it relatively isolated within the Great Smokies. Like neighboring limestone windows such as Tuckaleechee to the north and Wear Cove to the east, the weathering of the limestone produced deep, fertile soil, making Cades Cove attractive to early farmers. [Moore, 29.]

The majority of the rocks that make up Cades Cove are unaltered sedimentary rocks formed between 340 million and 570 million years ago during the Ordovician period. [Moore, 17.] The Precambrian rocks that comprise the high ridges surrounding the cove are Ocoee Supergroup sandstones, formed approximately 1 billion years ago. [Moore, 12-13.] The mountains themselves were formed between 200 million and 400 million years ago during the Appalachian orogeny, when the North American and African plates collided, thrusting the rock formations upward. [Moore, 23-27.]

Gregory's Cave

The fracturing and weathering of the limestone and sandstone in Cades Cove has led to the formation of several caves in the vicinity, the two largest of which are Gregorys Cave and Bull Cave. [Moore, 29.] Bull Cave, at 924 feet (281 m), is the deepest cave in Tennessee. [] Trilobite and brachiopod fossils have been found in Gregorys Cave. [Moore, 35.]

The entrance to Gregorys Cave is approximately 10 feet wide and 4 feet high. The cave consists primarily of one large passage that averages 20 to 55 feet wide and 15 feet high. This passage is 435 feet long and a side passage to the right (south) is developed about 300 feet from the entrance. This side passage ends after about 100 feet. In the vicinity of this side passage are "Talley Marks" on the wall, which were typically left by saltpeter miners. The dirt on this side of the cave has been excavated and removed and pick marks are still visible in the dirt. Saltpeter mining occurred in this region from the late 1700's through the Civil War, so this mining activity must have occurred sometime between 1818, when settlers arrived in Caves Cove and 1865, the end of the Civil War. Since this is a relatively small cave and the amount of dirt in the cave was not extensive, this would have been a small mining operation. Later, during Prohibition, the cave may have been used to house an illegal moonshining operation.fact

Gregorys Cave has the distinction of being the only cave in the Park that was developed as a commercial cave. The cave was opened to the public in July, 1925. Even though the Gregory property was bought for the National Park in 1935, the Gregory family was given a "lifetime dowry" and the owner, J. J. Gregory's wife Elvira, was allowed to live there until she died on March 26, 1943. One of her sons was allowed to remain on the property until he harvested his crop in the fall of 1943. After 1943, the property was completely owned by the Park Service.

Donald K. MacKay, a geologist with the National Park Service, reported that the Gregorys were still showing the cave commercially in 1935. [Donald K. MacKay, "Geology of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park" (14 September 1935). Report on file at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Library.] At that time the cost of admission was 50 cents for adults and children were admitted free. It is not known, at this point, in what year tours of the cave ceased.

During its history as a commercial cave, Gregorys Cave had walkways, which were made of wood in some places, and electric lights. Wesley Herman Gregory, son of J. J. Gregory, reported that the lighting system was a "Delco System" [From a transcript of a conversation with Wesley Herman Gregory, son of J. J. Gregory, dated 22 April 1971. Transcript on file at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Library.] This may have been a generator producing electricity for the lights inside the cave.

During the Cold War, Gregorys Cave was designated as a Fallout Shelter, with an assigned capacity of 1,000 people. The cave was stocked with food, water, and other emergency supplies. The supplies are no longer in the cave, at this time.

Gregorys Cave is securely gated at the present time and entrance is by Permit only from the National Park Service. Entrance is generally restricted to scientific research and casual visits are not allowed.


Early history

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name =Cades Cove Historic District
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location =10 mi. SW of Townsend in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
nearest_city = Townsend, Tennessee
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added = July 13, 1977
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governing_body = National Park Service

Throughout the 1700s, the Cherokee used two main trails to cross the Smokies from North Carolina to Tennessee en route to the Overhill settlements. One was the Indian Gap Trail, which connected the Rutherford Indian Trace in the Balsam Mountains to the Great Indian Warpath in modern-day Sevier County. The other was a lower trail that crested at Ekaneetlee Gap, a col just east of Gregory Bald. [Michael Strutin, "History Hikes of the Smokies" (Gatlinburg: Great Smoky Mountains Association, 2003), 322-323.] This trail traversed Cades Cove and Tuckaleechee Cove before proceeding along to Great Tellico and other Overhill towns along the Little Tennessee River. European traders were using these trails as early as 1740. [Durwood Dunn, "Cades Cove: The Life and Death of An Appalachian Community" (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988), 6.]

