Settling the Smokies

Community hopes visitors will warm up to first Winter Heritage Festival

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

History buffs should look to Townsend this weekend for a lesson in the culture and lifestyle of the people in the Smoky Mountains and Cades Cove.

A new event, the Winter Heritage Festival, is designed for fun and to teach about the history of the area.

The festival is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 8 through Saturday, Feb. 10.

"This event is really designed as more of an educational event as opposed to our spring and fall festivals, which are entertainment. We think that is a pretty good balance," said Herb Handly, vice president of the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It is totally a celebration of the human history and culture of the area, from the early occupation of the Native Americans right up to the pioneer history of Cades Cove and into the lumbering days in Townsend."

The idea for the event came as area business owners were trying to create a way to attract visitors to Townsend during the traditionally slow winter months, said Handly. Business leaders saw how Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge had used partnerships with the National Park to draw people to their area, bringing business to their hotels, motels, shops and restaurants, he said.

Pigeon Forge does the Wilderness Wildlife Week and Gatlinburg is doing the Wild Flower Pilgrimage. Both events are over 10 years old, Handly said.

"The only thing that hasn’t been done -- and the Park was anxious to see happen -- is the emphasis put on the heritage and culture of human history. That really fits with our mission in that we do a lot of promoting of Cades Cove, which has to do with human occupation of a particular area," Handly explained.

Handly said the two goals of having more people in town in the winter months and getting the community and visitors involved in a heritage weekend during the winter were good partnerships.

The idea of creating partnerships as a way of generating business during the winter months is important because Handly said the bureau didn’t have the resources to spearhead and market another large event like they have in the spring and fall. The partnership allows business leaders and members of the community to take more of a planning role as the festival grows each year.

"While the Visitor’s Bureau is initially driving this first event, our hope is that by next year, we can turn it over, and the community will take over and do a lion’s share of planning and organizing. Our hope is simply to do the marketing," Handly said. "Then we would like to see it grow over the years in small increments until finally we would have an event equal to what we see being done in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg."

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center director Bob Patterson said anyone interested in coming to the Winter Heritage Festival in the Smokies should call the Visitors Center to register. While those who don’t pre-register may be able to get in,
they’re only guaranteed a seat in events where they pre-register.

"As of Friday, the response was very good," Patterson said. "We’ve had a lot of sessions half full. I’m hoping it’s even
better today."

Patterson thanked Cades Cove Preservation Association for their help in planning the event. "I’m very pleased (with) the Cades Cove Preservation Association who are doing most of the programming at the center," Patterson said.

The center director said the programs are unique. Speakers address topics ranging from the Civil War to cemeteries, all focused on the Townsend and Cades Cove areas.

"The variety of programming and the fact we have so many speakers who can talk with so much knowledge -- to pass that on at no cost is wonderful," he said.

Patterson said he was glad there were so many people and organizations stepping forward to help make this event happen. "I think it is nice we can do something like this at the center, and there’s so much support from others who want to make it happen," he said.

Patterson also mentioned that the event falls on the center’s first birthday.

"Our first anniversary is happening during this weekend event. We were going to have a small birthday party, but it turned into this. To turn our little birthday party into something more wonderful is a great opportunity," he said.

Patterson said that even though it is a new event that had no budget for promotion this year, he’s optimistic it can grow. "We see this as an annual event. I see the center can do a lot as we grow. We’re going to add more historic buildings over the next few months, and we’ll have more availability to do programming in our structures."

Handly said the bureau was encouraged by the Townsend Business Association’s efforts to draw more visitors to Townsend with the Townsend Love Affair Weekend, which happens on the weekend following the festival (See story on page 17).

"One of the weaknesses we’ve had as a Visitors Bureau is that while we try to promote Townsend as year-around destination, it isn’t really a year around destination because many businesses choose to close during (the winter)."

With the addition of the Love Affair Weekend, which has events in restaurants and inns as well as at the Heritage Center, Handly said they see an effort to keep the businesses operating and thriving during the slow winter season. "It is our hope we’ll be able to help them in the future. It only makes it an easier place to market as a destination when you have things going on year around," he said.

