Thanksgiving in the Smokies

The humble mountain communities of the Smoky Mountains have been celebrating the fall harvest and Thanksgiving before there were established societies and towns.  Groups of farmers would gather at someones house, they might eat in the yard by the barn if the weather was good or if it was too chilly to eat outside they would crowd into the house that would come closest to holding them all.  The location of the meal didn’t matter really, nor did the food, what matter was that they were all together.

The first official Thanksgiving day was November 26, 1789.  George Washington declared the day a s a day of National thanksgiving, a day to celebrate the fact that we were no longer under the reign of the British.  Of course, the people had church leaders and civic leaders telling them of the tale of the first Thanksgiving, which of course was celebrated by the pilgrims.  This tradition had been handed down as oral tradition through the church and through community text books and school houses since the early 1700s.  Obviously the people of the Smoky Mountains and the Southern Appalachian since the area became settled and then became a state.

Of course, the Thanksgiving celebrated by the southern Highlanders, as they were known, was different then some of the Thanksgiving celebrations in other parts of the country.  These mountain farmers would might with those neighbors that they were close enough to to break bread together.  Each farm produced those staples they would need for their subsistence through the winter months but they would make sure that they had something special for Thanksgiving.  Let’s take a look at what one of these celebrations might have been like.

The year is 1850.  The people of Cades Cove  have gathered at the Elijah Oliver Place (near the halfway point of the Cades Cove Loop Road if you are curious).  The weather turned out breezy but nice so they are having the Thanksgiving celebration in the great outdoors with the Smoky Mountains as their backdrop.  Neighbors from around the cove have brought food and family with them for the Thanksgiving Day festivities.  The turkey is obvious choice for the meat of the day and if they were lucky when they were hunting they might even have two birds to serve for dinner instead of one.  As friends and family keep arriving the table is filled with sides of every shape form and fashion.  These settlers would have had vegetables and desserts made the fruits of their bountiful harvest.  Corn, apples, green beans, late summer and fall greens, fresh baked bread and corn bread – all of it harvested form the ground and made with their own two hands.  As the people trickle in the all sit around a table or around several tables and the patriarch of the Oliver family would have said a blessing of thanksgiving over the food.  Thanks would be given for the harvest, for family, for friends and for the beautiful land that they settled in many years ago.

Think about this as you bring in your family and friends for Thanksgiving.  Think about the settlers that called the Smokies home and the work they would go through to have a Thanksgiving meal with their families.

Happy Thanksgiving!

History of Waynesville, NC

Colonel Robert Love, an American Revolutionary War soldier, founded the western North Carolina town of Waynesville in 1810. Love is the one person to thank for donating the land that the courthouse and jail now stand on. It also makes up the town square. Waynesville gets its name from Love’s former commander in the Revolutionary War, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

The town of Waynesville was incorporated in 1871. It wasn’t until 1995 that the town of Hazelwood was merged with Waynesville to form one community. Today, Waynesville boasts a population of almost 10,000.

Waynesville started to see major development 1884. During that year the railroad officially pulled into town. Waynesville began to see the fruits of the agricultural, lumber and tourism industries that were beginning to pop up throughout town as well as the county and western North Carolina.

The railroad – its first tracks, was located along Richland Creek in Waynesville, northwest and downhill from Main Street. Primarily swampland before then, it was the first real construction in the area albeit the few scattered buildings. Upon completion of the train depot and all that the railroad brought to the area, development of Richland Creek began again. It also became known as Frog Level by townsfolk because of its low-lying location along the creek. When the rains came in and it flooded, the town was at “frog level”.

Frog Level and downtown Waynesville continued to be the central focus socially, economically, and commercially with a growing number of retail businesses springing up through the 1940s. From hardware stores to auto dealers and garages, and furniture stores to wholesale groceries, warehouses and lumber companies, business was booming in the Frog Level area in the 1930s and 1940s, and all of it dependent upon the railroad. However, as the automobile industry flourished, the railroad began to slip in need and in importance and led business away from Frog Level. In 1949 the last passenger train pulled into the depot in Waynesville. Though freight trains still pass through Frog Level two times each day, most just continue on to the neighboring town of Sylva.

