Townsend Spring Festival & Old Timer’s Day

If you looking for a time or reason to come to Townsend, TN, every spring the town holds its annual Townsend Spring Festival and Old Timer’s Day. And if you’re looking for a literal melting pot of bluegrass, clogging, arts, crafts, BBQ, storytelling, and woodcarving, then you’ve come to the right place. All come together in a cornucopia of events and festivities at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Whether it’s a wildflower walk on Chestnut Top Trail, a book signing, or gardening tips and plant sales by the Trillium Cove Home and Garden, Townsend’s Old Timer’s day has something for everyone.

A typical festival day looks a little something like this:

10:00am: Hedgewood Gardens Tour

11:00am: Clogging Demonstration and Instruction

1:30-3:30pm: Wildflower Walk on Chestnut Top Trail

2:00pm: Hedgewood Gardens Tour

6:30pm: Knoxville Pipes and Drums Concert and Parade: Highland music in celebration of Scottish heritage.

7:30pm Concert: Special entertainment by “Six Mile Express” at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

On top of those typical, every day festival goings-on, visitors can hear bluegrass music on the festival stage till way past sun down. Guests can even bring their own instruments to the pickin’ porch. Arts and crafts are being made and sold throughout the day and BBQ pork and chicken, ice cream, deli sandwiches, hot dogs, kettle corn, and other good food are always being prepared…. Just be sure to stick around for the cake raffle and bake sale if you know what’s good for you.

A few of the Townsend Days artisans that have given demonstrations in years past include:
– Karen Kenst and Bonny Kate Sugg – basketry
– Lendel Abbott – woodcarving
– Maetta Conrad and Marcella Emrick – quilting
– Carol McBride – rug hooking
– Dale Liles – spinning on the great wheel

Stop by and make your own memories with an old fashioned portrait photo on the grounds near the annual family art fair. Art activities are led each year by the Townsend Artisan Guild.

One of the more unique aspects of the festival might just be the early-Appalachian demonstrations given around the Townsend Days grounds. Things like mountain berry basket making, bee keeping, cornmeal making, and oak shingle-making are just some of the well-attended demonstrations in years past. The festival’s oh-so-popular moonshine still and history of moonshine in the Great Smoky Mountains with Bill Leistner always draws a crowd. A festival favorite, Leistner actually demonstrates how to drink from a moonshine jug.

For those who just love bluegrass, there wouldn’t be a Heritage Festival & Old Timer’s Day without a heaping helping of local bluegrass. From clogging to cake raffles, to actual bluegrass performances by the likes of Deep River, Notchey Creek, Appalachian Bluegrass, Mike Clemmer, and Steve Jordan, the festival stage is always brimming with bluegrass tunes. Banjos, dobro guitars, harmonicas, and whatever else those early Appalachians strung together to make mountain music are strummed and played throughout the day. If anything, just come listen to some great Appalachian bluegrass.

One other highlight of the weekend is the Young Pickers Talent Contest held at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. This is open to all striving, young bluegrass musicians who are interested in performing before a crowd. Bring your own tune, or sing one of the classics. Either way you can’t go wrong and everyone here loves those young performers.

The Townsend Heritage & Old Timer’s Days festival occurs every spring and fall at the Townsend Visitors Center. It’s a celebration of the traditional bluegrass and mountain music, crafts, and heritage of Townsend, East Tennessee, and the Great Smoky Mountains.

History of Sevierville

To fully understand the history of Sevierville and its beginnings, you must go back to time when the Native American Indians roamed the Great Smoky Mountains, more specifically those of the Cherokee Nation.

What our history books tell us is that during the 1700s, the Cherokee Indian tribe was the only Native American group that called Tennessee their permanent home. Not only had the Cherokee claimed the eastern, as well as central portions of the state to use as hunting grounds, they had also come to refer to themselves in their native language as the “Principal People.” Some argue that these Cherokee were a detached Iroquoian tribe that settled the region located at the doorsteps of the Smoky Mountains. This tribe included Native Americans who John Sevier fought in order to protect European settlers in and around Sevierville.

