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Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains are filled with history! From the heart of Pigeon Forge to the national park, visitors will find a variety of well-preserved historic buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Even if your family members aren’t big history buffs, they will love exploring these authentic Appalachian homesteads from years gone by. To help you make the most of your next vacation, Timber Tops Cabin Rentals has put together a guide to the top three Smoky Mountain historical sites.
1. Elkmont Ghost Town
The Elkmont Historic District is a can’t-miss destination for anyone interested in local history. Originally settled in 1840 as a sleepy little community along the Little River, the area underwent a profound change in 1901 when Pennsylvania entrepreneur Colonel Wilson B. Townsend purchased 86,000 acres in Elkmont to form the Little River Lumber Company. Before long, Elkmont was populated with shanty houses, where the lumberjacks lived, and a new railroad connected the area to a sawmill in Tuckaleechee Cove.
Although this was not intended by Townsend, Elkmont’s easy rail access made it a popular weekend destination for well-to-do families from the nearby city of Knoxville, TN. In the next few years, some of these wealthy families decided to purchase land from the lumber company and establish their own vacation community in the Little River Valley. By 1910, Elkmont was the second largest town in Sevier County!
When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934, many of Elkmont’s property owners obtained lifetime leases for their homes, which mostly expired in 1992. Without any local or seasonal residents, Elkmont was transformed into a ghost town. In 2009, the National Park Service decided to maintain 19 of the historic buildings, and as of January 2018, six structures have been restored. Today, visitors to Elkmont can see a variety of cabins, housing for servants, and the resort community’s clubhouse.
2. Little Greenbrier
Little Greenbrier is another one of the best Smoky Mountain historical sites. Once a thriving rural community, the area is presently home to two buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse and the Walker Sisters Place.
The Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse was constructed in 1882 by John Walker and other local residents. This 20 x 30 foot, one-room schoolhouse served the area’s children until 1935. The building was also used as the house of worship for a Primitive Baptist church.
A little ways away from the schoolhouse, visitors will find the Walker Sisters Place. Built in the 1840s, this log cabin was famously inherited by John Walker’s six unmarried daughters when he passed away. The Walker Sisters insisted on maintaining a traditional agrarian lifestyle in their ancestral home, even after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established! While other residents sold their properties, the sisters stayed put and became unofficial ambassadors for the park. Vacationers would frequently stop by the Walker Sisters cabin to chat and buy some of their homemade goods, such as children’s toys, fried apple pies, and crocheted doilies. Louisa Walker, the last of the unmarried sisters, lived in the historic cabin until she passed in 1964.
The trailhead for the hike to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse and the Walker Sisters Place begins at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, which is located near Wears Valley.
3. Cades Cove
Attracting over 2 million annual visitors, Cades Cove is the most frequented section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A major reason so many vacationers come to this scenic valley is its unparalleled collection of beautifully preserved historic buildings. Some of the notable landmarks include churches, cabins, homesteads, barns, and a working gristmill.
Although the Cherokee hunted in Cades Cove for centuries, the first permanent residents in the valley were the Euro-American settlers who arrived around 1818. By the year 1830, Cades Cove had a population of 271 people. Much like Elkmont and Little Greenbrier, the residents of Cades Cove were forced to abandon their homes with the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
All of the historic structures in Cades Cove are conveniently located along an 11-mile, one-way loop road.
Where to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
When you stay with Timber Tops Cabin Rentals, you will have the perfect home base for exploring all of these Smoky Mountain historical sites. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins to 15 bedroom lodges, we are guaranteed to have the ideal accommodations for your getaway. To start planning your escape, browse our selection of cabins in the Smoky Mountains!