Sevierville, TN

“Your Hometown in the Smokies”

Sevierville is the county seat of Sevier County, Tennessee and the hometown of Dolly Parton.  Since the early 90s, Sevierville has grown both the borders of the city and its influence on the tourist industry.  Adding many shopping opportunities, entertainment venues and lots of good food, Sevierville is becoming its own destination in the Smokies.  Instead of merely being the support arm for Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Sevierville is really coming into its own.

Sevierville was one of the most heavily settled areas by Native Americans on the Tennessee side of the Smokies.  After years of the Cherokee controlling this area and building trails and trading posts with the towns on the other side of the mountains, European settlers made their way into the Smokies.  As settlers began to work their way into the area they settled around the streams and rivers that cover the area that is Sevierville.

Over time, as Sevier County became a vacation destination (through the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), Sevierville has grown into the town to shop in while you are in the Smokies.  Along with those shopping areas they have grown to include the area all the way out Hwy 66 to the Tennessee Smokies Baseball Park and the Bass Pro Shop.


Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians

cherokee crestAs I have been writing about various locations, cities, restaurants and other touristy concepts in the Smoky Mountains area, one thing that I have realized that I have not focused on is the people that inhabited the area before the European settlers moved in. To that end, let’s talk about the Native Americans that dominated both sides of the mountains in the pre-pioneer days: the Cherokee Indians.  I will attempt to build a very brief history of the people.  Obviously, in the space of this article I am not going to touch on everything that is interesting, remarkable and culturally relevant about the Cherokee people but I hope that it spurs you on to go read more about them.

Before the English settlers first made their appearance on the scene, the people known as the Cherokee, or the Tsalagi as they call themselves, had an established culture and society.  They were hunter gathers but they also had a very advanced economic and political structure.  At their height, they took in parts of 7 southern states and they numbered over 150,000 people.  Their economy included trade routes that reached out to Native American tribes on the coast of North Carolina and even included reaching out to the first Europeans in the area, which came with DeSoto.

With the incursion of European people into the area, whether they were traders, trappers, explorers or settlers, the Cherokee way of life began to change.  The Cherokee lifestyle was governed by everyone, the women of the tribes appointed the leaders who ran the seven clans.  The women also controlled marriage and property while the men were in charge of educating the children.  The Cherokee chose to change their society and adapt some of the European ways as a chance to coexist with the new people that were moving to the area.  This was the Cherokee means of survival.  During this time of acculturation, the Cherokee adopted a very English way of educating their young and they taught their people English so that they could further their contact and interactions with their new neighbors.  By the time that the 1800s rolled around, the Cherokee had adopted a written constitution and they had establish boundaries to their lands, schools and they had even accepted the Christian missionaries into their communities.

ebci signThe start of the downfall of the Cherokee people was the passing of the Removal Act of 1830.  When President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, the Cherokee people, 20,000 of them were forced to leave their tribal lands in North Carolina and walk, along the Trail of Tears, to reservation land in Oklahoma.  Only 16,000 of those 20,000 that started the walk, survived the journey westward.  You would think that this would have been the end to the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, but a small group stayed behind, defying the US Government.

The Reservation Act of 1819 and the fact that some of the Cherokee evaded the army, left this small group landless but looking for a way to stay on their lands.  Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, started buying land using these displaced people money, seeing as the Cherokee could not buy land.  Over time, the Cherokee formed a corporation to own the land and they became a thriving community.  Fast forward to now and the Qualla Boundary or the reservation that is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is a destination in the Smokies and the heart of gaming in the Southern Appalachians.

Again, this is not a complete or even concise history of this amazing group of people.  If you want to have a much better understanding of the Cherokee and their history in the Smokies, then you might want to visit Cherokee, NC and experience many of the historical and cultural legacies of the Cherokee.

