This Smoky Mountains valley was named by early settlers for the large number of Sugar Maple trees growing in the valley. As can be seen in the historical photo above, this was a vast area of fairly level ground. Settlers arrived in the area around 1800 … the Reagans, Ogles and Trenthams who formed the foundation of the homesteading community. The photo below shows how the forest has reclaimed virtually all of the former farming landscape.
This wonderful section of the Smokies can be explored today via several trails. The Old Sugarlands Trail starts from Newfound Gap Rd 200 yards before the Visitor Center. The trail follows the course of the old TN Route 71 through the farming bottomlands, past stone walls and homestead foundations. Eventually the trail turns away from the Left Prong of the Little Pigeon River and heads over to meet up with Cherokee Orchard Rd near the Rainbow Falls trailhead. This is a good hike to do with two cars, leaving one at either end of the trail.
If you are traveling in the Smokies, please consider a visit to the William Britten Gallery along the historic Arts and Crafts Trail on Glades Rd. in Gatlinburg. You’ll find my complete display of Smoky Mountains photos, along with mugs, magnets and notecards.
Rainbow Falls has been a popular Smokies hiking destination since long before the formation of the National Park. LeConte Creek plunges near 80 feet over a massive cliff face that Harvey Broome called an “ethereal diorama,” creating the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies. The photos on this page were taken by Knoxville photographer Jim Thompson at various times in the 1920s and 1930s.
The trailhead to the waterfall is located on Cherokee Orchard Road, at the start of the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, just outside Gatlinburg. For most of the 2.6 mile route to Rainbow Falls, you will have LeConte Creek as your companion. It’s a steady climb as you begin the ascent of Mt. LeConte. If you follow the trail all the way to the LeConte summit, you will have gained almost 4000 feet in elevation over a 6.7 mile hike.
During the time of homesteaders, before the advent of the National Park, LeConte Creek was known as Mill Creek … so named because of nearly a dozen grist mills that supported the surrounding farming community.
Thompson’s notes on the winter scene above: “A Wintery phenomenon at Rainbow Falls, a stalactite 24 feet long and a stalagmite 36 feet high formed on Le Conte Creek during below zero weather. A misty stream is all that is left unfrozen to fall through the cylinder opening of the formation.”
If you’re vacationing in the Smokies, please consider a visit to the William Britten Gallery, located along the historic Arts and Crafts Trail on Glades Rd. in Gatlinburg. You’ll find my complete display of Smoky Mtns photos, plus magnets, notecards and mugs.
These pictures were taken by Dutch Roth. The text from his journal below describes the fascinating history in the early days of Smoky Mountains tourism, when Gatlinburg was barely a destination on the edge of the mountains.
“So many of our hikes used to begin and end at Gatlinburg. Back in 1929 the only thing there was here, was a few buildings and a dusty road, that forded Bearskin Creek that ran through the middle of town. The old Mountain View Hotel had a wooden picket fence around it and down in front of it at the junction of the Parkway and Roaring Forks Road, was an old general store. Here you could get most anything that you wanted. It was made out of wood and had a front porch across the front of it. We used to leave our cars at the Hotel and hike from there to whereever we wanted to. Then when we would return from our trip, hot and tired or in the winter, cold and hungry, we would find a hot supper waiting for us there at the hotel. Most of the time we would have country ham and hot biscuits and honey.”
“I took a picture of Gatlinburg at this time showing the old dusty road and the creek and an old house. The only hotels were the Mountain View and the Riverside on the river. Gatlinburg has changed since those days. Now it is a good size city and is incorporated now. It only takes about an hour or so to get to Gatlinburg now from Knoxville, where it use to take all day long. On December 8, 1934, we had our annual Hiking Club banquet at the Mountain View Hotel at Gatlinburg. After a nice meal we had the elections of officers, then we square danced till midnight. Then we gathered around a log fire in the lobby of the Hotel and saw some movies and sang till 2 in the morning. After which we started on a mystery hike. We got back to the hotel about 4 A.M.”
