Cades Cove cabins, churches and barns: 5 sites for your must-see list

Primitive Baptist Church and the John cable gristmill at cades cove

There are several structures of interest at Cades Cove. Pictured are the Primitive Baptist Church and the John Cable Gristmill (photos by Carolyn Franks & Jim Vallee/stock.adobe.com)

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Some people get to live in the shadow of Notre Dame. 

Not the college, mind you, but the Parisian cathedral – which I suppose is a shell now. But for centuries there were people who got up in the morning, looked out their window and saw one of the most majestic sights ever created. 

I suppose it’s the same if you live on a white, sandy beach somewhere. Or perhaps a place with a clear view of some of the many wonders of the world. 

I wonder if you take it for granted. 

Certainly, I did. I suppose I still do. 

When I was a teen, we lived less than a 45-minute drive from Cades Cove, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Did I appreciate it? 

Some days I did. 

When the sky was especially blue and the mountains especially green, I did. 

Read Also: What not to do at Cades Cove, 7 things a local wants you to know

Kermit Caughron was born in Cades Cove in 1912 (photo courtesy of cadescovepreservation.com)
Kermit Caughron was born in Cades Cove in 1912 (photo courtesy of cadescovepreservation.com)

Who was the last person to live in Cades Cove?

Maybe the only time I truly understood the magnificence of the mountains was when a friend of mine was dating a Caughron girl – granddaughter of Kermit the famed Bee Man who was the Cove’s last resident. 

We went up to visit and his car broke down on the loop. The girl got a lift back to her granddad’s. Joseph and I stayed with the car and waited for a tow truck to make it up to the Cove and around the loop. 

It was a long wait and it was good and dark. But it was a clear night in the mountains and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything as beautiful even from the top of Notre Dame. 

I’ve never seen stars like that. 

But I was young and dumb. Most of the time I didn’t appreciate what we had. 

Read Also: Cades Cove secrets: Top 5 hidden gems in the Smoky Mountains

Cemetery in Cades Cove
An old cemetery in the Cades Cove section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Carolyn Franks/stock.adobe.com)

What’s so special about Cade’s Cove?

Family and friends would come to visit and, invariably, would want to go to the Cove.

I don’t think I ever got tired of the drive along the front half of the loop where you can see the mountains and the sky. But that back half, cutting through the forest. When the traffic would get bad, I had a harder time finding the beauty. 

Today we live further from the Cove, but when we go we make a point to get out and stretch our legs and explore the old churches, buildings and graveyards. 

I have a better appreciation of what Kermit and his son Rex were holding on to as they raised their families in those mountains. 

There aren’t any pieces of Kermit’s homestead remaining, it was too modern and didn’t fit with the overall aesthetic the National Park Service wanted for the Cove.

Hey, I get it. I like visiting the old cabins, too. But I think it would have been nice to acknowledge the link from the old ways to more modern times. Celebrate that a man like Kermit lived and managed to keep a foot in the two different worlds. 

Cades Cove structures are not hard to find.

The path is well marked with signage leading to various places. Along the back half of the loop, the cabins and barns are fairly well located right next to the road. 

If you’re going to Cades Cove, here’s our list of historic structures you don’t want to miss. 

John Oliver's Cabin in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA
John Oliver’s Cabin in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Darrell Young/stock.adobe.com)

5. The John Oliver Cabin

This cabin is the oldest standing structure in the park. However, the John Oliver Cabin is not John Oliver’s original cabin.

Oliver – a veteran of the War of 1812 – and his wife Lurena had their cabin about 50 yards or so further on and built the still-standing cabin for his son in the 1850s.

It’s relatively spacious and well built – almost comfortable. It’s one of the few old cabins I’ve been in that I’ve thought of, you know a bed, some wi-fi, this wouldn’t be all bad. 

The Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Carolyn Franks/stock.adobe.com

4. The Primitive Baptist Church

The Olivers and other early settlers had to travel a long way to go to church in the early years. For example, as far away as modern-day Wears Valley or Townsend.

The Cades Cove Baptist Church was established in 1827 and became Primitive Baptist when the larger church split over Biblical interpretation.

The current white frame structure was built in 1887. The Olivers are buried there. 

Henry Whitehead's Cabin
The Henry Whitehead house in Cades Cove (photo by Jamie & Judy/Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com)

3. Henry Whitehead Cabin

The Henry Whitehead house stands alone among the structures of Cades Cove.

Whitehead, a carpenter by trade, built the house in 1898. The cabin features a relatively luxurious (for the time) brick chimney, designed for his second wife Matilda Shields Gregory.

Matilda’s first husband had run off and left her and her son. The bricks for the chimney were made on site.

The home is one of the finer examples of construction in the area with logs that fit tightly together, leaving little room for drafts.

If you could live in the Oliver Cabin, you could certainly live in the Whitehead House, which you might miss as it’s one of the few structures off the main loop. 

To see the cabin, take the Forge Creek Road, located just beyond the visitor’s center. The road is closed from November to March.

Dawn Lawson’s Cabin and nearby barn in Cades Cove (photo by Theron Stripling III/stock.adobe.com)

2. The Dan Lawson Cabin and Barn

Dan Lawson had a nice spread, much of which is still standing.

The cabin is fine as cabins go. It was built by Lawson’s father-in-law, Peter Cable, in 1855.

A smokehouse and chicken coop remain on-site, but it’s the barn that’s especially cool. Up the mountain just a bit from the cabin, it sits in an open area surrounded by the forest.

When the light hits just right, it’s beautiful and perfect for picture taking. I’m sure the livestock were well pleased. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park still operates the John P. Cable Gristmill from April-October annually (photo by Jamie & Judy Wild/Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com)

1. John Cable Gristmill

The Grist Mill, built in 1867, is probably the most popular landmark in the Cove. It served as an integral part of the Cades Cove community of about 700 people in its heyday.

The stones on the mill are original, meaning they’ve been in use for more than 150 years. At one time, there were seven operating mills in the Cove, but the only remnants of these are the stones outside the cable mill. 

The GSMNP works the mill from April to October and can answer questions and sell souvenirs that include fresh cornmeal. 

What is your favorite site in the Cove? Let us know in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Cades Cove cabins, churches and barns: 5 sites for your must-see list”

  1. Prior to my husband passing away with pancreatic cancer, Cades Cove was a very special destination for us at least twice a month. We would ride up there, never get tired of it and done it for years until he passed away and sadly I’ve only been up there a couple of times by myself since he’s passed away but the beauty never gets tiring or old.

  2. I love this place so much I have requested my ashes to be spread here – my favorite place on earth !

  3. Ed my wife and I went there in 2016 for our 25th Wedding Anniversary (July 6, 1991). We love it there. The cemetery was intriguing. When we were there it was 95 ° and humid. When we entered the cemetery the temp dropped down into the 60’s and it got really windy. We got the he’ll outa there as fast as we could.

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