By 1797 (and probably much earlier), the Cherokee had established a settlement in Cades Cove known as "Tsiya'hi," or "Otter Place." [Vicki Rozema, "Footsteps of the Cherokees: A Guide to the Eastern Homelands of the Cherokee Nation" (Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 1995.] This village, which may have been little more than a seasonal hunting camp, was located somewhere along the flats of Cove Creek. [James Mooney, "Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee" (Nashville: Charles Elder, 1972), 538.] Henry Timberlake, an early explorer in East Tennessee, reported that streams in this area were stocked with otter, although the otter was extinct in the cove by the time the first European settlers arrived. [Rozema, 183.]

Cades Cove was named after a Tsiya'hi leader known as Chief Kade. [Rozema, 183.] Little is known of Chief Kade, although his existence was verified by a European trader named Peter Snider (1776-1867), who settled nearby Tuckaleechee Cove. [Rozema, 183.] Abrams Creek, which flows through the cove, was named after another local chief, Abraham of Chilhowee. A now-discredited theory suggested that the cove was named after Abraham's wife, Kate. [Dunn, 260.]

The Treaty of Calhoun (1819) ended all Cherokee claims to the Smokies, and Tsiya'hi was abandoned shortly thereafter. The Cherokee would linger in the surrounding forests, however, occasionally attacking settlers until 1838 when they were removed to the Oklahoma Territory (see Trail of Tears). [Dunn, 13.]

European Settlement

John Oliver (1793-1863), a veteran of the War of 1812, and his wife Lucretia Frazier (1795-1888) were the first permanent European settlers in Cades Cove. The Olivers, originally from Carter County, arrived in 1818, accompanied by Joshua Jobe, who had initially persuaded them to settle in the cove. While Jobe returned to Carter County, the Olivers stayed, struggling through the winter and subsisting on dried pumpkin given to them by friendly Cherokees. Jobe returned in the Spring of 1819 with a herd of cattle in tow, and gave the Olivers two milk cows to ease their complaints. [Dunn, 1-9.]

In 1821, a veteran of the American Revolution named William "Fighting Billy" Tipton (1761-1849) bought up large tracts of Cades Cove which he in turn sold to his sons and relatives, and settlement began to boom. In the 1820s, Peter Cable, a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, arrived in the cove and designed an elaborate system of dykes and sluices that helped drain the swampy lands in the western part of the cove. [Dunn, 16-17.] In 1827, Daniel Foute opened the Cades Cove Bloomery Forge to fashion metal tools. [Dunn, 20.] Robert Shields arrived in the cove in 1835, and would erect a tub mill on Forge Creek. His son, Frederick, built the cove's first grist mill. Other early settlers would build houses on the surrounding mountains, among them Russell Gregory (1795-1864), for whom Gregory Bald is named, and James Spence, for whom Spence Field is named. [Dunn, 43-44.]

Between 1820 and 1850, the population of Cades Cove grew to 671, with the size of cove farms averaging between 150 and 300 acres (0.6 and 1.2 km²). [Dunn, 68.] The early cove residents, although relatively self-sufficient, were dependent upon nearby Tuckaleechee Cove for dry goods and other necessities. [Dunn, 67.]

The isolation often attributed to Cades Cove is probably exaggerated. A post office was established in the cove in 1833, and Sevierville post master Philip Seaton set up a weekly mail route to the cove in 1839. Cades Cove had phone service as early as the 1890s, when Dan Lawson and several neighbors built a phone line all the way to Maryville. By the 1850s, various roads connected Cades Cove with Tuckaleechee and Montvale Springs, some of which are still maintained as seasonal passes or hiking trails. [Dunn, 82-86.]