Last week we paid a visit to Plemmons Cemetery in the False Gap area of the Greenbrier in the Smoky Mountains. This week we are exploring further up the creek to the Bohannon homestead. The patriarch, Henry Bohannon, was born in Virginia in 1753 and was buried in the Greenbrier in 1842.
Family history says Henry Bohannon served in the American Revolution from the state of Virginia. A record in Virginia State Library’s ‘List of Revolutionary Soldiers of Virginia’ showed Henry Bohannon served as a private in the 1st Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line, Light Dragoon, commanded by Captain Robert Boling for a three year enlistment, 6 July 1778 to Jun 1781.
Henry married Amillia Shotwell, and they had eight children born from circa 1786 to 1800. Unfortunately, Amillia died in 1813, while Henry lived to be 89. The grave markers of both Henry and Amillia are shown in the photos below. Note that there is not agreement on the spelling of the family name. The Bohannons first settled in White Oak Flats (now Gatlinburg), but later Henry obtained about 50 acres in the Greenbrier.
To get to the Bohannon homestead, keep on walking up the creek past the cemetery. Eventually after another mile or so, you will come to some very well-preserved rock walls, and some not-so-well-preserved chimneys. Perhaps you might sit by the rock wall and imagine life here in the early 1800s. We are way back in the mountains, miles from the tiny wilderness outpost known then as White Oak Flats, with nothing to the south but the impenetrable wilderness of the Smoky Mountains (much the same as it is today!) Rather than take the roads as we do today, you would probably just hike over Grapeyard Ridge to visit another large homestead community along the Roaring Fork.
As always please stop in and say hello at the William Britten Gallery along the Historic Arts and Crafts Loop on Glades Rd. in Gatlinburg. My complete selection of photos of the Smoky Mountains, mugs, notecards and magnets is on display most days throughout the year.
We began our exploration of the False Gap area in the Greenbrier last week. To refresh our memory, this is the area just over the first two bridges as you turn to head up to Ramsey Cascades Trail. Park near the old road with a chain across it to your right. Today we will be taking the short half-mile walk up to Plemmons Cemetery.
The largest cemetery in the Greenbrier area of the Smoky Mountains, and one of the largest in the National Park, is the old Greenbrier Cemetery. After the formation of the Park, it became known as Plemmons Cemetery, named for David Plemmons, the preacher who lived in a home just up False Gap creek.
I spent an hour or so here walking respectfully among the graves, many of which are extremely old. The names here are mostly Whaley and Bohannon … two homesteading families with long histories that we’ll explore in some later blog posts. Some of the grave markers are little more than names and dates scratched onto rocks, such as in the photo at the bottom of the page. Others have been replaced with more modern granite markers.
The grave marker below is that of William Whaley, born in 1788 in North Carolina. William went off to war as a fifer in the War of 1812, and returned to live in the Smoky Mountains for another 62 years! His brother Middleton settled further down the Little Pigeon River near Emerts Cove, which today is just outside the National Park boundary. 100’s of the Whaley ancestors lived in the Greenbrier for more than a century.
When you are ready for a break from your wanderings, please consider a stop at the William Britten Gallery on the Historic Arts and Crafts Loop on Glades Rd. in Gatlinburg, TN. My complete display of Smoky Mountains photos might tempt you with a special memory to take home.
I’d like to do some off-the-beaten-path exploring in search of the history of the Greenbrier this spring. One of the best areas to start is up False Gap because you’re hemmed in with the creek on one side and mountains on the other, giving you a nice valley to explore with not much chance of getting lost. The entrance to this area is just over the first two bridges as you turn to head up to Ramsey Cascades Trail. Note the old road with a gate across it to your right. Park and walk up the old road. You’ll soon pass the foundation stones of the old school. Eventually you’ll pass the old Greenbrier Cemetery, now called Plemmons. Keep on going after the old road becomes a trail and you’ll find some fine rock walls and fallen chimneys. The wall in the photo above is a good example of the remains of old homesteads. And the photo below shows the remains of the school. You can see a close-up of this area on the historic topo map in the area in the center of the map section around the word “Gate.”
