There’s Something Unusual About This Cabin in the Smoky Mountains

henry whitehead cabin

The Henry Whitehead cabin was features strangely modern construction for its era (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Brick chimneys and sawmill-hewn logs were not common in the late 1800s – so why does this cabin have them?

Like many stories of life in the mountains, the story behind the Henry Whitehead House is imbued with hardship. As someone who grew up not far away, I’ve been soaking in the beauty of Cades Cove for nearly four decades. And I know it’s easy to appreciate the Cove’s wonder, but almost impossible to understand the hardship of living there. 

The Henry Whitehead House – just off of Cades Cove Loop Road – links to a mostly forgotten mountain past. It represents the finest in available construction at the time including sawmill-hewn logs and a brick fireplace. But it also is an example of embracing the necessity to survive.

 

henry whitehead place in cades cove
Henry Whitehead’s place, a square-sawed log house and cabin is often missed by visitors who stay on the loop (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

History of the Henry Whitehead House

The history of the Henry Whitehead House doesn’t begin with Henry at all. It begins with Matilda Whitehead, born in the Cove in 1842, and her husband, born in the Cove in 1847. Ebenezer Alexander Gregory served in the 3rd Tennessee Mounted Infantry Division of the Union Army. I haven’t learned when he enlisted. But he would have still been just a boy for most of the war.  Tildy and Alex were married in January of 1870 and welcomed their only son in October. 

Accounts vary on the timing, but all agree at some point Gregory abandoned his wife and son and went to Texas where he built a new life. According to the NPS, her brothers “quickly” built a one-room cabin in 1881. It still sits on the back of what is now known as the Henry Whitehead Place on Forge Creek Road. 

Whitehead – a carpenter from the Six-Mile area of Blount County – was widowed in 1883 with three daughters to raise. He and Matilda were married in 1887. From 1895 to 1898 he built the larger home now on the site. The NPS says the log home is often mistaken for a frame home because the logs were run through a sawmill and squared up. The result is logs that fit so well together that no filling of gaps was required. The home is well-insulated and likely the least drafty log cabin in the region. The NPS says the covered walkway connecting the cabin serves as an architectural link between eras of Cades Cove construction. There is also a smokehouse on the property which was used to preserve meats. 

Henry Whitehead Home in Chestnut Flats Cades Cove
The Whitehead home sports a rather modern, for the era, brick fireplace (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The Strangely Modern Brick Chimney

The two cabins also represent a marked difference in chimney construction. Matilda’s brothers built her small cabin with rocks, stone and rubble, representing a rustic style of using available items. They did give her a ‘granny’ hole where she could look outside while tending the fire. 

When Whitehead built the new home, however, he wanted something better. He used bricks made on-site – a rarity in the mountains at the time – to build the chimney. The result was a fireplace in the heart of the Smokies that was worthy of the more “modern” houses of the time. Between the quality of the craftsmanship of the chimney and the sawmill-hewn logs, Matilda had the finest home in the Cove at the time. 

Henry Whitehead Signage
Drive to Forge Creek Road in Cades Coves to locate the Henry and Matilda Whitehead home (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How to the Henry Whitehead Place Cabin

The Henry Whitehead Place isn’t exactly hidden. But it’s one of the less visited spots in the Cove.  Most visitors tend to stay on the Cades Cove Loop Road and don’t drive up Forge Creek Road to see it. You can even take the road out of the park. Forge Creek Road connects to Parsons Branch Road and eventually to Highway 129, aka The Tail of the Dragon. But be aware, this isn’t exactly city driving. Also, Forge Creek Road is open (barring a snow closure) from March 1 to Dec. 31. Parsons Branch is open from April 12 to Nov. 10. Importantly, closure dates may vary from year to year and are also contingent upon the weather.

To get to Henry Whitehead Place, drive on the loop road to what I call the back of the loop. At the parking area for the Visitors Center and Grist Mill, you can turn left to continue the loop. Or you can go straight onto Forge Creek Road. The Whitehead Place will be on your left, you can’t miss it. 

The Henry Whitehead Place represents a connecting point between two eras of Cades Cove history. It represents a transition from a primitive style where the point was to survive to a more “modern,” comfortable style. The stories from the early days in the park are filled with families clinging to each other to survive. Their stories represent the insular nature of life in the Cove and embracing the necessities to survive.

For example? One of Whitehead’s daughters went on to marry Gregory so, no hard feelings, I guess. Like the other cabins left in the Cove, the Whitehead place is something of a ‘granny’ hole into the past. A place where we can visit and engage our imaginations. We can never really understand what life was like back then, but at least we can walk where they walked and try.  

TheSmokies.com

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