Vanished Schools of Cades Cove

By Delaney Lay


Cades Cove had several schools during 1818-1937, but there are no physical remains of the schools. Looking at a map of where torn down buildings once stood, one could determine that the school stood in the spot pictured. This school was down the hill beside the Primitive Baptist Church. By following a worn path, you could start near the church lot and end up on a well shaded piece of flat land that could have snugly fit a school.

            Schools in Cades Cove in the nineteenth century had an emphasis on discipline and sought to teach a very basic education. The teacher position was temporary, with little regulation of their ability. Students did not receive education past the fifth grade. Education lulled due to the Civil War, resulting in a decrease in literacy. This is evident in the Primitive Baptist Church’s records, as fewer people had legible handwriting. A high percentage of school age children were enrolled in the later half of the century, but only about half of the adults were literate. In the twentieth century the ideas around education and the school’s place in the community were very different. The schoolmasters were held to a higher level and were tested by the superintendent annually to ensure competency. The schools began to do programs, which often involved singing or other forms of entertainment. School shows were huge draws for the community and brought many people together, such as choral performances, plays, and spelling bees. The schools held another important role at the time, as they were often the centers for distributing new information, such as farming techniques. The school during this time was far more than a school, it was a shared community space that took on many roles.[1]


            During the construction of Cades Cove as a national park, many buildings were torn down. Among these buildings removed where all the school houses and things like the stores in the area. This creates a skewed image of Cades Cove, that it only had homes, fields, and churches. By creating this image it enforces certain stereotypes that exist about Appalachian communities. Instead of leaving the community intact, or pairing down on a few buildings, the park created the image that the only thing that happened was family, work, and church. This could not be farther from the reality of Cades Cove. A prominent Appalachian stereotype is that they are uneducated. In reality, Cades Cove had far more education access than the people in the surrounding area. The treatment of Cades Cove set a precedent for treatment of the people of the region. Their land was seized by eminent domain, despite having 600 residents. This was the groundwork for TVA.[2] Cades Cove is the most visited national park, and with millions of visitors comes a responsibility to represent a community accurately. Many tourists are likely to use the lack of school buildings and modern structures as confirmation for the preconceived notions they hold. This public opinion shaped the way other agencies dealt with the people of Appalachia. Many things were done for their good and for the greater good, while ignoring the wishes of the residence.


[1] Durwood Dunn,  Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community,    1818-1937, University of Tennessee Press, 1988.

[2] Kristen Olson,  "A window of opportunity: Cades Cove and The National Park service." (2009).