Quoting from Dutch Roth’s journal, Tales from the Woods, he speaks of the Greenbrier area that was a bustling community of over 300 people with a school, hotel, store, and many homesteads:
GREENBRIER IN THE EARLY DAYS
“As we walked through the woods in the foothills of the mountains, we came across many old stone walls, ruins of old cabins, and flowers that had been planted years ago. This is the Greenbrier section. It is about 12 miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to the south of Tenn Highway 73. all of it is now in the national park.
“We often stop here to take pictures and daydream by some of these old places. We could picture a little old lady, a widow, bringing her six children and coming across the Mountain from South Carolina in 1795 to settle here. What it must have been like in those days! The first white man built here in 1802. The hardships that they must have faced. We could even go back to the Civil War, when Col. Thomas had a company of Confederate soldiers in Gatlinburg. They would sneak over into Greenbrier and rob the bee hives for the honey. They would kill horses and flee up into the Sugarlands through Dry Sluice Gap and Alum Cave. Most of these were Indians. They would tan hides and make explosives.
“About a mile and a half beyond the end of the fire road on the trail to Mt. LeConte,is the remains of an old cabin, spring house and spring. This spring is called the Fittified Spring. It will be running full for about twenty minutes, then, suddenly it will stop and be almost dry for about the same length of time. The oldtimers said this was caused by an earthquake in 1924. This spring had been doing this ever since. The quake must have shaken some rocks loose underground to cause it to do this. In the last few years the roof of the old cabin here, has fallen in and trees and weeds has grown up around it. A large rattlesnake was killed here in front of the cabin in 1946. After a drink from the spring, we continued on down the trail, on the left nor very far down the trail is an old barn. Back of this barn is the remains of an old mill. Farther on down the trail on the right is the chimney of what is left of an old cabin.
“At the forks of the river, was a store, a Grist Mill and the old Schooich Lumber Co. The logs cause trouble here, because everyone wanted a profit. On the right across the river, on the road that goes up to the trails to Ramsey Falls and Greenbrier Pinnacle, was a school. In about two years it burned down. A cabin was built here and later an upstairs was added and a porch all the way around the first and second floors and it was turned into a hotel. They called it Greenbrier Hotel. There were twenty rooms in it. It has only been torn down in the last twenty years.”
When we’re done exploring and daydreaming of the old days, please stop in at the William Britten Gallery on Glades Rd in Gatlinburg. My complete display of Smoky Mountains scenes might tempt you with a special memory to take home. Or just stop by to say hello.
The images on this page are from a 1949 US Geological Survey Map of the Smoky Mountains, which was based on the 1931 map created at the time the National Park came into existence. A copy of this historical topo map can be downloaded from http://williambritten.com/GSM/ If you right-mouse-click on the file named GSMNP_topo.jpg you can save the file to your computer.
This is a very large (66MB) file! One way that I use it is to open it full size and then crop it in the area that you wish to take a hike. Then print out just that area. The map shows some old road placements, such as in the Greenbrier area above, as well as some now-undocumented areas of the Smokies.
You can also download the original 1931 topo maps of the Smoky Mountains at the same address above, labeled 1931east.jpg and 1931west.jpg. The 1931 maps show home sites, which makes them useful for exploring old rock walls, chimneys, and other remains of old homesteads.
Click on either of the images on this page to see a full-size version.
As always, please consider a stop at the William Britten Gallery along the historic Arts and Crafts Loop along Glades Rd in Gatlinburg, TN. My complete display of Smoky Mountains photos might include just the Smokies memory for you to take home.
Another Smoky Mountains history entry from the journal of Dutch Roth, recounting a long Smoky Mountains hike taken in 1931 by Dutch and his friends Harvey Broome and Luther Greene on Hughes Ridge, which is known as Pecks Corner nowdays.
