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  • Writer's pictureMandy-Gentry

Little Greenbrier in the Smoky Mountains


John Walker and his wife Margaret built their homestead cabin in 1870 in the mountain community of Little Greenbrier. Their family eventually grew to include eleven children. When Mr. Walker died in 1921, the land passed to their remaining children. The son, Giles, would soon deed over his share of the land to his six unmarried sisters. Little Greenbrier achieved a degree of national fame as a result of the Walker Sisters. The sisters, who lived at the cabin together, refused for many years to sell their 123-acre property and cabin to the Smoky Mountain National Park during its formation. After finally being convinced to sell the land for $4,750 in 1940, the sisters retained the opportunity to live out the remainder of their lives at their home. They were able to maintain their traditional mountain life well into the 1960's. Visitors to the Smoky Mountain National Park would often hike in to visit with the sisters and buy homemade toys, poems, and fried apple pies from them. When the last sister passed away in 1964, the National Park Service assumed control of the land and placed the remaining structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

The hike to the Walker Sister's Cabin is just 2.6 miles and easy. Following a little creek, the trail is fairly wide and not very steep at all.

The property once had many outbuildings, including a barn, blacksmith shop, apple house, springhouse, smokehouse, pig pen, corn crib and a small tub mill. Today, only the cabin, springhouse and corn crib are left. All are open and you can tour through them on your own. The cabin was made of authentic hewn timbers, adze marks still visible even through the wear and age of the years. Two traditional chimney stacked stone fireplaces served as the sources of heat - one in the main room of the cabin, one in what we assumed is the kitchen. An old wood ladder fastened to the wall is the only access to the room upstairs. We noticed that the doors were quite short, not even tall enough for me at 5'8" to walk through without ducking.

The kids brought along their nature journals, so we took some time to enjoy the sunshine and get some schoolwork in.

The trailhead starts right next to the Little Greenbrier School, which John Walker helped build. Built in 1882, the 20x30 foot schoolhouse last held classes in 1935. The timbers used to build the school were impressive. It was really precious to see the wooden school desks and chalkboard inside. Sadly, many people had scribed their names into the wood of the structure.

The schoolhouse was used some as a church also, and there is a small cemetery close by. It was really touching to tour through this with the kids, as most of the headstones read either "infant" or the name of a very young child - a good reminder of how blessed we are.

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