The Mystery Surrounding the Sudden Wears Valley Name Changes

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Today, Wears Valley looks nothing like it did when it was known as Wears Cove or Crowsons Cove. Shops and popular attractions like Tennessee XXX Distillery now line the main strip of this once sleepy little mountain town (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Wears Valley formerly known as Crowsons Cove, and Wears Cove, has undergone several name changes over the years

I grew up running around Townsend and using Wears Valley Road to get to Pigeon Forge. But I never knew the Valley by any other name. I can’t remember anyone calling it Wears Cove and certainly don’t remember noticing the sign marking the Wears Cove entrance to the National Park. But – as we are sometimes surprised to find out – the world didn’t start at my birth. And the Valley of my youth was known by a different name for most of its existence. 

What’s in a name? Is there a difference between Wears Valley and Wears Cove? Maybe it’s just accuracy. After all, a cove is just a small valley. Maybe once the community started growing and people started looking around, they figured Wears Valley was too big to be a cove, anyway.

 

Round Top View Wears Cove Early 1900s
A view of Wears Cove is believed to have been taken in the early 1900s (photo courtesy of Hunter Library, Western Carolina University)

A Brief History of Wears Valley

Like the rest of the mountains, the land that would become Wears Valley (aka Crowsons Cove aka Wears Cove) belonged to the native peoples for thousands of years. In 1792, a white settler named Aaron Crowson arrived and the area was renamed in his honor. Crowson and others’ arrival only added to the ongoing conflict with the Cherokee people whose land was being settled. Samuel Wear – more on him in a bit – was a Revolutionary War veteran. Wear had built a fort where the Pigeon Forge City Park now sits, not too far from the Valley. 

After an attack on the Fort, Wear led a charge in retaliation. This went back and forth between the native people and the settlers. After a variety of “treaties” helped “justify” pushing the Cherokee off their land and the forced march known as the “Trail of Tears,” the settler population in the Valley grew. Farms were established. Churches were built. Life was led. Crowsons Cove wasn’t as remote as Cades Cove, and so the residents could get to Pigeon Forge relatively easily. 

Wears Valley was affected by the Civil War, tangentially. Union Troops came through the valley on their way to Gatlinburg. Like much of the region, residents of the valley were generally pro-union. Newspaper editor William “Parson” Brownlow laid low in the Valley when he was by the Confederates for his role with pro-Union Guerillas known as the Bridge Burners. One of the Bridge Burners was from the Valley.  

John Sevier and The Lost State of Franklin
The State of Franklin was almost the 14th state of the Union. Samuel Wear fought in the Battle of Franklin (photo compilation by TheSmokies.com from public domain image of John Sevier and stock photos)

The Sudden Name Change

Crowson died in 1849. About 50 years later, folks in the Valley decided to change the name in honor of one of his contemporaries. Around 1900, the name was changed to Wears Cove in honor of Samuel Wear, a man with a bit larger profile than old Crowson. Wear had fought in the Revolutionary War. He also served as a state constitutional delegate and county clerk in the State of Franklin. He fought alongside John Sevier in the Battle of Franklin. In 1782, he founded the fort from which he fought against the native people before turning his energies to the State of Franklin. He also fought in the War of 1812, before he died in 1817. 

Why did people 50 years after Crowson’s death and 83 years after Wear’s decided to change things? It’s unclear but somebody must have carried a heckuva long grudge against Old Crowson, who is buried in the Valley at Crowson-Broyles cemetery. Our guy couldn’t even keep the family cemetery in his name.

For reasons unclear, by 1900 Crowsons Cove was known as Wears Cove with another name change in store. There is one person we could have asked, had we lived in the year 1900. Mary C. Crowson Wear united the two families. She was Aaron Crawson’s granddaughter and she married Sam Wear’s grandson. Alas, we’re 122 years too late. She died in 1902 at the age of 64.

But even if we could resurrect old Mary, it’s unlikely she could tell us when Wears Cove became Wears Valley. The Wikipedia entry on the matter is very enlightening.  “Wears Valley is situated in a valley known as Wear Cove” is one of the worst sentences ever written. Mary would be appalled. 

PawPaw's Catfish
Pawpaw’s Catfish features no-frills Cajun cuisine in Wears Valley (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How Wears Valley is Evolving

The Valley is currently almost unrecognizable from my younger days just a few years ago. Almost every time we drive through, I remark to my wife about the changes. I can remember when there were just a handful of businesses in the Valley. Today there’s a lot more. 

Today, Wears Valley – somewhat appropriately – seems like it’s about half Pigeon Forge and half Townsend, aka the quiet side of the Smokies. There’s a food truck park – Wears Valley Social Food Truck Park – featuring a variety of goodies. And also lots of antique and general stores and a variety of restaurants. The Cajun Pawpaw’s Catfish Kitchen is one of my favorites. But not everything has changed. The Valley remains my favorite way to get to Metcalf Bottoms, among the best places for picnicking and – when I was younger – tubing in the mountains.

The Valley also remains home to one of the stranger cemeteries I’ve ever seen. The Headrick’s Chapel Cemetery is a National Historic Site. It is located right on a pretty significant hillside/mountain. Headstones are rarely seen at 45-degree angles to the ground. But lots of people at Headrick’s Chapel got buried on the side of a hill. It’s utilitarian, I suppose. Probably more practical to use that land for a cemetery rather than flatter nearby land that could be used for farming. And it’s still got other historical connections – the Walker Sisters Cabin isn’t far from the Valley.

Some mysteries are lost to time. Or at least haven’t been cracked on the internet. Why did Crowsons Cove become Wears Cove? Why did Wears Cove become Wears Valley? The answers might still be out there in a memoir, written in the back of a family Bible or some other documents that haven’t been placed online. But for now? The mystery remains. 

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