HUGHES RIDGE FROM GREENBRIER
“This experience was not unusual in 1931. We were willing to pay the price of two days of strenuous hiking in seeking new places. We met at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, July 25, on West Church Avenue. We had our heavy packs filled with food for five meals and camping equipment for a night in the open.
“We drove into Greenbrier and started hiking. This hike would not have been so hard, or so long, if we had had a road between Newfound Gap and Smokemont or into Greenbrier. We spent one day hiking the eleven-mile range, a range surpassed in size only by the Balsam Mountains, longest lead adjoining the state-line divide. When we got ready to make camp for the night, we found that for our comfort and convenience, someone had camped here before us and had left a lean-to of logs. There were also plenty of logs to build a fire. We built a fire beside the lean-to and got supper. Afterward we sat around the camp fire a while before turning in. The next day we made the return trip to the cars. We went through heavy woods with many large oak and chestnut trees and little undergrowth. The beauty of the woods and the good time we had made up for the tiresome trail.
“A few years ago a log shelter was built at Hughes Ridge (also known as Pecks Corner.) Later a careless camper let his fire get out of control, and it burned the shelter down.”
Charlie’s Bunion is a curious geological feature along the Appalachian Trail 4 miles east of Newfound Gap. The boulder-like protrusion sits on the northern slope of the Sawteeth cliffs. From this awe-inspiring spot you can look northwest to the summit of Mt. LeConte or northeast down into the Porters Creek watershed.
The area around Charlie’s Bunion was heavily forested until the massive logging operations of the early 20th century (see the photo of Harvey Broome scanning the desolate view from Charlie’s Bunion after logging). After logging damaged the ecology of the area, a fire in 1925 and a huge thunderstorm in 1929 scraped all remaining soil from the underlying rock. A group including Horace Kephart and Charlie Conner, a mountain guide from Oconaluftee, climbed the mountain to inspect what the flood from the thunderstorm had done. Smoky Mountains lore has it that Kephart wise-cracked that the protrusion looked like the bunion on Charlie Conner’s foot. The name stuck and soon thereafter the US Geological Survey added the name to their maps.
The photo above was taken by Knoxville photographer-businessman Jim Thompson some time in the 1930s, while the photo below was taken by Dutch Roth in 1935.
This edition of Smoky Mountains history shows the outdoor kitchen on Mt. LeConte circa 1925. This kitchen was near the original LeConte Lodge built by Jack Huff. Photos and descriptions of that early lodge can be found in the blog post titled The House That Jack Built.
The photo above was taken by Knoxville photographer and businessman, Jim Thompson. This photo is so full of interesting detail that I broke it into the three larger views shown below. I think it’s a fascinating look at camping in the mid-1920s at what would have been an extremely remote outpost at the time.
Above, the men gather around the breakfast table to discuss plans for the day. You can see someone sleeping on a table in the upper right.
Below, the women gather around the camp stove. Love those 1920s hair-styles!
Finally, the photo below shows the tent, the supply of firewood, and another camper greeting the day. Note the high-top hiking boots worn by all. I bet they’d take forever to get on and off.
The photo above was taken by Knoxville, TN photographer Jim Thompson. It shows the parking area at Clingmans Dome sometime around 1940.
At an elevation of 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest of the Smoky Mountains and the highest point in the state of Tennessee. It is also the highest point along the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail. East of the Mississippi River, only Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is higher, and only by 39 feet. Clingmans Dome has two subpeaks: 6,560-foot Mt. Buckley to the west and 6,400-foot Mt. Love to the east.
The Cherokee called this mountain Kuwahi, and later settlers called it Smoky Dome. In 1859 surveyor Arnold Guyot renamed the mountain for his compatriot Thomas Lanier Clingman, a Civil War general who explored the area in the 1850s.
