After leaving Salisbury, NC, we drove west and a little north to Sevierville (pronounced se-VERE-ville), TN. On the way, we could see the relatively flat terrain of the Piedmont change to become more mountainous as we approached the Smokies.
In Sevierville, we stayed at River Plantation RV Park, a Good Sam member. It's a very nice RV park with several hundred sites. The sites aren't too close together and are angled for good privacy. The pads and roads are gravel, but there are cement patios and grass between the sites. There are some trees; but, they were very accommodating in the office to give us one of the numerous sites where satellite reception isn't a problem. There is a little noise from a nearby quarry - machinery humming, trucks growling, and backup beepers beeping.
River Plantation also has a number of riverfront sites overlooking the Little Pigeon River, including several "signature" riverfront sites that are extra wide and are all concrete.
Sevierville is about a 10-minute drive from Pigeon Forge and about a 45-minute drive from Gatlinburg, TN. We visited the Smokies as a family back in 1989 when Lora was a sophomore in high school. It was our vacation stop on our way to research Asbury College in Wilmore, KY (where she ultimately attended). Back then, we stayed in a motel in nearby Townsend, outside the congested areas, but we visited Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Pigeon Forge has grown from a large tourist area into a huge tourist area. We remember only a few go-cart tracks, several miniature golf courses, some motels and restaurants, the Dixieland Stampede dinner show, and, of course, Dollywood. Now there have to be dozens of go-cart tracks and miniature golf courses, wall-to-wall motels and fast food, and dozens of shows (some with dinner, some without).
Gatlinburg hasn't changed too much. Being in the foothills of the Smokies, it really has nowhere to expand because of the terrain. The T-shirt shops are still there along with the downtown motels, fast food, gift shops and tattoo parlors. The hillside mini-golf (Hillbilly Golf) where we played when we were here in 1989 with our daughter, Lora, is still there. They have gotten rid of the on-street parking, so they now have 4 lanes of traffic instead of just two; but traffic really wasn't too bad in the middle of the week, especially since it was off-season.
One thing we remembered about the Gatlinburg area that we wanted to visit again this trip was the nearby artist community. The artist community is centered around Glade and Buckhorn Roads off U.S. 321 to the northeast of Gatlinburg. Although as full-timers we don't usually need anything, this time we were looking for a candy dish (for Candyman :)), and we thought one of the potters might have something. We did enjoy stopping at a number of shops (pottery and others), but didn't find a candy dish we liked. Ah well, since we don't buy much, it'll give us a good reason to "shop" in our future travels. We did happen upon one shop that had some interesting pottery demonstrations. Those are real leaves pressed into the soft clay of the pot shown in the photo below. Then they carve around the leaves and smooth the pot with a damp sponge. The leaves will burn away when the pot is fired leaving a textured impression.
Along Buckhorn Road on the way to the artist community is a charming inn called, appropriately enough, Buckhorn Inn. We remembered the inn from when we were in the area in 1989 so we stopped and took a few photos. The photo below shows the entrance to the inn.
Also along Buckhorn Road is a little restaurant called the Wild Plum Tea Room. They serve soups, salads, and sandwiches. We ate there in 1989, but since it was past lunchtime, we just stopped for photos this time.
The other area we wanted to visit again was Cades Cove. Cades Cove is in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and is a valley surrounded by mountains. Historians are unsure, but the name probably comes from either the name of a local chief's wife, Kate, or more likely from a little known Native American leader known as Chief Kade.
Cades Cove was once a thriving community of around 700. Over farming and the promise of more fertile land in the mid-west lead to the decline of the community. In the mid 1920s and the late 1930s, the National Park service began plans to form the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Inclusion of Cades Cove was not in the original plans, but was it was later added. The park was officially established in 1934 and the last resident left Cades Cove in 1937, although the congregation of the Primitive Baptist Church continued to meet until 1960 in their church in Cades Cove in defiance of the Park Service. Although the Park Service originally planned to allow the entire area to return to its natural forested state, they eventually decided to demolish only more modern buildings and keep the buildings that represented pioneer life in 19th century Appalachia. Today in Cades Cove there are several churches, cabins, barns, and a grist mill. The grist mill, which still operates, is shown in the photo below.
There is an 11-mile loop that takes you around the cove. There are numerous stops along the way where you can look out over the fields and where you can park to walk the many trails and explore the old churches, cabins, and outbuildings. The buildings are very picturesque in the natural surroundings today, but one can only imagine how hard life was. This is the Tipton Homestead, which is right along the loop road.