Sevierville is named after John Sevier, one of the most famous figures in the history of the state of Tennessee. Known as a frontiersman, soldier, war hero and politician who served under George Washington in the American Revolution, Sevier became renowned for his role in the battle of King’s Mountain.

Sevier was elected as the first governor of the State of Franklin in 1785 – a new state that was established on the land around Watauga, in Johnson City, Tn. The State of Franklin was eventually annexed to North Carolina and Sevier was accused of treason for going against the annexation of Franklin.

Eventually, Sevier recovered and ascended to a higher office, that of the governor of Tennessee. Sevier was Tennessee’s first governor, serving from 1796 until 1801 when the State of Tennessee was formed, and again from 1803 to 1809. Sevier even served as a Tennessee state senator from 1809 until 1811 and followed that up as a member of the US House of Representatives in 1811. You could say that Sevier was “loosely” involved in politics for a good portion of his life.

Sevier, Nicknamed “Nolichucky Jack” for his Nolichucky River exploits, died in Georgia during a boundary negotiation with Creek Indians in 1815.

To many, Sevierville is known as the original birthplace of country music. These southern mountaineer songs are considered by a growing group to be the only true folk music ever produced by the European immigrants to America. Most go back as far as the British ballads of the 1700s.

English Musicologist, Cecil Sharp, said in Smoky Mountain Country by North Callahan that he was tremendously taken with the people who settled the Appalachian Mountains, their strong character, their individuality, the isolation and its effects upon them and their music. The mountain people were sheltered by rugged mountains from the rest of the world and by this very condition, he concluded, they had retained in all its purity the most lyrical folk music in the world.

Today, music inspired by the Smoky Mountains and the Sevierville countryside is recognized around the world. One of the most prolific and well known musicians of this genre hails from Sevierville – country music artist and philanthropist Dolly Parton. One of 12 children born in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, Dolly has remained faithful to her mountain roots, even as her international fame continued to grow. After opening her Dollywood theme park, which helps preserve mountain music and crafts while creating jobs for area residents, she also began the Dollywood Foundation, which funds many charities in the Sevier County region and Tennessee including the Books from Birth program.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Above Gatlinburg is yet another entrance into part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the auto known as Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  This auto tour takes you through the Roaring Fork area of the GSMNP and gives you access to hiking, a several tremendous views of the Smokies and Gatlinburg itself.

Roaring Fork is named for the stream that courses through the area.  Roaring Fork starts near Mt LeConte and runs downstream at a very fast pace, creating waterfalls and cascades as it reaches the lower elevations in Gatlinburg.  The auto tour takes you through this historic area of the National Park and runs along side Roaring Fork almost the whole way.  One of the most interesting features of Roaring Fork is known as the Place of a Thousand Drips which you pass right before you exit the auto tour and head back into Gatlinburg.

The people that lived in the Roaring Fork area were the first residents of White Oak Flats – the area that became Gatlinburg.  The Reagans and the Bales established this rugged mountain community.  They lived off the land and unlike the other auto tours of valley areas lie Cades Cove and Cataloochee, Roaring Fork is a sharp contrast.  They built saw mills, they trapped and hunted for food.  Their lives were very different from those that lived in the valleys.  Nevertheless, getting to drive through this area and see the homes that the park service keeps up and the scenery that these settlers lived in is remarkable.

Along with the cabins and waterfalls that you will see along the auto tour there are also several trailheads:

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center

Want to learn more about life in the Smoky Mountains before the turn of the 20th century?  Then you need to pay a visit to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center (GSMHC).

This museum and living history location teaches visitors about the people that settled the area and made their homes in the Smokies during the 1800s.  The GSMHC has three separate exhibits:  Native Americans of East Tennessee Museum, Pioneer and Mountain Culture & Tennessee on the Move.