What is it that’s “new-found” about Newfound Gap? Well, for most of history Indian Gap Road served as the route over the Smokies. It was long understood that Indian Gap was the lowest pass over the mountains, but in 1872 surveyor Arnold Guyot determined that there was an lower gap a mile and a half to the east. This “new-found” gap at elevation 5048 feet is forever known as Newfound Gap. Finally in 1932 a new road was completed over the Smoky Mountains from North Carolina to Tennessee, passing through the new route.
Both photos on this page were taken by Jim Thompson. Above shows the Newfound Gap parking area sometime around 1940, and the photo below shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Sept. 2, 1940.
During the greater span of history in the Smoky Mountains, Indian Gap has been the main route across the mountains. Long a Cherokee trail, Indian Gap Road actually charged a toll in the 1830s. In exchange for the payment, farmers and merchants and travelling families were allowed to endure the rocky and rutted, steep and impossibly arduous journey. During the Civil War William Thomas and a party of 600 Cherokees converted the old trace over Indian Gap into a road that served the armies of both sides.
The photo above, taken by Dutch Roth in 1928, shows the soft swag of the gap as it was before the current Clingman’s Dome Road was built. The photo below, also by Roth, shows that road construction in progress.
Indian Gap today is a parking area for the Road Prong Trail, which descends on the trace of the old Indian Gap Road. The Appalachian Trail also crosses here, on the path between Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome.
The photo above was taken by Dutch Roth on a trip with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. The group is shown in front of the John Oliver Lodge in Cades Cove. Oliver was one of the last residents of Cades Cove to give up his land to the new National Park, fighting all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Oliver finally quit his property on Christmas Day in 1937.
The photos below are also from Dutch Roth, taken years later on another trip to Abrams Falls.
From his journal, Tales from the Woods, Roth remembers another trip to John Oliver’s Lodge and Abrams Falls:
A NIGHT ON STRAW
We went to Cades Cove June 1,1929, and spent the night at the John Oliver Lodge and hiked to Abrams Falls the next day. We had a good time and had good food there at the lodge and slept on straw mattresses.
The falls are only three miles from John Oliver’s Lodge, so this is one of our short hikes. Although this trip can be made in a day, it is more fun to spend two days in the cove and enjoy its beauty.
We left Knoxville at 3 P.M. Saturday June 1, and drove via Maryville, Kinzel Springs, and on a winding road into Cades Cove and to John Oliver’s new Lodge. We arrived in time to see the sun getting low enough to cause the mountains to turn from green to blue, to purple. This is beautiful, looking across the cove. We came with enough food for three meals and did our own cooking, since Oliver’s Lodge is equipped with two cook stoves and cooking utensils. First one comes gets the use of the straw mattress bunks which are on each side of the rooms. There were two small rooms with several bunks and a large room with chairs, table, cook stoves, and the rest of the bunks.
I always got there early so that I could pick out the bunk that I wanted. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I tried them all out to see which one has the softest straw. Then,too, I like to get supper over early and my things put away, so that I can go out and sit on the front steps and let someone else use the stove and table. In the evening, we sat around in the big room of the lodge and sang. One by one you could see sleepy heads going off to their bunks or out to their tents or sleeping bags for those who wanted to camp out.
You can really sleep, it is so peaceful and quiet, with the only sound being the wind whistling in the pines and now and then a cowbell from a nearby field. The next day we all got up early and fried our bacon and eggs or whatever we brought for breakfast and packed our lunch and were ready to start hiking about 8:30 a.m.
The lodge was set in a pine thicket, and early in the morning with the sun rising through the mist and forming a silhouette of the pines and the birds singing it was really beautiful.
This was just a fun assignment. I had the photo above, taken by Jim Thompson sometime in the 1920s or 1930s along Little River Road in the Smoky Mountains, between Townsend and Metcalf Bottoms. So I set out one day last week to see if I could find the exact location, and see what it looks like today, if it had changed much.
Below is what I found. The rock overhang looks the same after 80 or 90 years. Still has those cracks up high. It looks like there might be some fill along the river to widen the road. But really just about the same.
