Historic Preservation

Come witness history living in the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains!

Blount County is a Preserve America Community. With our long history and efforts to preserve historic buildings and landmarks, it's no wonder we've received this distinguished recognition. Read on to learn about the fascinating history of our towns.

Over 70 structures left by the Smoky Mountain's early settlers have been preserved. Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains the largest collection of historic log buildings in the East, most of which are in Cades Cove.

History & Heritage

History of Tuckaleechee Cove

Tuckaleechee Cove is a unique and pristine community where the Little River descends from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into a quiet mountainside community, a natural setting that has been home to humans for thousands of years. Recent archaeological digs have found evidence of Native American societies that date back 10,000 years. In the 1700s, settlers moved into the areas now known as Townsend and nearby Cades Cove. The era of the railroad and a thriving logging industry add to the area’s rich heritage.

Today, visitors to the Townsend area are immersed in the rich Appalachian culture. Museums, historic sites and special trails connect us with the past. Thankfully, in Townsend it has not been forgotten. The best place to begin a journey into the history of Tuckaleechee Cove is the Townsend Visitors Center. For more information, call 865-448-6134 or 1-800-525-6834.

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center celebrates the history of East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains and is dedicated to preserving the region's unique culture. View artifacts dating from 3000 B.C. to the 1930s and catch a glimpse of Native American life and its pottery, hunting weapons, ceremonial dress, homes and masks representing the Cherokee's seven clans. Learn about Native American and early settler life through three-dimensional displays, interactive exhibits, media presentations and a historic village of authentic log cabins, a primitive country church, cantilever barns, a wheelwright shop, a smokehouse, a sawmill, a setoff house and more. The center, just three-quarters of a mile from America's most-visited national park, includes two indoor galleries, an auditorium, classrooms, a museum store, historic buildings and a 500-seat amphitheater for teaching, storytelling, drama and music events. Festivals, day camps, music concerts and special events for children and adults are a significant part of the center's annual calendar.

The center is located between the Townsend light and the National Park entrance, on Scenic Hwy 73. Open year-round Tuesday-Sunday, 10 AM-5 PM weekdays & Saturdays, and noon-5 PM on Sundays. Adult admission is $6, senior adults and students $4, and children under six are free. Group rates are available. Admission is free with membership.

Visit www.gsmheritagecenter.org or call 865-448-0044.

Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum

In the early 1900s, a busy railroad operated in the Smoky Mountains, bringing tourists to the area and taking thousands of trees out. The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum tells the story of the area’s logging history with hundreds of photographs, restored equipment and interpretive exhibits. Railroad buffs enjoy seeing one-of-a-kind locomotives and logging machinery and visiting with volunteer staffers full of knowledge about the old railroad’s operations. An expansion project includes a refurbished water tower, replica passenger platforms and a restored set-off house that shows how life was lived atop mountain ridges while logging operations were underway.

Need more information?
Contact Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum
448-2211 or 865-428-0099
www.littleriverrailroad.org 

Hours of Operation: June, July, August, October: Open 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. weekdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5:00 p.m. Sundays. April, May, September: Open 10:00 to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5:00 p.m. Sundays. From November to March: Open by appointment only.

Historic Bike Trail

Linger a moment in history’s shadow while walking or biking the eight-mile trail through Townsend. Special markers identify sites along the trail that tell the tales of the region, which was home to part of the Great Cherokee Indian Nation long before the settlers and the loggers arrived. An interpretive brochure, available at the Townsend Visitors Center, details the sites along the trail, including:

Appalachian Trail

Part of the Appalachian Trail's 2,160-mile trail from Georgia to Maine runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Blount County. This trail was designed, constructed and marked in the 1920s and 1930s. It traverses ridges and valleys along trails first cut by wildlife, then Native Americans and early settlers, and now by hiking enthusiasts, historians and nature lovers.

Sam Houston Schoolhouse

Built in 1794, the Sam Houston Schoolhouse is on the National Register of Historic Sites and is a Tennessee Historic Site. Sam Houston, who became commander of the Army of Texas, governor of Tennessee and Texas and president of the Republic of Texas, taught area residents in this log cabin schoolhouse when he was 18 years old. The museum displays various teaching tools and artifacts used by Sam Houston and other educators of his time and features a visitors center and picnic facilities on grounds. For more information: Sam Houston Schoolhouse 865-983-1550.

Cades Cove

Seven miles into the National Park via the Townsend entrance, an 11-mile driving loop takes visitors back in time. Families began settling in Cades Cove in 1821, and the population peaked around 1900 with 708 individuals in 125 family units. Today, cabins and churches built during the 1800s are open for exploration, fields are wide and surrounded on all sides by magnificent mountains, a working grist mill, and historical reenactments are complemented by a visitors center and gift shop. At the beginning of the loop drive, an introductory interpretation facility tells the story of the once-thriving community that lived here.

In 1818, John and Luraney Oliver were the first settlers in Cades Cove. Had it not been for the kindness of the Cherokee, it's unlikely they would have survived their first winter in Cades Cove. The Oliver's offspring still lived in Cades Cove when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was formed in 1934.

More than 1,200 landowners had to leave their land when Great Smoky Mountain National Park was established. They left behind farm buildings, mills, schools and churches. 

Cades Cove Cabin

Walker Sisters Home

A 1.5-mile hike from Little Greenbrier School in the Metcalf Bottoms area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park takes you to the old Walker Sisters home, first constructed in the 1840s and home to some of the last living residents of the park. The five sisters lived there amidst the old Appalachian traditions until the last sister, Louisa Susan, died in 1964. Visitors can explore the old home, the springhouse and corn crib and bits of stone walls that were part of this homesite.

Much of the early development of facilities and restoration of early settlers' buildings was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC worked from 1933 to 1942 until World War II finally shut the program down. Many of the trails, campgrounds and the beautiful stone bridges and buildings are examples of their work. 

Planning a visit to The Smokies? View our vacation guide.

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