Little Greenbriar School
The Little Greenbrier School is a former schoolhouse and church in the ghost town of Little Greenbrier in Sevier County, Tennessee. Located near Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it was built in 1882, and was used as a school and church almost continuously until 1936. It still stands today.
Just near the Little Greenbriar schoolhouse in The Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee is a gated trail. It isn’t gated to keep visitors away but keep vehicle’s from driving through. The trail must be taken on foot. It’s the trail leading to the Walker sisters cabin.
We began our wilderness walk hiking a mile uphill over wide rocky trail.. I could hear rushing water to my side but with the forest so dense I could not see it’s source.
This is a rain forest, lush, green and damp, full of life. Trees soar to impossible heights above the fern covered floor.
Magnolias grow wild, tucked between trunks of more substantial trees towering above, vying for the few rays of light that never seems to reach the cool darkness of the canopy below.
My fingers are icy cold. I feel it spread across my cheeks and nose but press on.
It’s magical… mountain magic I suspect, that sweeps you away to witches In the woods and Fairy lore, drawing the imagination into childhood stories long forgotten. I catch myself looking for fairy rings and bread crumbs trails.
It’s silence is deafening. Not the eerie silence like the eye of a hurricane but the silence of nature, bereft of Hustle & bustle, technology and man.
These are called the Smoky Mountains for the misty vapors that rise between the trees and hovers like a cloud above their peaks.. it reminds me of the beginning, of Genesis.
You feel close to God here. The strange longing for church bells in the distance and a hymn of praise rests upon my tongue but my lips dare not part to break this holy solitude. The trilling of the birds chime like bells instead and the rush of water over rocky bottom creek sings praise.
I find myself longing to hear my Father’s voice, to hear Him call my name across this garden and stroll with me awhile through Eden.
Who are the Walker Sisters?
In the 1940s and 1950s, visitors to the Little Greenbrier section of the park were greeted by the Walker Sisters, a group of women who looked like they walked right out of the 1800s. These sisters weren’t actresses or participants in some sort of historical reenactment, they actually lived in a log cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Walker Sisters spent their entire lives in a cabin in Little Greenbrier Cove that was built by their grandfather in the 1840s. The property was obtained by their father, John Walker, when he returned to the area after fighting for the Union in the Civil War. John and his wife Margaret had eleven children: seven daughters and four sons! From oldest to youngest, the Walker Sisters were:
While all of the sons eventually left home, only one daughter, Sarah Caroline, got married and moved away. When John Walker died in 1921, the property was left to his unmarried daughters. Without any men around, the Walker Sisters assumed all of the responsibilities on the farm. For the next 40+ years, the sisters would be completely self-sufficient: raising livestock, growing vegetables, and making their own clothes.
A sign along the Appalachian Trail.The National Park Moves in…But the Walker Sisters Don’t Move Out
Although Nancy died in 1931, the five remaining unmarried Walker Sisters were still going strong when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially dedicated in 1940. While most locals caught within the GSMNP’s boundaries moved away after the creation of the park, the Walker Sisters refused to give up their family farm. Eventually, a deal was struck in which the sisters received $4,750 for their land and permission to continue living in their cabin for the rest of their lives.
With the establishment of the national park came a host of new restrictions. The Walker Sisters weren’t allowed to hunt, fish, cut wood, or graze livestock. To make the most of their new situation, the sisters became quasi-ambassadors for the national park. When visitors came to Little Greenbrier, the Walker Sisters would say hello and sell their handmade products, such as fried apple pies, crocheted doilies, and children’s toys. Louisa even wrote poems that were available for purchase!
Even though the sisters lived a seemingly austere lifestyle, they actually had a great sense of humor. In a 1946 interview with the Saturday Evening Post, the Walker Sisters revealed their dry wit. As she spun socks for her nephews who were still serving in Europe, Martha quipped, “Guess it ain’t every soldier in Germany that can say his old-maid aunts raised his socks off’n a rocky mountainside for him.” Later in the article, Margaret joked that they needed one of their male relatives to help them with their “bullheaded” mule because “a Tennessee mule has got to be handled special, and none of us can cuss.”
Polly Walker passed away in 1946, with Hettie following her the next year. When Martha died in 1951, the two remaining sisters asked the National Park Service to take down the “Visitors Welcome” sign at their cabin, because they were simply too old to do all of their chores and entertain tourists as well. Margaret died in 1962 at the age of 92, and Louisa lived in the house until she passed in 1964. Sarah Caroline, the only sister who got married and moved away, died in 1966.
This small building sits atop where a stream still runs through. This is where they retrieved water?
If you get the chance to visit The Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, visit The Great Smoky Mountians National Park with all it’s natural beauty, hiking trails, waterfalls and history.