12/6/08 - Metcalf Bottoms Trail/Little Brier Gap Trail/Little Greenbrier Gap Trail/Cove Mountain Trail – 13.9 Miles
On a very cold day it may take a little more than fresh air to get a hiker outside, so today Judy and I took another history hike to remind us how folks once lived. We had a hearty breakfast in Gatlinburg and then left a car at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and headed along Little River Road to Metcalf Bottoms. We were not surprised to find that ours was the only car in the large picnic area parking lot. (In warmer weather this place is teeming with people.) We were almost at the trailhead for Metcalf Bottoms when I had that funny feeling – did I turn off the stove? Did I lock the car? Better go check…sure enough, the car was unlocked. Dang it, something else to become OCD about now…
Though many tourists drive the gravel road to Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse, Judy and I were, of course, walking the trail and cracking the usual jokes about the good old days of walking to and from school, uphill both ways, in the snow. The “brown book” (“Hiking Trails of the Smokies") has a fascinating summation of life in the days when the school was active. Back in the 1800’s school was not a given. If the community could provide the building, the county would provide a teacher as long as the poll tax was sufficient. Children did walk to school through the woods, crossing creeks (certainly not with the footbridges provided now), and often barefooted even when there was frost. The “brown book” tells us: “For many years school was only held when the frost was on the ground when it was ‘too cold for the boys to be needed in the fields.’ Sometimes school was only held for two months each year. This is all the poll tax would pay. In 1900 there was no school at all. There were not enough children (i.e. poll taxes) to pay for a teacher, make needed repairs and buy firewood. Only repairs were made that year.”
I must say, that “brown book” is great reading!
At the schoolhouse we marveled at the craftsmanship of the building (see dovetailing of boards) and the simplicity of the inside. The building opened on January 1, 1882 and served double duty as a church building until 1924 when a church building was built beside it (which was moved in 1936). The cemetery remains there and, as always, is worthy of one’s time to walk around and reflect and remember.
We continued on up Little Brier Gap Trail to visit the Walker Sisters’ cabin and farmstead. How to summarize this place and the story of the remarkable Walker Sisters? I recommend the “brown book’s” summary and also a book I picked up at the Visitors Center by Bonnie Trentham Myers, The Walker Sisters, Spirited Women of the Smokies, (click to read a good portion of it). In a nutshell, John and Margaret Walker raised 11 children on this farm (remarkable in itself that all children survived to adulthood). Of the 11 children, the 4 boys and 1 girl married and moved away, and 6 of the girls continued to live and die here. (Six unmarried sisters was unusual for that time, and some say that the oldest girl, Margaret Jane, discouraged the girls from marrying because losing a hand around the house/farm meant a lot of work for the rest.) The Walker Sisters were the last people to live in the Park and the last sister, Louisa, died in her home in 1964.
Sorry, people, you are going to have to search this story out because I can’t include it all here…
Judy and I checked out the springhouse lined on the inside with stone shelves and wooden shelves.
We also checked out the barn.
There are very large boxwood type shrubs growing near the buildings, and although it’s wintertime we could imagine flowers blooming and a vegetable garden flourishing. The two-story portion is the original house and the kitchen with a side porch was added later. The main part of the building has an enormous hearth, nearly the width of one wall. The access to the second floor is by a ladder going straight up. In "The Walker Sisters, Spirited Women of the Smokies", the description goes that the boys slept upstairs and the parents and girls slept downstairs, and there are photographs of the rooms filled with beds and furnishings and belongings everywhere, including hanging on the walls and from the ceiling.
Life was hard here, but who’s to say we are happier today with our cell phones and Blackberries and computers and our family members spread so far that we don’t see them day to day?
As we left the Walker Sisters’ home we laughed that Judy’s tube from her water container was sticking out, frozen! The temperature on this morning was 21 degrees. Of course, that did not matter to my hot flashes…at one point Judy commented that I had frost on the back of my shirt where the perspiration was freezing before it could evaporate. Now that’s a story to tell the grandkids.
And as Mr. Frost said, we still had miles to go before we would sleep…