Little Cabin in the Woods…

Posted: January 8, 2015 in A day in Life
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John Ownby Cabin???????????????????????????????

Actually, the name of this post should be “down the rabbit hole.” It is very often amazing to me how I start out at one spot, with clear intent and path, only to wander off nearly immediately and to end up so far off track I cannot even discern how it came to be. Seems at times I have lost all bearings. I do not remember how I came to having knowledge of John Ownby’s 1860 cabin in The Sugarlands of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Was this something that caused me to explore the Park as an option while visiting Tennessee…or did I discover the existence of the cabin during the planning phases of my excursion? I do know my ancestors that settled in these mountains were Ownby while my branch of the family that trekked to Fannin County, Georgia by way of North Carolina spelled their version Owenby. Others chose Ownbey. As you have probably surmised, this picture is of that 150-year-old cabin on the Fighting Creek trail. It is the last surviving structure from the pre-Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Forks-of-the River community.

Europeans showed up in the area in the early 1800s and called the valley “The Sugarlands” after the numerous sugar maples growing there. This valley at the time was populated with three small Appalachian communities…Forks, Sugarlands, and Fighting Creek.  I hiked alone that day and met no one on the trail and thought of the solitude these folks enjoyed or endured? I found the area peaceful as a day visitor who never had to LIVE here. The cabin, typical of the area in the 1860s, is one room…for the whole family and all their activities of daily living. It fell into disrepair and in the 1960s was restored according to the park’s info –  using original components  – except the fireplace which apparently has amazingly not been touched. The  chimney’s mortar is from the nearby creek. Not too far from the back door is a small spring used by the family for water and refrigeration. I walked around, looking at the cabin from all different compass points, peering into and out of windows, noted the worn floorboards at both entrances, wondered about the growing season and then plopped myself down on the porch and imagined raising a family in this little cabin in the woods. I tried to imagine a springhouse straddling the nearby spring for keeping their meats, fruits, dairy as well as other era appropriate outbuildings… smokehouse, chicken coop, woodshed, toolshed…did they have a barn? Was there a corn crib? I envisioned where a vegetable garden would best be sited and what they might have grown. Were there flowers? Did it include herbs for cooking, health, and healing? Was enough grown to trade at the small local store? Did the misses sit in her chair on the porch in the evening working on willow or oak baskets? They may have been in the area in 1856 when White Oak Flats changed its name to Gatlinburg. Did they know the flamboyant preacher Radford C. Gatlin and why he was later banished? A majority of time must have been spent on raising food and trying to survive leaving very little time for much else. Was there time for John to vote for the 1860 presidential election…in Tennessee the soon to be president of the United States,  Abraham Lincoln, had so very little support his name did not even appear on the ballot! The following February secession was on everyone’s mind with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina,  and Texas already separated and the seeds of the soon to be Civil War sprouting. Questions, questions, questions came to mind as I easily slipped into my thoughts and became pleasantly lost. How hard their life could only have been, every day a challenge in a rough physical environment teetering into the catechism of a disintegrating nation. I quickly realize try as I might I fail woefully short of any ability to imagine let alone comprehend even one day in their life. In my life a little cabin in the woods would be a vacation home.

  1. I love the history in the area. We were in Cades Cove and met a gentleman with the last name of Abbott. He actually lived in the area until a young teenager when the government displaced his family. It was so neat to talk to him.

    • S. Louise says:

      I have read about those who gave up their home for the park. Some were grateful for the money and left, never looking back. For others it was a terrible hardship… as you described “displaced his family.” The park is gorgeous and how wonderful for generations to come to have a place like this to visit. I wonder if I would still feel that way if I were one of those who were displaced, forced to leave my family’s home and hearth of generations?

  2. Virgie Chastain says:

    Susan, how very much I enjoyed this article on the cabin in the Smokey Mountains. How many times that Herschel & I have enjoyed a
    visit to the park. We love this area of TN. Love you and thanks for the memories .

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