In the late 1920s Gatlinburg entrepreneur Jack Huff built a 20 by 24 foot cabin out of balsam logs that was the forerunner of today’s LeConte Lodge. The roof was tarpaper, with a floor of native clay. For more than 35 years Jack and his wife Pauline operated Mt. LeConte Lodge. Jack was the son of Andrew Jackson (Andy) Huff, who kicked off Gatlinburg tourism when he built the Mountain View Hotel in 1916.
The photos above and below were taken by Knoxville photographer, Jim Thompson. Thompson can be seen standing at the rear of the cabin in the photo below. Also in both of these photos is another early Smoky Mountain photographer, Dutch Roth. In the picture above, Dutch is the one sitting on the stump, holding his tripod. Below, he’s in a lower bunk, third from the right. Click on any of these photos to see a larger version.
In the days before barbed wire, the traditional fencing material in the Smoky Mountains was rails split from a rot-resistant hardwood such as chestnut or yellow locust. The fence above at John Olivers place in Cades Cove is known as a snake, worm, or zig-zag. Sometimes the rails were just stacked up in zig-zag fashion, and sometimes there was a corner post added for stability, as in the picture below from the Mountain Farm Museum.
Another common variation of the split rail fence is post and rail fence, which was built in a way that allowed a straight line.
The Smoky Mountains pioneers also created stone fences, similar to the ones that are so common in New England. It is likely that stone fences were made when clearing areas that were very rocky, such as along the Roaring Fork pictured below.
Eventually, in the later 1800s, barbed wire became available, although it had to be bought rather than simply using native materials. The fence below is in Cades Cove.
The William Britten Gallery on Glades Rd in Gatlinburg features full display of Smoky Mountain photos. Please stop and visit during your next trip to the Smokies!
The incredible photo above was taken by Dutch Roth during a hike to Rainbow Falls on February 16th, 1958. The photo below, also by Dutch Roth, was taken on the old Indian Gap Highway on February 22, 1947. Exactly 64 years ago today!
100 years ago in the early 20th century, the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a bustling center of tourism for the wealthy. The Appalachian Club, Wonderland Hotel, Daisy Town, Society Hill and Millionaires Row comprised the new Smoky Mountains resort. The Little River Railroad scheduled daily excursions from Knoxville to Elkmont. Eventually the formation of the National Park ceased this kind of development in the Smokies. Owners of the many cabins of the Elkmont resort were given leases that finally ran out in 1992.
Today the remains of the resort have emerged from a controversial phase which might have seen their demolition. Nineteen of the rustic cabins are being preserved for the sake of history, with most of these along the main street of Daisy Town. The Park has constructed new parking facilities as well as restoring the cabins to a state of permanent preservation. The Park has also recently completed rehabilitation of the Appalachian Clubhouse.
I find myself fascinated with these old cabins and can’t resist sneaking in for some photo sessions.
Out on Glades Rd in Gatlinburg you can view the complete display of my Smoky Mountains photos at the William Britten Gallery.
The first eight Presidents of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club gathered in December of 1936 and posed for a photo by Dutch Roth. From left to right, and in order of their Presidencies, they are: George Barber, Brockway Crouch, James Thompson, Dr. H. M. Jennison, Harvey Broome, Guy Frizzell, Henry R. Duncan, and Marshall A. Wilson.
The club was formed in October of 1924, and according to Dutch Roth from his journal, Tales From the Woods, Harvey Broome provided this humorous tongue-in-cheek account of the group:
“It all come about in ’24. There wuz talk about a park, and the road wuz opened to the ‘Burg—there was more folks a hikin’ and more a lyin’ and a yarnin’ and fewer to lissen, so they jes natcherly had to organize. Not to hike, but to lissen.
“As you might uv guessed, hit took place on LeConte. There’s more lies been born around LeConte than clouds. Ev’body’s heard about the big freeze up there when the trees popped open; and about them “balsam pertaters” of Wiley Oakley’s. Well, hit wuz a fittin place to organize.