We stopped and hiked the 1-mile round trip to the Elijah Oliver cabin, which is shown in the photo below. The section to the right is the kitchen, perhaps one of the first 'split-level' houses in the U.S. :)
The cantilever barn is another structure seen in several places around Cades Cove and many other locations in eastern Tennessee. These barns have a cantilever or overhang, which was a second-story loft used to store hay. The overhang provided an area where they could park their wagons and be protected from the weather.
Wildlife abounds in the Smokies and especially in Cades Cove. Deer are frequently seen grazing in the fields and there are also black bear. Back when we visited in 1989, we found the best time to view wildlife was dusk. On several evenings we joined a long string of vehicles driving slowly around the loop. We always saw deer in the fields and raccoons and 'possum at the small streams and we did see one bear. Unfortunately on this trip, we were staying farther away so we only drove the loop during the day. We did see several deer, but couldn't get a good angle for any photos.
Despite our mid-week visit, we were surprised at the number of families with children who were visiting; and although the leaves on the trees were barely turning, the line of vehicles making the loop was continuous. We didn't even want to imagine what the traffic would be like on a summer day or a weekend at peak fall leaf season!
There are additional photos and information on Cades Cove in Photo Album 025: Smokies and Knoxville.
We had only made reservations in Sevierville for a relatively quick three-night stop. We could have used more time, but decided not to extend our stay since we had seen the two major things in the area we wanted to see. We were on our way to the Escapees Raccoon Valley Campground north of Knoxville, and we wanted to be in Raccoon Valley long enough to take advantage of their lower weekly rates for at least a couple of weeks. That would also give us a little time to relax, catch up on our grocery shopping, relax, let the campground budget recuperate, relax, groom the dog, relax...well, you get the picture.
Raccoon Valley was only about an hour drive from Sevierville, and we arrived around noon. We had heard that this particular Escapee park was rarely full so we were surprised to find the campground WAS full! Unknown to us, there was a bluegrass music festival going on all week at the nearby Museum of Appalachia. However, our experience during our almost three-week stay is that it was full almost every night we were there.
Escapees parks do not accept reservations, but they have a system of first in/first out. If you arrive and there are no sites available, you can stay in the dry camp area until a site opens up. Fortunately, enough people were leaving voluntarily after our one-night stay in dry camp that we had our choice of three 30 amp sites and one 50 amp site. We chose the 50 amp site, which costs a little extra, but which had a little more room than the 30 amp sites. The Escapees Raccoon Valley Campground is a former KOA so most of the sites are quite narrow and fairly short. Most of the 50 amp pull-throughs are longer and the back-ins are wider to provide enough parking space for your tow vehicle or toad, even with a fairly long RV.
The Museum of Appalachia was one exit north on I-75. In the early 1960s, John Rice Irwin traveled the back roads of Tennessee, Kentucky, and western Virginia and began to collect thousands of pioneer artifacts from colorful mountain folk, including his own ancestors. John's goal in establishing his museum was not to present cold, lifeless facts; but to capture the heart and soul of the hard-working mountain people. He does this through folk art, tools, music, buildings, and most importantly, through the stories of people who lived in this area.
We waited until the music festival was over to visit the museum to avoid the crowds. We were able to stroll leisurely through the many artifacts and buildings and get a real flavor for how the people lived.
Most of the tools are displayed in the display barn. These harness-making tools, however, are displayed in the actual harness/saddle shop originally belonging to Hobart and Larry Hagood. The shop, shown in the photo below, was originally located in Persia, TN.
Hobart Hagood became a rural mail carrier in the early 1900s. The rigors of his long, daily deliveries made it necessary for him to repair and replace his own leather harnesses. Soon he began to repair and make harnesses and saddles for his neighbors and became a master leather craftsman. Hobart made leather goods for the Amish in Pennsylvania, for the pleasure horses of Florida, and for the mining mules and ponies of Kentucky and Virginia. When Hobart passed away in 1961, his youngest son, Larry, who was also a rural mail carrier, took over the leather business. Larry retired in 1984 and sold the building and tools to John Rice Irwin in 1991.
Paul was struck by the creativity and tenacity of the people. Most of what they had, they made themselves. There were troughs used for curing and storing meat that were made from huge, hollowed-out logs. There were carvings of people, animals, and miniature tools that were very intricate. There was also a large collection of musical instruments. Some were factory-made, but many were made locally by hand. Some of these were crude, but many were surprisingly sophisticated. There were fiddles, guitars, banjos, mandolins, and dulcimers. In the photo below, you can see examples of some of the banjos. Notice the ham can banjo on the wall near the center of the photo and the hub cap banjo below it and to the left. There are rectangular and octagonal banjos at the upper left.
