Thursday, July 5, 2012

Little Greenbrier School and the Walker Sisters

Last Monday we took some time to get out of the house and go for a hike.  Since it promised to be one of those hot, humid days typical for summer, our immediate thought was to go some place high in the mountains to escape the heat.  Can’t get any higher than Clingman’s Dome around here so we headed out very early.

The route we chose for this trip was down US 321 to Townsend where 321 turns left toward Pigeon Forge.  This drive is through rural Blount and Sevier Counties known around here as Wear Valley.  The valley would like to see more tourists, I’m sure, to help with the economy, but there just isn’t enough “touristy” stuff to draw the crowds.  There are a couple campgrounds, a new General Store, and a couple of riding stables, but that’s about it.  It’s a peaceful place.

There is an entrance to the National Park back here at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  I had wanted to stop at the restroom here and when I opened the car door the outside air was very pleasant.  I suggested we hike here instead of driving another 45 minutes up to Clingman’s Dome.

There are several trails in this area, but the one that I always love to hike is the trail to Little Greenbrier School and then on up to the Walker Sister’s place.  We parked the car in the picnic area and walked across the wooden bridge over Little River.  The trailhead is right there as you step off the bridge.

Metcalf Bottoms Trail is just six tenths of a mile from the bridge to the old school.  The first tenth or so is along a gravel access road to the water tank that provides water to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  Beyond the water tank the trail quickly becomes a narrow woods trail along a small creek.  There are a couple footbridges to cross before getting to the school yard.  We were early, so there was no one around.  It’s not uncommon to find a park ranger or volunteer here to answer questions or talk about the days when this school served the youngsters of this mountain community.  The one-room school is set up inside as it would have been back in the day.

Up the slope in what I think of as the school’s front yard, is another of those fine old cemeteries.  Usually, you find cemeteries associated with churches and that is true in this case.  The school also served as the community church on Sundays.  Most of the graves are marked with field stones, but those with tombstones bear the names of Stinnetts and Metcalfs and Walkers.  We always hike here, but it is possible to drive up.  The road is gravel, narrow, and very curvy, but most visitors to the school come that way.

We didn’t spend much time here.  Our real goal was the Walker Sisters’ place.  To get to the Walker Sisters’ place, one has to walk.  Just above the parking lot at the school there is a gate across the gravel road.  That is the trailhead for Little Brier Gap Trail which continues 1.4 miles to junction with Little Greenbrier Trail.  After 1 mile there is a short one tenth side trail which leads to the old Walker home place.  John Walker moved into this house with his family in the 1870s following the death of his father-in-law. John and his wife raised a family of 11 children in this house.  Five of the spinster  daughters continued to live here until the last one died in the 1964.

The springhouse is the first structures which comes into sight
as you walk up the drive
I just love coming back here.  It is such a peaceful place and on Monday morning, we had it all to ourselves for about 45 minutes before other visitors started to arrive.

In front of the house is the corn crib.
The house, corn crib, and springhouse are the only buildings that remain.
The walk back to the school was easy, mostly downhill, along a well maintained gravel road.  The crowds were beginning to move in and we passed one large group of about 15 ranging in age from an elderly grandmother to infants in arms.  Must have been a family reunion.

Back at the school, we saw one lady in the cemetery.  She had what looked like a small notepad in her had and Gene just happened to ask if she had relatives buried here.  He was just being friendly and making conversation, but it prompted that lady to open up and tell us her story.

Yes, she definitely had people buried in that cemetery--she was a Stinnett.  Her grandparents were Metcalfs and owned the land that is now Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  I think she said her grandmother was a sister-in-law to one of the Walker children.  Her uncle (I’m guessing it was great-great uncle by marriage) John Walker helped build the school in the early 1880s.  That little notepad she had in her hand turned out to be an old family history booklet.  Her car seat was full of such books and she was eager to show family photos.  Some of these photos we’d seen because they’re in the Visitor Centers, Museums, and in other books around the Park, but most were family photos seen only by the family and friends of the Stinnetts, Metcalfs, and Walkers.  We were thrilled and a little in awe.

We talked with this lady (Judith was her name) for about 45 minutes before we had to tear ourselves away.  She was there on this particular morning to give a talk to a group coming in on a ranger led hike.  As we returned to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area along the trail, we met the rangers and the group of about 10.  Boy, are they in for a treat.

Metcalf Bottoms Trail, by the way, is the path Judith’s grandmother took as a young girl on her way to school.  That knowledge certainly made me think about the trail differently as I hiked back to the car.

What a wonderful experience.  And to think, we could have gone on up to Clingman’s Dome and missed this whole encounter.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. I sure wished that the same lady was there yesterday morning when I was at the school. :(

  2. Great pictures of those old schools and buildings. It's sure nice that they are still standing. Thanks again for posting all the great photos.

  3. It has been fun reading your blog and Judy/Emma covering the same area. Glad you gave her the Cades Cove schedule. BTW, just read it was snowing in Whittier, AK. Seems we were all there about this time last year.

  4. That's so neat that all those historic buildings have been preserved. What a great hike! And how wonderful that you ran into Judith - a bonus!

  5. The Walker sisters are my great-aunts. My dad, who just passed away on June 21, was the youngest son of their older brother. It's good to see people enjoying our old homeplace and the history of our family. :)

  6. Just painted a watercolor I drew of the Walker Sisters cabin on my blog and a link to an old Saturday evening Post article about them with lots of pictures. Very interesting. There was actually a church near the school but it was torn down when the park bought up the land. Evidently they usually only left the old log buildings. Would love to have met the lady in the graveyard.