Appalachian Trail – A History

Appalachian Trail

A History

The Appalachian Trail is one of the big draws for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Conceived in the 20s, this brain child of Benton MacKaye had the first section established in 1923 and now it is one of the three big trails in the United States.  Starting in Georgia and ending in Maine, this 2,200 mile trek is one of the accomplishments that makes a Thru-Hiker drool.  The first part of the Appalachia Trail starts in Northern Georgia inside the Smokies and the most hiked portion of the Appalachian Trail is the 1.7 miles that starts at the Newfound Gap Trailhead.

at logo on trailThe Appalachian Trail, or AT as it had come to be known, was thought of by Benton MacKaye and fellow hiking enthusiasts in New England.  They had been kicking around the idea of a national trail, an eastern trail that would cover the beauty of the Appalachian mountains for years.  Trail blazing started in the north, with trees and trails being emblazoned with the familiar diamond shaped logo that still marks trails to this day. As the years progressed people got more and more into the idea of a trail that covered most of the Appalachians.  Eventually this movement culminated in the idea that the trail would stretch from Georgia to Maine.  The AT grew in both fame and length as the years went on until it reached its current length of 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine.

Since the establishment of the AT, not only has the trail received national attention but it has received national funding too.  A national Appalachian Trail Conference was established in the 30s, which later became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  This organization helps to track the number of people that are hiking the AT each year and also spends time making sure that the trail stays maintained and usable by guests.  Maintaining over 2,000 miles of trails is a huge undertaking but one that the AT Conservancy delights in.  Along with this, they provide tools and resources for Thru-Hikers, those people that take the time to hike from Georgia to Maine, a trip that might take 5-7 months depending on how many miles you are hiking a day.

at newfound gapThru-Hikers make up a huge number of the people that hike the AT each year.  These Thru-Hikers depend on the people that visit the area and the locals alike to keep them going as they cover the miles.  The people that hike the trails, especially the Thru-Hikers find themselves at the mercy of the elements and the conditions on the trails.  The brief respite that they get are jaunts into town in the back of a pickup to pick up supplies and get a break from the rigors of the trail.  They are hiking history on the AT.  They are covering the ground that was hiked by the frontiersmen, pioneers and the Native American people that inherited the land before white settlers arrived.  As Thru-Hikers make their way from Georgia toe Maine, or from Maine to Georgia, they pass through some of the most beautiful land that the country has to offer – the Smokies, the Blue Ridge the Shenandoah Valley and of course through the gorgeous landscape that is all of New England.

Mountain Man Statue

“As you get older, remember to be yourself”

And it is from this saying that the Mountain Man, Yosef, got his name.  And of course, Yosef is the mascot for Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Now, when you find the statue on campus, you might wonder: why does he look so angry and why does he seem to be charging off the base of the monument itself?

Well, the answer to those two questions in in the very essence of the Mountain Man himself.  Appalachian State chose as their mascot the embodiment of the people that tamed the mountains, that picked the Southern Appalachians as their home, that decided this was the place to live and fought to keep it and make it home.  The mountain men of the area faced a lot of adversity:

  • mountainmanstatue1The Terrain – One of the primary adversities that the mountain men faced was the terrain.  While the Appalachians are not the tallest mountains in America they are a wooded wasteland of trees and mountains that can be inhospitable at best.  A lot of the mountain men were descended from Scots-Irish stock and they felt they were back home when they reached the mountains in North Carolina.  These hardy men tamed the wilderness, cut trails, made farmsteads and eventually led to other people coming to the area and towns being founded. 
  • The Native Americans – The Mountain Men were not the only people that decided to call this land home.  They worked with and at times in opposition to the Native Americans that were already living here.  They fought to take and then keep the land they were on and they lost many of their numbers during these conflicts.
  • The US Government – The government of the United States tried to tame these mountain men as well.  Against all odds, and against laws and regulations that the government tried to enforce, the mountain men triumphed and carved out the wilderness to make their homes.
  • Other Mountain Men – Of course, the determination of the mountain was put to the test when they were put up against other mountain men.  These mountain men challenged each other as much as they waged war against the elements and the indeginous people that were already living in the mountains.

It is for these reasons that Appalachian State University picked the Mountain Man to be their mascot.  They wanted to show the determination that they had as a campus.  Their determination to excel against all odds.  They wanted to show that they had the skills and fortitude to succeed.  You can see this in the face of the statue, in the way that with upraised fists, he refuses to go down, refuses to be put aside or ignored.

Make sure that you go by and meet Yosef the next time you are in Boone, NC.  This tall, solid bronze statue is beautifully made and is a piece of art.  Take the kids by to see the mountain man with the crazy eyes and fists raised to the air.  Take a look at the people that helped settle the mountains and tame the wilderness.