John Rice Irwin also has a collection of authentic log cabins, barns, and other out buildings on the grounds as well as a school and a chapel. The photo below shows the house that was built by Nathaniel Peters in the nearby village of Lutrell about 1840. His oldest daughter, Cordelia, was born here and raised her nine children in this house where she died at age 87.
The little shack in the photo below belonged to Tom Cassidy, who was a friend of John Rice Irwin. Tom died in 1989 and John acquired the cabin from Tom's last surviving brother, 88-year old Harve, and moved it to the museum grounds in 2007.
The photo below shows the interior of Tom Cassidy's one-room cabin. After over a year in the motor home with its 300 sq. ft. of living space, we weren't as appalled by the size of this cabin as we might have been were we still in our stick house.
Another interesting story is that of Harrison Mayes. Young Harrison Mayes was a coal miner when he was injured in a mining accident in 1918 near the Tennesee/Kentucky line and was not expected to live. Harrison asked the Lord to pull him through promising Him he would be a faithful servant the rest of his life. Harrison did survive and soon found preaching was not his calling. While continuing to work at the mines, one day Harrison had an inspiration to paint "Sin Not" on the side of his black hog. The old sow ran loose in the coal camp and when everyone quickly became aware of Harrison's message, he knew he had found his calling.
Harrison began painting similar messages on trees, rocks, barns, and coal cars bound for distant towns. When he became concerned about permanency, he hit on the idea of making concrete signs. Harrison Mayes never depended on donations, but he continued to work in the mines and even worked extra shifts so he could afford to make the signs and hire trucks and drivers (he never learned to drive) to deliver and erect the signs. He started in east Tennessee and eventually had signs in as many as 44 states and several foreign countries. Before modern highways and interstates were built, these signs were common sights along the roads of America.
In addition to cabins, a corn crib, barns, and numerous shops, mills, and other out buildings belonging to ordinary folks, the museum has the cabin that belonged to the family of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Again, we were fascinated to pick up a thread of history from an area we previously visited. We saw Samuel Clemens home in Hannibal, MO earlier this year, now we ran across the cabin that belonged to his parents when they lived in 'Possum Trot, TN. Samuel was born 5 months after his parents left Tennessee in 1835.
There are lots of additional interesting photos (especially the Ukuweewee Banjo) and information on the Museum of Appalachia in Photo Album 025: Smokies and Knoxville.
The little town of Rugby, TN lies a about an hour's drive northwest of Raccoon Valley where we were staying. Rugby is a restored Victorian village that was founded in 1880 by British author and social reformer, Thomas Hughes. Rugby was intended to be a Utopia of sorts, incorporating English culture and customs into a class-less American cooperative society.
In England, upper class families left the family estate and wealth to the first-born son. Siblings were given either a lump-sum amount from the estate or a trust was established on their behalf. In the 1870s, there was an economic recession in Britain and many of the younger sons exhausted their allotted funds and their trusts ran out of money. Hughes felt it would be beneficial for these young men to begin anew, working hard at agricultural pursuits in America.
Because of the English heritage, Rugby stands in stark contrast to the rough hewn log buildings found elsewhere in Appalachia. The photo below shows Kingstone Lisle, home of Rugby founder Thomas Hughes. Hughes' home was a little larger than most in Rugby, but it typical of the style.
At its peak, Rugby had about 350 residents and over 70 buildings. It only flourished for about 10 years, and some say the decline began with the fire that destroyed its popular Tabard Inn in 1884. A number of other things contributed to the decline of Rugby including the fact that it was managed from far-away England and that Thomas Hughes probably initially paid too much for the land. By 1900, most of the original inhabitants had left, but Rugby was never abandoned. Several residents, some of them children of the original settlers, remained and struggled to keep Rugby's heritage alive.
In 1966, the non-profit organization of Historic Rugby was formed and began restoration and preservation of Rugby. Over 65,000 people visit Rugby each year. There is even a small, modern housing development adjacent to Historic Rugby that has newly-built Victorian-style homes.
We enjoyed lunch at the Harrow Road Cafe, named after the first Rugby Restaurant. Featured were English specialities such as shepherd's pie and Welsh Rarebit and the famous Harrow Road spoon rolls. Prices were moderate...sandwiches under $5 and lunch specials between $5 and 10. Homemade desserts sounded delicious, but alas we were full.
We had a very nice time in eastern Tennessee. We enjoyed the slower pace, watching the leaves turn, and learning more about the hard-working pioneer people who carved an existence out of what was then wilderness. There's more to see but the night temps are going to the mid-30's with morning frost. It's time to head outta here. :) We're not the only ones! One night in the 30s and 10 sites emptied out the next day! From here, we travel to Myrtle Beach for a week at the ocean and then SOUTH.