Janice Fillmore, president of the Townsend Business Association, said business owners shared the bureau’s goal that the Winter Heritage Festival will eventually grow into a week-long event celebrating mountain heritage.

"I would say the Winter Heritage Festival is the beginning of telling the story of the people who had such difficult lives 100-plus years ago in settling this area," she said.

Fillmore said Townsend becoming more of a nice resort community. "We want the hikers, photographers, the artisans, people who enjoy nature. Take a breath and get away from the concrete and hustle and bustle," she said. "We’re going to try to set the stage for them to enjoy that type of atmosphere in Townsend."

Sponsors for the Winter Heritage Festival include: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, GSM Institute at Tremont, Great Smoky Mountain Association, Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, Cades Cove Preservation Association, Dancing Bear Lodge, Highland Manor Inn, Little River Railroad Museum, Miss Lily’s Café & Banquet Hall, Richmont Inn and the Townsend Business Association.

For more information, contact the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Pkwy., Townsend, Tennessee 37882, call 865-448-6134, 1-865-983-2241 or 1-800-525-6834 or email:

Winter Heritage Festival
Februrary 8-10

  • Feb. 8, 3 to 6 p.m.: Registration
    Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
  • Feb. 8, 6 to 7:30 p.m.: Reception
    Hors d’oeuvres and music by Indian flute player Randy McGinnis at Dancing Bear Lodge.
  • Feb. 9-10, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Cades Cove Preservation Association Exhibit
    CCPA will present the Cades Cove Preservation Association Exhibit, a presentation and personal look into the cultural and family history surrounding the area, which will feature former residents and family descendants of the Cades Cove area. CCPA will be at Townsend Visitors Center.
  • Feb. 9-10, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Little River Railroad Museum:
    The Little River Railroad Museum will be showcasing special exhibits, conducting historic tours, displaying artifacts and discussing the impact of railroad construction and logging within the national park.

  • Feb. 9-10, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Portraits by Mary Grace:
    Festival visitors can capture the spirit of the day by having a vintage family photo taken by Mary Grace. Photographs will be taken around the stone fireplace of the Townsend Visitor Center on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Feb. 9, 10 to 11 a.m.: Churches of Cades Cove:
    Author Charles Maynard will be at Dancing Bear Lodge to cover the important relationship that existed between the mountain community and church and faith. Maynard will also discuss his book, which describes the seven churches, including church music, weddings, baptisms, burials and cemeteries.
  • Feb. 9, 10:45 to 11:15 a.m.: The Home Place
    The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center will host Ruth Caughron Davis to cover the topic of The Home Place, which was as essential element of the Cades Cove Community.
  • Feb. 9, 11:30 to 12 p.m.: Schools of Cades Cove
    The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center will open to the topic of school and the vital role it held in the community. Inez McCauley Adams, a descendant of Cades Cove pioneers Peter Cable and John Oliver, will offer detail into the history, environment and opportunities provided by the schools of Cades Cove.