“George Barber, as you might uv guessed, wuz elected First Liar—I mean, President. Jim Thompson ran him a close second and Brock Crouch would uv been in the runnin’ ef he hadn’t been so fleshy. Brock qualified later, atter that yarn come out about him losin’t three tires between Sevierville and Knoxville, an’ comin’ on in on his rims.”
“We will fight to preserve the status quo in the Greenbrier. May the Greenbrier remain ax-less, pathless, and roadless, as an act of contrition for Little River, Charlies Bunion, Forney Ridge, and Big Creek.”
Harvey Broome spoke these impassioned words in 1944, in his book, Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies. In the picture above, Broome stands near Charlies Bunion in 1937, absorbing the utter destruction of his beloved Smoky Mountains due to logging.
Harvey Broome lived from 1902 to 1968. He was one of a handful of early conservationists, becoming a founding member of the Wilderness Society in 1934. As a lawyer he worked tirelessly to help create the National Wilderness Preservation System, which occurred in 1964 when Congress passed the Wilderness Act. Broome was present among other conservationists when President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill.
Harvey Broome was a friend and fellow hiker of Dutch Roth and Jim Thompson, and so appears in several of their photographs that will appear from time to time in this blog.
Jim Thompson was a founding member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and a prominent Knoxville photographer during the 1920s to 1940s. Along with his friend and fellow hiker, Dutch Roth, Thompson created a large body of images from the early days of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I will be posting images from both of these early Smokies photographers from time to time.
As a member of the Knoxville business community that was supporting and promoting the formation of a National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains, Jim Thompson appeared with many of the dignitaries that were instrumental in the final creation of the Park as we know it today.
If you take a look at the photograph on this posting about Dutch Roth, you will notice that the two pictures are very similar. It looks like the two friends were hamming it up just a bit!
The picture below was taken during a Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing to the primitive lodge on the top of Mt. LeConte. Jim Thompson is standing at the left of the picture, and Dutch Roth is lying in a bunk to the right.
From the journal of Dutch Roth, Tales From the Woods, describing the history of winter hiking in the Smoky Mountains:
We hiked in all kinds of weather and I never forgot my camera, despite the cold or rain. You never know when you might miss a good shot. We hiked around rocks, on rocks, hopped rocks, went up creekbeds, down road in brush and on trails.
On New Years Day, 1928, a group of us hiked to the top of Mt. LeConte in snow and ice. There were no modern cabins there then. We had to stay in an old one-room cabin with wooden bunks. We sat up all night keeping logs on the fire. The temperature was 20 degrees below zero. In fact it was so cold during the night that we had put the water bucket by the fireplace and the next morning the dipper was frozen solid in the bucket. I decided to go out and get a few good snow shots. When I took off my glove to take the picture, my finger froze. One of the men on the trip got a frozen ear. I had to have my finger x-rayed when I got home. Everything up there was covered with five or more inchesof snow.
On January 29,1928, we had a hike to LeConte and Rocky Spur in six inches of snow, but this wasn’t half so bad as our trip to Mt. LeConte on March 3-4,1928. On this trip we hiked up LeConte and Rocky Spur and spent the night on top in an old cabin. It snowed, sleeted and rained. I don’t know what the weather man had against us on this trip.
Many present-day hikers tramping through the Smokies on grade A trails have undoubtedly wondered what adventurer would travel a slippery stream and force his way through miles of wet briars, sleep on the bare earth, with the forest as his bedroom and wild creatures as neighbors.
The identity of these adventures could and would be us, on the Silers Bald trip of 1929. Besides a wild and woolly hike, we marked the A.T. between Buckeye Gap and Silers Bald.
After leaving the cars Saturday afternoon, August 17 we followed an old abandoned logging railway. It was very easy to get lost, since the old rail line branches many times. Oh well, if we got lost we could always follow a stream to the statel line. From there we could follow the state line to Silers. We were lucky; we made it to the end of the railroad bed, but it wasn’t easy, because the old roadbed was overgrown with a dense crop of briars that really could defend themselves with their long sticky thorns. I was glad when we left the railroad bed and started climbing the ridge to the state line. But we weren’t happy long, because then we had to fight the dogfennel, laurel, and rhododendron until we reached the top of the ridge.
