One of the standard pilgrimages folks tend to make when they visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at least a half day (a full day is better) spent in Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an isolated valley in the Tennessee section of the park and was home to numerous settlers before the park was formed. The cove's well preserved homesteads and scenic views make it the single most popular destination in the park.
So, a bit of history is in order, methinks. In 1818, John Oliver (1793-1863) and his wife Lucretia (1795-1888) became the first European settlers in Cades Cove. After a rough first winter, and with a little help from a friend, they managed to make a life for themselves there. If you visit Cades Cove today, you can still visit John and Lucretia's cabin and imagine something of what their lives must have been like.
There was good land in the cove, and settlers continued to pour into the area to make a new life for themselves. Most cove farms averaged between 150 and 300 acres and produced crops of tough, religious, and almost completely self-sufficient mountain people. Salt-of-the-earth kinds of folks. My kind of folk.
The Olivers organized the first church in Cades Cove in 1827, a branch of the Millers Cove Baptist Church. In 1838, after a bit of squabbling over missions and other "innovations of the day," the church fragmented, and thirteen members of the congregation took their marbles and departed to form the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church. In 1841, the remaining congregation changed its name to the Primitive Baptist Church. By 1850, the population of Cades Cove had grown to 671 hardy souls, but the Primitive Baptists remained the dominant religious and political force in the cove, their meetings only interrupted by the Civil War (most of Cades Cove sided with the Union). John and Lucretia's grandson, William Howell Oliver (1857-1940) eventually served as pastor of the church.
Early American religion is a bit of a hobby with me, and so relatively high on my list was a visit to the Primitive Baptist Church. Although the word "primitive" refers to the denomination's preference for the beliefs and practices of the primitive or early church (the church of the first century A.D.), their 19th century building could be rightly called primitive as well. In stark contrast to today's million-dollar church buildings with padded pews, billboard-sized screens, sound systems, and rock bands, this rustic building reminds us that at its core, the Christian faith really is quite simple.
The scenery around Cades Cove really is gorgeous. It's no wonder people wanted to settle here. Heck, I want to settle there!!
As you drive around the loop road, there are numerous opportunities to stop and walk back to a cabin or a church (there are a few other churches in the cove). If you go early in the morning or toward dusk, you'll see more deer than you can count, and Cades Cove remains one of the best locations to spot a black bear.
By the time you get to the visitor's center, you'll probably need to stop to go to the bathroom as there really are no other facilities on the loop road. But you'd want to stop anyway as there is much to see and do, including the Cable Mill Historic Area, which features a rustic grist mill and numerous barns and other outbuildings.
The visitor center grounds are a photographer's paradise all on their own. But there's more to come. In my next post, I'll talk about my main photographic reason for wanting to visit Cades Cove again.
More to come . . . .