Religion In Cades Cove

Religion was an important part of life in Cades Cove from its earliest days, due in large part to the efforts of John and Lucretia Oliver. [Dunn, 100.] The Olivers managed to organize a branch of the Miller's Cove Baptist Church for Cades Cove in 1825. After briefly realigning themselves with the Wear's Cove Baptist Church, the Cades Cove Baptist Church was pronounced an independent entity in 1829. [Dunn, 102-103.]

In the 1830s, a division in Baptist churches known as the Anti-mission Split occurred throughout East Tennessee. [Dunn, 112.] The split was due to a debate over whether or not missions and other "innovations of the day" were authorized by scripture. This debate made its way to Cades Cove Baptist Church in 1839, becoming so emotionally-charged as to require the intervention of the Tennessee Association of United Baptist. In the end, 13 members of the congregation departed to form the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church later that year, and the remaining congregation changed their name to the Primitive Baptist Church in 1841. [Dunn, 112-113.] The Primitive Baptists, as their name implies, believed in a strict, literal interpretation of Biblical scripture. William Howell Oliver (1857-1940), pastor of the Primitive Baptist Church from 1882 to 1940, explained:

We believe that Jesus Christ himself instituted the Church, that it was perfect at the start, suitably adopted in its organization to every age of the world, to every locality of earth, to every state and condition of the world, to every state and condition of mankind, without any changes or alterations to suit the times, customs, situations, or localities. [Dunn, 104.]

The Primitive Baptists would remain the dominant religious and political force in the cove, their meetings interrupted only by the Civil War. The Missionaries, with a much smaller congregation, would continue to meet on and off throughout the 19th century.

The Cades Cove Methodist Church was organized in the 1820s, probably due to the efforts of circuit riders such as George Eakin. The Methodist congregation, like that of the Missionaries, was relatively small. [Dunn, 119-120.]

The Civil War

In the decades before the Civil War, Blount County, Tennessee was a hotbed of abolitionist activity. The Manumission Society of Tennessee was active in the county as early as 1815, and the Quakers— who were relatively-numerous in Blount at the time— were so vehemently opposed to slavery that they fought alongside the Union army, in spite of their pacifist agenda. [Dunn, 125.] The founder of Maryville College, Rev. Isaac Anderson, was a staunch abolitionist who often gave sermons in Cades Cove. Blount doctor Calvin Post (1803-1873) was believed to have set up an Underground Railroad stop within the cove in the years preceding the war. [Dunn, 125.] With such sentiment and influence, it's no surprise that Cades Cove remained staunchly pro-Union, regardless of the destruction it suffered throughout the war (there were some exceptions, however, such as the cove's affluent entrepreneur and Confederate sympathizer, Daniel Foute).

In 1863, Confederate bushwhackers from Hazel Creek and other parts of North Carolina began making systematic raids into Cades Cove, stealing livestock and killing any Union supporter they could find. Elijah Oliver (1829-1905), a son of John Oliver and a Union sympathizer, was forced to hide out on Rich Mountain for much of the war. Calvin Post had also gone into hiding, and with the death of John Oliver in 1863, the cove had lost most of its original leaders. [Dunn, 134.]

Although Federal forces occupied Knoxville in 1863, Confederate raids into Cades Cove continued. A pivotal figure at this time was Russell Gregory, who had originally vowed to remain neutral after his son's defection to the Confederate cause. Gregory organized a small militia, comprised mostly of the cove's elderly men, and in 1864 ambushed a band of Confederate marauders near the junction of Forge Creek and Abrams Creek. The Confederates were routed and chased back across the Smokies to North Carolina. Although this largely put an end to the raids, a band of Confederates managed to sneak into the cove and kill Gregory just two weeks later. [Dunn, 135-136.]

Cades Cove would suffer from the effects of the Civil War for most of the rest of the 1800s. Only around 1900 did its population return to pre-war levels. The average farm was much less productive, however, and the cove residents were suspicious of any form of change. It wasn't until the Progressive Era that the cove recovered, economically. [Dunn, 143-144.]

