Experience Smokies History With A Visit To The Walker Sisters

Posted by Darryl Payne in National Park

Walker Sisters Cabin
It's one thing to read about the history of the Great Smoky Mountains. It's another altogether to step into it and see firsthand the locations and sites that helped shape the character and personality of this little corner of East Tennessee.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers many ways that visitors can do just that, especially through the preservation of many of its historic structures. One such structure is the Walker Sisters Cabin, located in what is today called Five Sisters Cove, within the national park. The cabin is where five spinster daughters of 19th-century settler John Walker lived and maintained a homestead, even after their land was acquired to form the national park.

We'll tell you more about the Walkers below, but we first want to tell you that guests staying in our Gatlinburg cabin rentals can easily get to this section of the park by taking Line Springs Rd. in Wears Valley (a very short drive from most of our cabins) and following the road to an infrequently used park entrance. That road will take you to the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, where you can park and then set off on foot for the cabin.

School in the national park.
Your hike begins with a half-mile walk to the Little Greenbrier schoolhouse built by John Walker and his son. From there, follow the Little Brier Gap Trail another mile to the Walker homestead, built by John for his new family following his service in the Civil War. The main house, made of tulip-poplar logs and insulated with mud and rock, is where the family lived, growing orchards and raising chickens, sheep, goats, hogs and vegetables to live on.

The homestead also featured a barn, corncrib, smokehouse, pigpen and blacksmith shop. Many of those structures, including the corncrib and a springhouse, can still be toured today. It's a fascinating glimpse into the ways that pre-national-park settlers lived and worked just to maintain day-to-day existence.

There were 13 Walker children altogether, including seven daughters. Six of the girls remained unmarried and stayed on the farm after their father's death in 1921. After the death of sister Nancy, the remaining five fed and clothed themselves and maintained the farm for another 40-plus years.

When the national park was created, the sisters initially refused to sell their 122-acre homestead. After years of holding out, the federal government relented and agreed to pay the sisters $4,750 for their land but also allowed them to live the rest of their lives in their home through a lifetime lease. The sisters welcomed park visitors for many years, selling them handmade items and sharing their stories.

The last sister to continue living in the cabin passed away in 1964, while another sister, who had already moved away, died in 1966. Though the Walker sisters are gone, their legacy lives on through their homestead, the objects they created and lived with and the neighbors and visitors they interacted with well into the 1950s.

 

 

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