Cades Cove View

Cades Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove, in the Great Smoky Mountains, probably needs no introduction.  Anyone who has visited the park or thought about visiting the park has either been there or seen photos.  A remarkably broad valley considering the surrounding terrain, Cades Cove is located in the northwestern corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It is bordered to the south by the massive 6,000'+ wall of the Smoky Mountain Range and to the north by a lesser, but still rugged, ridge known as Cades Cove Mountain.  Accessible by just one paved road (and two other steep, winding, seasonally-closed dirt roads) the Cove still to this day retains an aura of isolation.  

The human history of Cades Cove began long before the Smokies became popular as a tourist attraction.  Its earliest inhabitants were local members of the Cherokee Tribe who, in the late 1700's, set up a small hunting camp or settlement there.  Forcibly removed from the Smoky Mountains in the late 1810's-1820's, the Cherokee presence gave way to European settlement in 1818 when a War of 1812 veteran by the name of John Oliver moved into Cades Cove with his family.  In the following decade the Cove saw more and more settlers move in, including families whose homes you can still see today such as the Tipton's and Cable's.  The census of 1850 showed 671 people living in Cades Cove, most of whom maintained a certain level of self-sufficiency by way of farming and raising livestock.  In fact, the average farm size at the time was between 150-300 acres so you could call most residents prosperous.

The Civil War did not pass unnoticed in this bucolic valley.  As with much of eastern Tennessee, Union sentiment and loyalties ran high among residents of Cades Cove.  This didn't sit well with their pro-Confederate neighbors over the mountain in North Carolina.  Starting in 1863 and continuing until the end of the war raids were made against Cove residents, some of which resulted in killings, driving many away.  Though peace returned quickly after the war the Cove didn't recover its pre-war population until the turn of the 20th Century.

More permanently damaging to the residents of Cades Cove, however, was the formation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Residents initially supported the formation of the park which they were told would not include Cades Cove.  It was a false promise however and, in 1927, they were told the land was to be turned over to the Park Service who could claim it by eminent domain.  Though infuriated, half the residents over the successive years took government pay-offs and moved away.  Of the remainder some managed to secure, through the court system, a life-lease on their property which would allow them to remain until they passed away at which point their homes would pass to the National Park.  Over the following decades the thriving community that was Cades Cove disappeared.  The most defiant continued to illegally meet at the Primitive Baptist Church until the 1960's.

Once its residents were removed there was the question of how exactly to 'preserve' the Cove.  Initial plans were to simply let it revert to nature, tearing down all remaining structures.  After hearing ideas from various interest groups a plan came together which created the idyllic, though somewhat deceptive, depiction of Cove life we see today.  First, the bottomlands of Cades Cove were completely cleared to better mimic the open country so familiar and loved at western parks.  Secondly, though the community at Cades Cove was as modern as any in eastern Tennessee in the early 1900's, it was decided to remove all but the most 'rustic-looking' homes to better depict the public's perception of what valley life must have been like.  The collection of homes that remains today, then, represents not Cades Cove at the time of the National Park's formation but rather it is a rough representation of the valley in its earlier days.  As you'll see in this album, what does remain has been meticulously preserved...its rare to see this number of original structures existing in such close proximity.  However, by the time you leave you might feel a bit like I did and feel no small amount of sympathy for those who called this lovely valley home...who's paradise was lost...


  • Dave Kathy Weemhoff

    on May 4, 2015

    I do like being able to picture what the early settlers were up against.... dislike all the politicking and changes made there!