Moonshining and Prohibition

The Chestnut Flats area of Cades Cove, located at the base of Gregory Bald, was well-known for producing high-quality corn liquor. [Michael Frome, "Strangers In High Places: The Story of the Great Smoky Mountains" (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994), 334.] Among the more prominent distillers was Josiah "Joe Banty" Gregory (1870-1933), the son of Matilda "Aunt Tildy" Shields by her first marriage. [Frome, 334.] The Primitive Baptists— especially William Oliver and his son, John W. Oliver (1878-1966)— were fervently opposed to the distilling or consumption of alcohol, and the practice was largely confined to Chestnut Flats. John W. Oliver, who was a mail carrier in the cove, often found stills on his mail route and reported them to authorities. Oliver would later deride the image of the moonshiner as an integral part of the mountaineer stereotype:

All these men are public outlaws, and were never recognized as true, loyal mountaineers or as true American citizens, by the rank and file of the mountain people. [Daniel Pierce, "The Great Smokies: From Natural Habitat to National Park" (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000), 21.]

In 1921, Josiah Gregory's still was raided by the Blount County sheriff. Although it was later revealed that the sheriff was tipped off by a surveyor in the area, the Gregorys blamed the Olivers. On the night following the raid, the barns of both William and John W. Oliver were burned, destroying a large portion of the family's livestock and tools. [Dunn, 235-236.] Shortly thereafter, Gregory's son was assaulted by Asa and John Sparks after a prank-gone-wrong. In response, Gregory and his brother, Dana, hunted down and shot the Sparks brothers on Christmas night in 1921. Both of the Gregorys were convicted of barn burning and later convicted of felonious assault. After serving only six months, however, they were pardoned and personally escorted home by Governor Austin Peay. [Dunn, 238-239.]

Also, as mentioned previously, Gregory's cave may have been involved in the manufacture of moonshine as well.

The National Park

Of all the Smoky Mountain communities, Cades Cove put up the most resistance to the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cove residents were initially assured their land would not be incorporated into the park, and welcomed its formation. [Dunn, 242-246.] By 1927, the winds had changed, however, and when the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill approving money to buy land for the national park, it gave the Park Commission the power to seize properties within the proposed park boundaries by eminent domain. Long-time residents of Cades Cove were outraged. The head of the Park Commission, Colonel David Chapman, received several threats, including an anonymous phone call warning him that if he ever returned to Cades Cove, he would "spend the next night in hell." [Carlos Campbell, "Birth of a National Park In the Great Smoky Mountains" (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1969), 97-101.] Shortly thereafter, Chapman found a sign near the cove's entrance that read {sic}:


The "40 mile" (64 km) limit referred to the distance between Cades Cove and Chapman's hometown of Knoxville. Despite these threats, Chapman initiated a condemnation suit against John W. Oliver in July of 1929. The court, however, ruled in favor of Oliver, reasoning that the federal government had never said Cades Cove was essential to the national park. Shortly after the verdict, the Secretary of the Interior officially announced that the cove was necessary, and another condemnation suit was filed. This time, Oliver lost, with the case going all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Oliver would return to court several times over the value of his 375 acre (1.5 km²) tract, which he said was worth $30,000, although the court awarded him just $17,000 plus interest. After attaining a series of one-year leases, Oliver finally abandoned his property on Christmas Day in 1937. [Pierce, 162.] The Primitive Baptist Church congregation continued to meet in Cades Cove until the 1960s in defiance of the park service, who wanted to develop the land where their church was located. [Pierce, 166.]

For about one-hundred years before the creation of the national park, much farming and logging was done in the valley, as the main source of economic development for the peoples living in the cove, both leading to massive deforestation. At first, in spite of the persistent urgings of the Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Association to maintain Cades Cove as a meadow, the National Park Service planned to let the cove return to its natural forested state. [Campbell, 147.] Nonetheless, on the advice of contemporary cultural experts such as Hans Huth, it demolished the more modern structures, leaving only the primitive cabins and barns which were considered most representative of pioneer life in early Appalachia. As a result, a visitor to the cove may leave with an impression of a technologically backward community. In its day, the cove was as well educated and progressive as any rural community in Blount County. [Dunn, xiii-xiv.]