We made camp in the woods under the trees, where we fixed our suppers. By this time we were all hungry and tired. Even the hard ground felt good to us as we rolled up in our blankets. Our only lights were candle lanterns. Our poncho over the top of us kept the dew off while we slept.
Sunday, August 18, we hiked on out the A.T. and marked the trail between Silers and Buckeye Gap. I nailed the markers as high as l could to make them clear to see and also help keep the bears as well as the two legged animals from tearing them down.
The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club cabin still stands in the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can see it by taking the Porters Creek Trail. In 1935 Dutch Roth helped build the cabin. These are his photographs. Below are some excerpts from his journal, titled Tales from the Woods, about the time the Hiking Club built their cabin in the Greenbrier.
“In 1934 the national Park Service gave the Smoky Hountains Hiking Club the right to build a cabin for their members. This was a tract of land located in the Greenbrier section about 12 miles East of Gatlinburg. On this land was a barn and an old cabin, the latter being torn down to make way for the new cabin that the club built themselves, from logs taken from three other old cabins above there. The old barn still stands, and so does the springhouse. There is a good spring here where you can get water for cooking and to drink. The old cabin that was there was torn down, but the chimney built in 1888 was left and the cabin built on other side of it. I helped repair the chimney, with a few new stones and concrete.”
“The club members had work trips up there nearly every Sunday for a while, till they got the cabin built. It is made entirely out of logs with hardwood floors. The chimney with a fireplace on each side stands between the two rooms. The upper cabin has a porch across the front, while the lower cabin had only a stoop. A little way in front of the cabin, across from the springhouse, is the cookshed. It is made of a roof over a stone cook stove and has a table and two benches.”
“Before we got the cabin finished we used to go there for weekends and sleep in the loft of the old barn. Now we have bunks in the cabins. A lot of hard work went into the building of this cabin. Each member had his job to do. My job was to concrete the terrice in front of the upper cabin and work on the fireplaces and to build the stove in the cook out. The stove is built like an old cookstove with the cover and eyes on top, only the sides are made of concrete and stone, We have to remember to put everything in the garbage pit because of the bears. They would tear the stove up if there was any food left in it.”
“We had so much trouble with bears that it was hard to keep food in the springhouse. They would tear the door down trying to get to it. So I had a big iron box made so that we could lock it up. The bottom part of the box was heavy wire, so that we could sit it down in the springhouse and the food would keep cold. Any member of the club could use the cabin for vacations or week-ends. Every Spring and in the Fall there is a work trip there to get the cabin and grounds all cleaned up. The cabins are kept locked at all times. We have had some trouble with fishermen and outsiders leaving trash around and getting into things or trying to brake in.”
Albert “Dutch” Roth lived from 1890 to 1974, and left an astonishing collection of amateur photographs which document the early years of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Roth’s photos and journal of his hiking adventures offer a rare and intimate view of the Smokies from the 1920s through the 1950s. Up to 1958 Dutch had climbed every Smoky Mountains peak and been up Mt. LeConte about 90 times, covering every trail several times and sometimes hiking without a trail, straight up the mountain.
Harvey Broome characterized Roth as “a pint-sized juggernaut in human form who was oblivious of fatigue, weather, thicket, or steep, and who went climbing with me when no one else would go.”
I feel a special attachment to Dutch Roth, having spent some time restoring many of his photographs for a collection that hangs in the University of Tennessee Libraries. Working up close, examining every small detail of his images, caused me to feel his deep love and respect for these Smoky Mountains. In fact, the spirit I found in these old photographs had a big impact on my own life and photography.
Occasionally, Dutch will make an appearance on these blog pages, with pictures and quotes from his journal. I hope you enjoy his presence as much as I do.