Native Americans of East Tennessee

Before the first European settlers came to the area, native people like the Cherokee dwelled in the mists of the Smoky Mountains.  These people had more then just a hunting and gathering culture.  They had a society that had trade and infrastructure, they had political meetings and communities that stretched from the valleys to the hillsides.  This museum celebrates those people and their way of life before they were moved on by the European settlers that found this area to be so similar to the homes they left in Europe.

Pioneer & Mountain Culture

As the pioneer moved into the Southern Appalachians, they founded farms and homesteads.  They developed small communities that traded with each other and helped each other make it through the good times and the bad.  This part of the museum picks up the story of these mountains after the Native Americans had moved out of the mountains and the settlers and pioneers had made this land their own.  From the type of farming they did to the commerce they practiced.  Included in this part of the GSMHC is a living history farming display.  During the warmer months of the year and the harvest you can go see how these people lived, farmed and harvested their crops.  Included in the living history section are:

  • The Caldwell Log Cabin
  • Granary
  • The Montvale Station
  • Sawmill
  • Set-Off House from the Little River Lumber Company
  • Smokehouse
  • Two Cantilever Barns
  • Underground Still / Shed
  • Wheelwright Shop
  • Wilder Chapel

Tennessee on the Move

This is a collection of various forms of transportation that have gotten Tennesseans on the move since the 1800s.  Included in this exhibit is a freight wagon, a postal wagon, farming vehicles and turn of the century road construction equipment.

Spend a day in Townsend next time you visit the Smokies.  Learn more about the people that inhabited this region before the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Get your kids into history by letting them experience it first hand.  And be sure to check with the GSMHC before you arrive and see what special events they have going on.  You might find that this becomes a place you visit on every visit to the area.

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center
3/4 miles east of the traffic light
at the intersection of Hwy 321 and Hwy 73
Townsend, TN

International Friendship Bell

During World War II Oak Ridge, TN was known as the Secret City.  It was and still is the host city for a government lab that is dedicated to researching all things atomic.  During the war, this research was designed to create the nuclear bombs that helped to end the war.  The bombs that they helped create were dropped on two Japanese cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In the early 90s, in celebration to the 50th anniversary of the founding of Oak Ridge and its part in the Manhattan Project.

Why the International Friendship Bell:

  • The bell was designed to fit into the theme of the City’s Celebration – Born of war, living for peace, growing through science.
  • The bell incorporates dates that reflect the workers in Oak Ridge with the Manhattan Project.  The role they played in helping to end WWII and the Cold War.
  • The bell, due to its traditional Japanese design is designed in a hope to focus on the peace between nations and promote understanding between the nation of Japan and the United States.

After a community wide exploration of what to do to celebrate the 50 year anniversary, it was decided to tie in the destruction to the two cities in Japan to the monument and the International Friendship Bell was commissioned.  The bell itself is a traditional Japanese bell.  It measures almost 5 feet wide at the base and is over 6 feet tall.  This impressive item is housed in a Japanese style enclosure and is made of bronze.  The outside of the bell is decorated with Japanese characters and is a work of art.  The two main panels on the bell were designed by Oak Ridge citizen Suzanna Harris.  The panels are covered in the natural characteristics of both Tennessee and Oak Ridge.  The official flowers, birds, and trees of each of these locations are etched into the bronze itself.  The basic goal is to extend that hand of peace to the people over the years that will see the bell and remind them of the past and to look to the future.

Next time you are in Oak Ridge, look for Bissell Park.  The bell itself is hard to miss.  It is a very large structure and a focal point in the park.  Stroll around the park and spend sometime with the International Friendship Bell.  Run your hands over the bronze figures and reliefs.  Grab the ringer and give it a go and listen to the tone that the bell makes.  Take your children and let them learn some history.  Let them learn about Oak Ridge and its connection to World War II and the world.

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.

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.