Newfound Gap Road Re-Opens Early Following January Landslide

Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) which runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC reopened Monday, April 15 2013 following a three month closure. The road was closed due to a January landslide that washed away a 200-foot section of pavement.

Work on the road was actually completed a month ahead of time, and as a reward for finishing the job early, contractors Phillips and Jordan Inc. will receive a $500,000 bonus, funded by the National Park Service and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The contract awarded to Phillips & Jordan, Inc. in January, totaled nearly $4 million and included incentives totaling $8,000 per day that the project was completed ahead of the May deadline.

In re-constructing the damaged section of Newfound Gap Road, engineers installed pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope.

Heavy rainfall and an underground stream combined to loosen thousands of tons of rock, soil and trees in January. It was estimated that 9,000 dump truck-loads of dirt, rock and road slid 45 feet down the side of the mountain.

A subsurface spring underneath the road was believed to be the mitigating factor for the landslide, in addition to the heavy rain that had poured over the area for a number of days. Between Monday and Wednesday the week of January 14, nearly 8 inches of rain were said to have fallen in the area.

Property Management

So you have purchased a rental cabin and you have decided that you want to rent it out as an investment property.  While the vacation rental industry is alive and well in the Smokies, and it can be a highly lucrative business, there are basically two ways to manage your vacation rental property:  V action Rental By Owner (VRBO) or through a Property Management Company (PMC).


Running your vacation rental as a VRBO is still a valid way to do business. In this scenario, you take the bookings, manage the property, handle the cleaning, the maintenance and take the payments.  Of course, that also means that you are handling the booking, the maintenance, the cleaning and all of the other things that go along with renting your investment property as a vacation rental.  The good side of a VRBO is that you keep all of the money from the rentals, the bad part is that you are the owner and the property manager, something that can be difficult if you live in town and almost impossible is you live further away.  Most people do not want the hassle of renting the property themselves, instead they opt to hire a Property Management Company.

Property Management Company

iring a property management company is the way that most investment property owners chose to run their vacation rentals.  A PMC does exactly what the name suggests, they manage your vacation rental for you.  Here is a short list of what the PMC should be doing for you:

  • Marketing – The PMC should be spending their time making sure that people know your cabin is available to rent.  In print ads, radio spots, TV ads or online, the PMC should be reaching out through the various marketing medias to get more and more people into your cabin.
  • Reservations – The PMC is going to take those reservations as they come in and make sure that the guest is booked and that that money paid as a deposit is held for the reservation. They will handle all of the questions from the guests about the reservation and the property, saving you countless hours on the phone or spent emailing back and forth with potential guests.
  • Maintenance – When something breaks in the cabin, you have to fix it during the stay of the current guest or before the next guest comes in.  The PMC will take care of those maintenance items that happen over time.  They will also let you know when there are items that need your attention as the home owner becoming your eyes and ears.
  • Housekeeping – After every guest checks out, the vacation rental property has to be cleaned.  Scheduling that can become very time consuming, the PMC can make sure that the cabin stays clean and well maintained, even for those last minute bookings.
  • Payment Distribution – At the end of the month, or whenever your contract describes, the PMC will distribute the money that you have earned from the bookings throughout the previous period.

Using a PMC does mean that you are going to take a smaller profit for each night rented but when you look at the amount of time that will be consumed for each rental, it becomes easy to see that a PMC can be your best friend when you try your hand at an investment property.

Real Estate

There are many opportunities for those looking for Real Estate in the Smoky Mountains.  Whether you are looking for an investment property, commercial property or a home to relocate to, real estate of every shape and size abounds in the cities around the Smokies.


After you have visted the Smokies for the third or fourth time in one year, you are going to start thinking that you ought to just move to the area.  And for those of us that have relocated to the SMokies, we welcome you with open arms.  When you start looking, there are a few pointers that might help you in your relocation efforts:

  • Look to the outlying areas for the best deals.  Right in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg is going to cost you (even in a buyers market).  Head to the cities that feed into the main towns for the best deals on land and homes.
  • Check out the school systems and see what each area has to offer.
  • Find a job – Unless you are retiring to the area, you are probably going to be looking for work.  You will find in the Smokies as in lots of tourist areas that the jobs are seasonal, based on the number of people that are in town.  If you are headed to a tourist area to live see what the seasonal jobs are going to look like and prepare yourslef and your budget accordingly.

