IN THE EARLY 1900s, more than 5,000 people lived on the land that would become the largest national park in the East—and the most visited in the country. They owned homes, gristmills, orchards, barns, country stores, hotels, and more. Schools and churches dotted the valleys. Timber companies owned hundreds of miles of railway, sprawling lumber mills, and “company towns” with barbershops, pool halls, and movie theaters.
These farms and communities are the focus of History Hikes of the Smokies
, which provides in-depth narratives of 20 historically significant trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The narratives reveal a wealth of new historical anecdotes as well as the historical importance of each route as they wind around ridges and traverse narrow valleys, passing remnants of farms and hamlets. Quotations, poetry, and tall tales bring long-gone mountain families to life.
Complementing the text are historic photographs that will startle anyone who has only known the once-again wild Smokies. Other features are profile charts of each trail, trail maps, and detailed directions to trailheads.
Great Smoky Mountains Association, 2003, paperback, 352 pages, black-and-white photographs, maps. ISBN 093720740-3
Winner: 2004 Map & Guide
Association of Partners for Public Lands Awards
Judges’ comments: “text friendly, awesome research, a prize, encourages exploration, attractive layout, terrific entry”
“Old photos help the book give a sense of what once was. But Strutin’s ability to weave what was with what is now is the best guide for history hikers.”
—Knoxville News Sentinel
“Every now and then a really good book about the human history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes along…. To that list we can now add History Hikes of the Smokies. It’s a must-purchase for anyone interested in the down-to-earth human history of the park.”
—Smoky Mountain News
A GOOD IMAGINATION IS A GREAT COMPANION on history hikes. Let your eyes learn to push back the forests so that you can imagine the sunny corn and potato fields enclosed by rock walls; the dog-trot cabin decorated with daffodils and rose bushes; mills full of cornmeal, flour, and energy; lumberyards full of stacked boards; CCC camps with barracks, neat pathways, and parade grounds where young men marched and played baseball.
From Old Settlers Trail:
THE TRAIL NOW WEAVES alongside Little Bird Branch, which was home to so many members of the Parton family that it was called Parton-town, much as Big Greenbrier Cove was called the Whaley Settlement. The most famous member of the Parton family is, of course, Dolly Parton. A singer, businesswoman, and film star, Dolly Parton is as much an institution as the national park.
In 1979, Beverly Parton Bowen told something of Parton family history in the Mountain Historical Society Newsletter. “The family had a saying,” she wrote, “‘mean as old Moses.’” Moses R. Parton, that is. He purchased land in the Smokies in 1866, 150 acres in Sugarlands, probably the first area in which the Partons lived.
By the time Bowen’s great-grandfather William H. Parton died, at 47, the family had moved to Parton Hollow. Parton’s oldest son, Joseph, helped his mother raise the other seven children. But Joseph was a wild one, with a bootleg business. He stayed out of jail only because he delivered his goods to the judge and sheriff.
Bowen’s grandfather, another of William Parton’s sons, was one of those who left the Smokies in the late 1890s, he to Kansas. His brother George went, too, but returned soon after. George said of the notorious midwestern winds, “Any place you can throw your hat up against the barn wall and it stays all day, ain’t the place for me.”
Sarah Parton, age 74, in 1936.
Former clearings appear to the right and left, and a crumbling two-foot high section of wall parallels the right side of the trail. Ahead are more old homesites, spicebushes (a favorite planting), and a higher, finer wall on the left.
Little Bird Branch flows along on the right as the trail continues to descend. A walnut tree stands at the beginning of a low wall about 75 feet long. Walnut trees were often planted next to homes, to provide both nuts and shade in the days when all the lower slopes and bottomlands were cleared for vegetable gardens, cornfields, and orchards.
Past the wall, on the right, a path leads to Parton Cemetery, where Chris Parton’s house once stood. Chris and Margaret Evans Parton married in 1853 and raised ten children here. They were Dolly Parton’s great-great-grandparents. They were Lona Parton Tyson’s grandparents. In her memoirs, Reflections of the Pinnacle
, Lona Parton Tyson remembers her grandmother carrying sweet chestnuts in her apron pocket, gathered from the large chestnut tree on the hill above the house. Tyson wrote that her grandfather’s forehead was scarred by a bullet that hit him while fighting in the Civil War. Although many men left the Smokies to join one side or the other, the Civil War also came to the Smokies as small numbers of troops crossed the mountains, and deserters and raiders from both sides sought refuge in them.
Lona’s mother was Tennessee (“Tennie”) Russell Parton, named for the state. Her father, Albert Huston Parton, trapped mink and muskrat for the money the furs brought. The family hunted and fished, but most of what they had they made themselves: pickled beans, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, barrels of sauerkraut, cabbages holed up for the winter. Her father had a little gristmill so they could grind their corn.
Dinner might be a kettle of beans and fresh potatoes, green onions, radishes, and apple pie. They would rest for a half-hour, then go back up the hollow to hoe corn or cut tops and pull fodder to feed the cows and horse.
She remembered her mother as fair and honest, someone who made quilts and meals for those less fortunate than they. She could spin, weave, knit, sew, and quilt. Her mother knew herbs and raised ducks so they could pick feathers for feather beds. She made vinegar, soap, dye, sour dough, whatever life required.
Lona Parton Tyson’s parents raised nine children. Their oldest son was Dolly Parton’s grandfather. Church was a touchstone of their lives, and this is where Dolly began singing. “We are proud of her and her talent,” Lona said. “God has blessed most of the Parton family with talent. Some preach and some pick and sing for the glory of God, and some pick and sing in other places, but we are proud of them all.”