  • Feb. 9, 1 to 1:30 p.m.: The Roads of Cades Cove
    Dave Post will present the utilization of pathways and roads by the residents and discuss their significance to the growth of the community. Post descends from Russell Gregory, a construction supervisor of two major Cades Cove roads. Hosted by Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.
  • Feb. 9, 12:30 to 3 p.m.: The Oliver’s of Cades Cove Walking Tour
    Cades Cove Preservation Association and Park staff will offer a first-hand glimpse into the life of a Cades Cove family through a one-mile hike filled with trail exploration. The tour will meet at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.
  • Feb. 9, 1 to 3 p.m.: Walking Tour of Tremont Logging Area
    The Little River Railroad Museum, an important aspect of the area’s heritage, will provide organizational representatives to cover a walking tour of Tremont area. Tour participants can expect to learn about the former logging operations during the early 1900s and view specific building and track locations. The group will meet at the Little River Railroad Museum.
  • Feb. 9, 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.: Mills and Stores of Cades Cove
    From 1:45 to 2:15 p.m., at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, participants will have the opportunity to learn how and why the mills and stores of the community were put into place and how it affected daily lifestyles.
  • Feb. 9, 2 to 5 p.m.: Walker Valley Living History
    Leaving from Tremont Visitor Center, the half-mile hike will transport participants into the lifestyle of Cades Cove in the 1920s.
  • Feb. 9, 3 to 4 p.m.: The Place-Based Archives of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Since 1985, Annette Hartigan has served as the librarian for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, Hartigan will interpret the historical aspects of the area through the archival materials of the national park that relate directly to local, natural and cultural histories. Oral histories will be discussed and examples will be available of historical maps, photographs and land records. Hartigan will also lead a question and answer session for participants.
  • Feb. 10, 10 to 10:30 a.m.: Settlement of Cades Cove
    Blount County Mayor and Cades Cove descendant Jerry Cunningham will be leading an informative discussion on the settlement environment and the characteristics that drove the families to settle homes and lives in the wilderness. Cunningham will also address the evolution and maturation that the community has embraced. Cunningham will be at Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.
  • Feb. 10, 10 to 10:30 a.m.: Cades Cove and the Civil War
    Gene Lequire, born on Cades Cove, will interpret how the war affected local families, church and schools and how the overall lifestyle was impacted. Lequire will speak at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.
  • Feb. 10, 10:45 to 11:15 a.m.: Mining the Mountains
    Dwight McCarter will host Mining the Mountains at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center from 10:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. on Saturday. McCarter is a former backcountry ranger and is author of two books: "Lost: A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue" and "Mayday-Mayday," both chronicles of Smoky Mountain plane crashes.
  • Feb. 10, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: From Sugarlands to Clingman’s Dome
    Miss Lily’s Banquet Hall will host Allen Coggins from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. Coggins, will lead participants on a virtual tour from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Clingman’s Dome through a combination of photographs and personal narration.
  • Feb. 10, 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Cades Cove and the Tourist Industry
    Missy Tipton will cover the history of area tourism, discussing the beginnings, the shaping of a tourism industry and the first visions. Tipton will be at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday.
  • Feb. 10, 1 to 1:30 p.m.: Final Resting Places
    Gail Palmer works with the national park to research historic churches and cemeteries. Palmer will be at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center from 1 to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday to discuss the community customs that took place after a local death.
  • Feb. 10, 1 to 3 p.m.: Walking Tour of John P. Cable Mill Area
    The walking tour, from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, will visit the area once inhabited by the Cable family members. Tour members will also receive a "behind-the-scenes" viewing of the Cable Mill and Becky Cable House. The tour will meet at Cades Cove Visitor Center and Mill Area at 1 p.m.
  • Feb. 10, 1 to 3 p.m.: Walking Tour of Townsend Railroad Bed
    The walking tour will help participants to locate historic buildings and former track routes of the Little River Railroad. The walking tour will meet at the Little River Railroad Museum at 1 p.m. and conclude at 3 p.m. Saturday.
  • Feb. 10, 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.: Cades Cove’s Last Days
    Otis Abbott will be present at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center from 1:45 to 2:15 p.m. on Saturday to discuss the political and social impacts the community of Cades Cove faced when the area was formed into the National Park.
  • Feb. 10, 3 to 4 p.m.: The Life of Big Will and Nancy Walker: True Pioneers 1860-1920
    Author Dwight McCarter will lead a second presentation over the history of Will and Nancy Walker. McCarter’s presentation will be at the Richmont Inn, from 3 to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Richmont Inn.
  • Feb. 10, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.: Whistle Over the Mountain: Townsend’s Logging Industry
    The Little River Railroad Museum will host a historical presentation concerning Townsend’s logging industry at the Highland Manor Inn. The presentation will be at 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
  • Feb. 10, 6:30 to 9 p.m.: Voice of the Smokies Heritage Dinner
    To conclude the Winter Heritage Festival, Miss Lily’s Banquet Hall will host a dinner from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday. The evening will be a combination of dramatic musical and photographic performances dedicated to the Great Smoky Mountains and wilderness, along with storytelling, mountain music and Smoky Mountain images. The cost is $15 per person.

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