Historical Structures in Cades Cove

The National Park Service currently maintains several buildings in Cades Cove that are representative of pioneer life in 19th century Appalachia. It's important to note that by the time the cove was incorporated, most residents lived in relatively-modern frame houses, rather than log cabins.

The following are listed in the order they are approached along the Cades Cove Loop Road:

1. The John Oliver Cabin, constructed c. 1822-1823 by the cove's first permanent European settlers. Dunn reports that the Olivers spent the winter of 1818-1819 in an abandoned Cherokee hut, and built a crude structure the following year. The Oliver Cabin was built as a replacement for this first crude structure, which was located a few meters behind the cabin.

2. The Primitive Baptist Church, constructed in 1887. The church was organized as the Cades Cove Baptist Church in 1827, and renamed "Primitive Baptist" after the Anti-missions Split in 1841. The Olivers and Russell Gregory are buried in its cemetery.

3. The Cades Cove Methodist Church, constructed in 1902. Methodists were active in the cove as early as the 1820s, and built their first meeting house in 1840.

4. The Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church, current building constructed in 1915-1916. The church was formed from a small faction of Cades Cove Baptists in 1839 who had broken off from the main church due to the debate over missions, which the Cades Cove Baptists didn't consider authorized by scripture.

5. The Myers Barn, constructed in 1920. The Myers Barn is a more modern-looking hay barn located along the trail to the Elijah Oliver Place.

6. The Elijah Oliver Place, constructed in 1866. Elijah Oliver (1829-1905) was the son of John and Lucretia Oliver. His original farm was destroyed during the U.S. Civil War by Confederate marauders. The homestead includes a dog-trot cabin, a chicken coop, a corn crib, and a crude stable.

7. The John Cable Grist Mill, constructed in 1868. John P. Cable (1819-1891), a nephew of Peter Cable, had to construct a series of elaborate diversions along Mill Creek and Forge Creek to get enough water power for the mill's characteristic overshot wheel. [Dunn, 81-82.]

8. The Becky Cable House, constructed in 1879. This building, adjacent to the Cable Mill, was initially used by Leason Gregg as a general store. In 1887, he sold it to John Cable's spinster daughter, Rebecca Cable (1844-1940). A Cable family tradition says that Rebecca never forgave her father and refused to marry after her father broke off one of her childhood romances. Various buildings have been moved from elsewhere in the cove and placed near the Cable mill, including a barn, a carriage house, a chicken coop, a molasses still, a sorghum press, and a replica of a blacksmith shop.

9. The Henry Whitehead Cabin, constructed 1895-1896. This cabin, located on Forge Creek Road near Chestnut Flats, was built by Matilda "Aunt Tildy" Shields and her second husband, Henry Whitehead (1851-1914). Shields' sons from her first marriage were prominent figures in the cove's moonshine trade.

10. The Dan Lawson Place, built by Peter Cable in the 1840s and acquired by Dan Lawson (1827-1905) after he married Cable's daughter, Mary Jane. Lawson was the cove's wealthiest resident. The homestead includes a cabin (still called the Peter Cable cabin), a smokehouse, a chicken coop, and a hay barn.

11. The Tipton Place, built in the 1880s by the descendants of Revolutionary War veteran William "Fighting Billy" Tipton. The paneling on the house was a later addition. Along with the cabin, the homestead includes a carriage house, a smokehouse, a woodshed, and the oft-photographed double-cantilever barn.

12. The Carter Shields Cabin, a rustic log cabin built in the 1880s.


Cades Cove, though geographically isolated, is today a very popular tourist destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A one-way, eleven mile (18 km) paved loop around Cades Cove draws thousands of visitors daily, and can take over four hours to traverse during tourist season. , the latter named after Russell Gregory, a prominent resident of the cove. In addition to hiking and general sightseeing, horseback and bicycle riding are popular activities.


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