History of Cades Cove

Yellow and pink flowers in a field in the foreground and rolling mountains in the background on a partly cloudy day.

Warren Bielenberg Photo


Today, Cades Cove is one of the most visited areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Explore historic cabins, churches, and a gristmill; spot white-tailed deer, turkeys, and black bears; enjoy gorgeous mountain scenery; or take a leisurely bicycle ride around the loop road.

Cades Cove was not always a place to visit for a day—it used to be a place to live. Over 100 years before the park was created, many families worked and played in the Cades Cove valley. Before Europeans settled in the valley, Cherokee Indians traveled through the valley to hunt the abundant deer, elk, bison, and bears.

The first European settlers arrived in the Cove in the early 1820s. They quickly cleared land for farming and built log homes, barns, corncribs, and smokehouses. The land was rich and fertile, and provided the settlers with abundant crops, including corn.

Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church
A Baptist and Methodist church were established in Cades Cove during the 1820s.

NPS Photo

By 1850, the population in the valley had reached 685 people as new families moved to the Cove and numerous children were born into the families already settled there. It was not uncommon for a household to have ten to twelve children. As the population grew, they needed more community buildings. A Baptist and Methodist church were established in the 1820s. Schoolhouses were built a little later; at first the schoolchildren met in farm houses where the school teachers were boarding.

It was common for neighbors to assist one another and they often made social events out of corn husking, molasses making, and gathering chestnuts during the autumn months. Courtships that started at social events often led to marriage. Many family farms had a "weaner cabin"—a cabin the son would bring his bride to live in the early days of their marriage. The "weaner cabin" was far enough away from his family for privacy and independence but close enough to help and be helped.

Cades Cove women husking corn
Neighbors assisted one another with corn husking, molasses making, and gathering chestnuts.

NPS Photo

A death in the community was another reason for neighbors to help one another. When a member of the church passed away, the church bell would ring to get the people's attention. After a pause, the bell would ring for each year of the dead person's life. Community members usually knew who was sick and the approximate age of the people in the church, which made it easy to identify who had passed away. The men would then dig a grave or make a coffin if one was not already made. The women would prepare the body and the coffin for burial. The men and women of the community would also help take care of the needs for the family of the deceased, such as cooking meals, gathering crops, and caring for the young children.

When the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began to purchase land for the creation of the national park, the first large piece purchased in 1927 included most of the land in the mountains north of Cades Cove. A few families welcomed the state's effort to buy land for the park; they willingly sold their land and moved out of the cove. However, some families resisted the effort. One resident, John W. Oliver, went to court several times before he finally lost.

Some residents signed life leases that allowed them to live on their land for the rest of their lives. People who agreed to a life lease were given less money for their land and were required to live by the rules set by the National Park Service, such as restrictions on hunting, trapping, and timber cutting. As residents left the cove and the community dispersed, there was no longer a need for facilities and services. The last school in Cades Cove closed in 1944 and the post office closed in 1947.

Today, the National Park Service manages and maintains Cades Cove as it looked in the early days of the settlers. In 1945, the National Park Service designated Cades Cove as a "historical area" and restored several of the older log cabins and barns. While visiting Cades Cove, take a look around and imagine what it might have been like to grow up in the Cades Cove valley.

A book cover with a wooden fence in the foreground and a cabin in a grassy field surrounded by trees in the background.
This book and many others are available at park bookstores and online at SmokiesLife.org

Smokies Life Photo

The Cades Cove Story

Learn about the homelife, religion, country stores, agriculture, and education of Cades Cove. Includes many historic photographs of this mountain community.

Last updated: April 30, 2024

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