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Soakin’ in the mountains: a Sunday afternoon trek to Cades Cove in the 1950s

Bob Cox • Nov 10, 2019 at 12:00 PM

When I was a youngster in the 1950s, my family frequently took Sunday afternoon trips to Cades Cove. We came home from Central Baptist Church, ate dinner at home and then jumped in our cute little black Ford for the ever-pleasant drive to the mountains.

Things were a bit different then because Pigeon Forge was mostly a dirt road with rural houses and barns. Since the interstate highway was not yet paved, we took the road through Newport and came into Gatlinburg at about where Polly Burgen owned a clothing store for several years.

We continued our trip through Gatlinburg and onto the road going to Cades Cove. The drive was sparsely traveled then. Unlike the cars traveling through the 11-mile road, cars were more of an exception than the rule.

Dad would on occasion stop the car when the cars ahead of him pulled off the side of the road for us to observe bears or other animals. We were warned to stay in our cars so as not to disturb them. In latter years, the traffic seemed to bring about fewer bears.

Before the cove became so populated with traffic and pedestrians, we would see folks sitting on porches “soakin' in the mountains.” That meant they were enjoying the hazy blue splendor above the grassy meadows.

For more than a century, these same mountains protected the culture of this hidden valley from change, something to always be on guard against. Everything was so perfect then, indeed it was a dreamland.

However, the mountains were not high enough for barriers to keep out long distance communication. With automobile and highway travel, the effects of two world wars and of America's increasing industrialization, meant the creation of a huge national park.

The quiet cove settlement that had existed there for several generations finally yielded to change, albeit with care.

Some people clung to their home-places as long as possible, even as permits went into affect when the cove was taken over by the National Park Service.

Then, in the 1940s, the National Park Service recognized that the human history of these mountains was as worthy of preservation as the natural history.

It was determined that Cades Cove should be maintained as open fields and that, insofar as possible, its farmsteads should be restored to depict life in the Cove from 1825 to 1900.

For the Tiptons, Olivers, Myers, Foutes, Cables and many others who worked there, it was time for them to “soak in” these mountains.

Through these efforts, Cades Cove life remains for us today to enjoy in spite of the fact that it can only be a representation of Cades Cove life.

I have such pleasant memories of my family's travel to the Smoky Mountains. All of my family are now deceased, but the memories are still alive with me. Thank you for allowing me to write about my journey back to simpler times.

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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