Little Greenbrier Historic Site
The Walker Sisters Place is a homestead in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has been around since at least the 1840’s. The homestead was built primarily by John Walker and Wiley King. Plan to add seeing this historic site to your vacation itinerary! You’ll enjoy a moderate 2.2 mile hike from Metcalf Bottoms to see the cabin, springhouse, and corn crib structures remaining today.
Before your hike begins at the Little Greenbrier trailhead, here is a little history. It all started back in 1870 when Wiley King’s daughter, Margaret, married John Walker, a Union Army veteran, after he returned from the Civil War, and they moved into the cabin. Through the course of their marriage, they had eleven children. The last residents to live and work the land were five spinster daughters, commonly called the Walker Sisters, who were deeded the land by their father around 1909. A brother, Giles, was also given a share at this time, but by 1921 he deeded his share back to his sisters. The Walker Sisters became local legends due to their adherence to traditional ways of living.
While the mountain communities in the surrounding valleys began to modernize after World War I, the Walker Sisters clung to the old way of life, which emphasized self-reliance. The sisters raised sheep and grew corn and cotton, sometimes plowing their own fields. They made their own clothes from the wool and cotton they had raised. The sisters survived by not only living off the land but also selling homemade items to early tourists of the park.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was formed in the 1930s and was charged with purchasing property for the creation of the national park. The Walker Sisters finally agreed to sell their property in 1941 in exchange for a lifetime lease. An article about the Walker Sisters appeared in the April 27, 1947 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The last Walker Sister died in 1964, finally giving the National Park Service control of the property. In a wise decision, the Park Service decided to preserve what was left of the working farm for others to see and better understand the way of life before stores or electricity.
After viewing the cabin, be sure to see the corn crib structure and the springhouse as both were built of hewn logs with half-dovetail notching. The corn crib was built with a large overhang on both sides, creating ample shed space. These structures were sometimes called “plunder sheds,” as farmers used them to store miscellaneous items such as barbed wire, brooms, firewood, and tools.
Inside the Walker springhouse can be seen small storage shelves and a stone trough where a spring once flowed, cooling the interior. Before the advent of refrigerators, springhouses were used to keep perishables cool.
For additional historical details, visit the National Park Service to read about John Walker, the Walker House, and letters written by the sisters.