Commercial Property

Maybe you are looking at bringing a business to the Smokies.  If so, the economy boom that the area experienced and then the downturn that the country had has left many store fronts and buildings vacant.  Obviously you can find a Realtor to assist you with the search for the perfect piece of property but it might be a good idea to spend some time in each of the areas.  See where the traffic is actually flowing.  Look for the empty store fronts, find a local and find out why they are really empty.

Don’t be suckered in by a good deal only to find out that the traffic pattern has changed and now that part of town is a ghost town during the best part of the year.  Do your research and make sure that you know as much or more about the area as the Realtor before you start the actual buying process.

Investment Properties

The real estate boom in the 90s and early part of the 21st century has left a lot of cabins open for new investors to walk in and buy for a great price.  In most cases, it is true that investment properties in the Smokies are cabins but of course there are exceptions to this rule.  If you happen to decide that you want to get into investment real estate in the Smoky Mountains, here are a few things to watch for before you buy:

  • Have the cabin inspected.  Make sure that past renters and property management companies have done a good job of maintaining the cabin.
  • Check the roads that your future renters will be taking into the cabin.  Make sure that they are well maintained, talk to the HOA for the area the cabin is in and see who maintains the roads in winter.
  • Check and see if the cabin is on city sewer, a septic tank or on a privately held utility for waste removal.  This becomes crucial to know when you are dealing with issues at your rental property.
  • Check out the property management company that is currently managing the cabin, see how it is renting and see what they do for the cut of the profits.

Investing in real estate in the Smokies is always a good idea but you need to do some research and make sure you know what you are getting into.  The upside of a rental property in the Smokies is that you always have a place to stay when you decide that you need a break from city life and need a vacation of your own.

Oak Ridge, TN

The Secret City

Oak Ridge is not only known as the Secret City but it is a secret that needs to be passed on to tourist visiting the Smoky Mountains.  From great museum based around its atomic history to cultural events, this town, right outside of Knoxville is a great day trip while you are in the Smokies.

Oak Ridge, TN

Though people (both natives and settlers) had been living in this area since the Woodland Period, it was in 1942 that Oak Ridge came to national notice – or lack of notice.  The Army Corps of Engineers began buying land in the Oak Ridge area and using “declarations of taking” to ‘persuade’ those people that didn’t want to sell their land.  Soon they had enough land to establish the National Laboratory in the southeast that was part of the Manhattan Project – the project that developed the atomic bomb.  The Secret City, as it has become to be known, was an entire city that was not on the map, thousands of people (around 75,000) were working and living in a town that was not on the map for national security reasons.

After the war, the National lab became more public and the city of Oak Ridge began to grow outside the boundaries of the lab facilities.  The lab shifted to be under civilian control and since that time, Oak Ridge has brought in other manufacturing companies and is a center for science and industry in the Smokies.  In fact, it is home to the Jaguar super computer.



Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge – Designed as an education and cultural experience, the children’s museum teaches through the eyes of a child and allows you to step back into your childhood learning about the history of the area, architecture, the wonders of a rain forest and much, much more.

Secret City Festival – Each year, Oak Ridge celebrates with future generations by teaching about its past.  The festival has music, crafts, arts and one of the few World War II demonstrations that you will ever find.  With tanks and a reenactment of a WWII battle, this is sure to stick in your memories for years.

American Museum of Science and Energy – A hands on museum of the first order!  With lots of educational opportunities and plenty of displays about the Y-12 plant and their advancements of nuclear science, this is a great afternoon adventure for the whole family.  Included in your trip is a replica of one of the laboratories used during the height of Oak Ridge’s days in the Manhattan Project and lots of science experiements.

New Hope Visitors Center at Y-12 – This visitor’s center is designed to allow people visiting Oak Ridge to learn more about the Y-12 plant – one of the original Manhattan Project facilities.  This facility was one of the plants that helped to enrich uranium for the development of the atomic bombs used during World War II.  The New Hope Visitors Center has videos on the past, present and future of Y-12 along with displays that show you how the ‘secret’ of the Secret City was kept.