DISCOVER "LIFE IN THE SMOKIES"
New exhibit at Sevierville, Tennessee’s Visitor Center
“Life in the Smokies” is an all-new exhibit on display at the Sevierville Visitor Center on Winfield Dunn Parkway. It’s free to learn about a variety of characters who lived on the land that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, before it was formally dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in September 1940.
To really get to know the Smokies—and see how the past connects to today—it’s well worth your time to stroll through the exhibit and read the informational placards, each one packed with interesting facts. We don’t want to spoil all the details that await discovery, but to whet your appetite for more here are a few highlights:
Crockett Maples lived through a snowstorm and endured multiple surgeries without anesthesia! He ran a supply store at the foot of Mt. LeConte with his first wife Polly Ogle. Over his life he fathered a total of 16 children.
LeConte Lodge was established on the third-highest peak in the park by Paul Adams with the help of his German Shepherd named Cumberland Jack. The dog was a faithful companion who ran errands to the Ogle store and at one point even saved Adam’s life.
Tsali, a Cherokee leader, refused to leave his native homeland in 1838, defying President Andrew Jackson’s order to leave the Smokies for Oklahoma. He and his two older sons were killed, but his wife and youngest son were spared. His actions helped spur creation of the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Western North Carolina.
The Park is dotted with historical home sites and cabins, but the Avent Cabin was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, in part thanks to a 300-page logbook record of visitors’ memories.
When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, hundreds of families who lived on the land had to relocate. Among the few that remained where the six unmarried Walker sisters, who ultimately received a special lifetime lease and lived the rest of their lives in the log cabin in which they’d been raised.
Jim Thompson was a photographer whose images are credited with helping persuade a committee to consider the Smoky Mountains as a national park.
Jim Shelton was blind in one eye yet became a photographer. He carried heavy camera equipment throughout the Smoky Mountains to record a visual history of the area. Several of his images have been widely used and one has become legendary.
Lydia Whaley, born on a farm at Gist’s Creek in 1840, had many talents including basketweaving. Her skills were recognized by the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg, where she was invited to teach at age 75.
The Little River Railroad, established in 1901, helped usher the industrial age into the area. In addition to photos and text, the exhibit displays some historic items including several bottles and jugs, a poem by Louisa Walker, a grist mill, and spinning wheel. You can also snap a selfie on a recreation of the Walker Sisters’ cabin porch where you can pose churning butter or scrubbing clothes on a washboard. Or step into a replica of the Little River Railroad’s Elkmont Station booth.
“Life in the Smokies” is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sevierville Visitor Center located at 3099 Winfield Dunn Parkway in Kodak, Tennessee, just 1.5 miles from I-40 Exit 407. There is no admission fee. It will be on display until late 2023.
Related Fun in Sevierville…
“Bertie” is a new statue in Historic Downtown Sevierville and depicts a dog who had something in common with Cumberland Jack: both were trusted to carry money on behalf of their owners. Crafted by artist Mary Ruden, the bronze statue honors an English Pointer and is located across the street from the famed statue of Dolly Parton.
Shop for local goods at Ogle Brothers General Store, which was established by brothers Jake and Taylor Ogle—two ninth generation Tennesseans whose family has made Sevier County home since the 1800s. The store is located on the Five Oaks farmland—which has been in the family since 1925—alongside two of the families’ other businesses, Five Oaks Farm Kitchen and The Lodge at Five Oaks.
Delve deeper into local history at the Sevier County Heritage Museum in Historic Downtown Sevierville. The museum is located inside a Colonial Revival-style building that was completed in 1940 by an African American construction company and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Displays include ancient artifacts from Native Americans and first settlers, items from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II, excavated portions of railroad track, and more.