Cades Cove, as experienced today, is an extremely popular valley located in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s an area that, because of the natural beauty and peacefulness, attracts many every year. The Cades Cove history is unusual, however, as a thriving mountain community was reduced to a historical attraction by the creation of the national park itself.
The first settlers came to Cades Cove in the 1820’s and at that time the area was called Kate’s Cove, a name derived from the wife of Chief Abraham of the Chilhowee tribe. There is plenty of evidence that Native Americans, specifically the Cherokee Indians, spent much of their time in the valley hunting bison, deer, elk, and bear. However, there is no proof that Native Americans actually made the valley their home.
Once the European settlers took to the valley, they immediately began making it their home. Log cabins, smokehouses, and barns were built. The land was fertile and very rich, allowing the settlers to grow the crops necessary to keep them all fed. The area saw its population increase tremendously through the 1850’s. It wasn’t uncommon for many of the households to have ten to twelve children. For this reason, more community buildings were required. A Methodist and Baptist church were built. Later on, schoolhouses were needed as a more general place for the children to be taught. Before this, they met in farmhouses for their education.
As the cove became established and the population grew, it truly became a tight-knit community. Corn husking, gathering chestnuts and even molasses making were often turned into community events. Neighbors helping neighbors was built into their way of life. So much so that even death brought them together.
Church bells would ring to garner attention and then it would ring again the number of years of the deceased. The women would help prepare the body for burial and the men would build the coffin and then dig the grave. Together, the women and men of the community would help out the families of the deceased with food, tending to their crops, helping with the children – whatever it took to help relieve the pain of losing a lost one.
As the years moved on, the area blossomed. More buildings were constructed. The first overshot water-powered grist and flour mill was built in the early 1830’s. Robert Shields purchased 1,600 acres from William Tipton to make this happen. But this is not the most popular mill in the valley. The Cable Mill holds this title as it is still the one remaining working mill.
Life in the valley remained peaceful with steady growth until 1927, when both the states of North Carolina and Tennessee began to buy the land up as part of the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains. Some residents still stayed, signing leases (with certain restrictions), but eventually most of them moved away. The last school and post office in the area were closed in the 1940’s. Today it is a historical area that remains a fantastic place to visit, with abundant wildlife, beautiful mountain views and restored cabins and barns.