The Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited national park in the nation. Scenic waterfalls and rushing rivers along with awe inspiring vistas help create memories that visitors will never forget. Located in the western end of the park is Cade’s Cove. Besides the picturesque scenery it also encompasses several old farms dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. These are the typical barns of Appalachia but the cantilever barns in this part of the country are relatively unique.
The barns of Sevier and Blount Counties are cantilever barns. The Smokies get a lot of rain during a year, sometimes exceeding 80 inches of it making it one of the rainiest places in the United States and these barns developed almost as a necessity. With all of the rain the local farmers found it hard to keep the rain out of the crops that were being stored which led to those crops spoiling prematurely. Cantilever barns were the solution. The sloped roof and overhang funneled the rain away from the crops and the barn. At the same time they also had open slats that allowed air to circulate which also kept the crops in storage from spoiling. The barns were made using whatever tools were available as well as whatever materials were available. The most common trees in the Smokies include fir, red maple, sugar maple. Hickory, beech, ash, silverbell, poplar, black gum, sourwood, scrub pine, cherry, white oak, chestnut oak, red oak and basswood and all were used to construct these barns.
The barns could house anything else as well from livestock to tools to carriages and only one third of the actual barn touched the ground. The cantilever allowed for a large second story loft that were commonly used to store hay or tobacco and while maximizing the storage space is a good enough reason the reason for this design might have had more to do with the government. While never proven as a motivation it also cut down on the tax assessment. The property tax was assessed based on the square footage of the barn touching the ground so since only about one third of the barn’s square footage was actually touching the ground it was a great relief for the tax bill.
When visitors come to Cade’s Cove most people stop at the Tipton farm in the Cable Creek Historic Area. Not only is a cantilever barn on display but also a working grist mill and the family home. William Tipton, a veteran of the Revolution, had bought the land through a land grant program from the new state of Tennessee and began working it. He also bought up most of the land in the area and sold it to relatives or friends. Several sizable farms sprung up as well as several churches. During the Civil War many of the locals in Cade’s Cove were Quakers and were anti-slavery. Some joined the Union army and it was believed that an Underground Railroad stop was active in the area. Confederate raiders had no qualms about stealing from them but they wanted to remain out of the war and even went so far as to ambush Confederate raiders to deter them from returning.
It took a long time for the area to return to normal following the war. The next hot issue was moonshine. Some were for it, some were against it and it sparked a heated and sometimes violent conflict in the isolated community. The quarrels came to an end in the late 1920s when a national park was proposed for the area. Many locals welcomed the park as long as Cade’s Cove would not be included in it but the Tennessee General Assembly gave the park commission the ability to use eminent domain to seize any land it needed within park boundaries. The residents were outraged and took their case to court but they lost and their land was incorporated into the park and opened to visitors.
The most popular spot is the Cable Creek Historic Area which has a cantilevered barn on premise. The on-site grist mill was constructed in 1868 along Forge Creek and Mill Creek. Another cantilevered barn is on the Tipton Farm, built by the descendants of William Tipton. The barn style itself at one time was prevalent in other states like Virginia and Kentucky as well but few outside of Tennessee and North Carolina remain. They are unique to Appalachia and an American treasure.