Place Names in the Smoky Mountains

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Have you ever looked at a map of the Smoky Mountains, or maybe have been hiking in the Smokies, and wondered; “where did that name come from?" or "what in the world does that mean?". The following is a list of several place names and regional terms that help explain the meaning and historical origins of some of those names and places that may have had you perplexed.

Abrams Falls: The waterfall and the creek are named after the Cherokee Indian Chief, Oskuah, who later adopted the name Abram (or Abraham) whose village once stood several miles downstream.

Albright Grove: The grove is named after Horace Albright, the second director of the National Park Service. He was also an early advocate for national park status for the Smoky Mountains.

Alum Cave: The State of Tennessee sold this tract of land to three men who formed the Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company in 1838. The firm mined minerals at the bluff, such as alum, epsom salt, saltpeter, magnesia, and copperas. The epsom salts were used by mountain folk to dye homespun clothing a reddish brown. During the Civil War the Confederate Army mined saltpeter out of the cave, which they used to manufacture gunpowder.

Andrews Bald: Andrews Bald is probably named after Andres Thompson, an early settler who used the mountain for hunting.

Balds: Treeless mountain tops or ridges occurring below treeline in the Southern Appalachians are known as "balds". Botanists recognize a second species of "balds" known as "heath balds" which are characterized by treeless tangles of rhododendron and other shrubs in the heath family. Other names, such as laurel bed, lettuce bed, rough, slicks, wooly, and laurel hell, are all local names for balds. Botanists aren’t certain as to whether any of the balds in the Southern Appalachians are natural, or if they were all man made.

Beard Cane Trail: This trail in the far northwestern corner of the Smokies is named for the cane variety that grows in Cades Cove where the terrain is moist.

Boogerman Trail: This trail located in the Cataloochee Valley, and is named for Robert Palmer, whose nickname was "Boogerman." Legend has it that on Palmer's first day of school the teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Palmer replied "the Boogerman," and the name would stick into adulthood.

Cades Cove: Though the origin of the cove's name is disputed, most believe it was named for Cherokee Chief Cade (or Kade), who once claimed the land. Abrams Creek, which flows through Cades Cove, is named after Chief Abram. The long standing theory was that the cove was named after his wife, Kate. However, that theory has apparently been discredited in recent years.

Cataloochee: This valley in the southeastern part of the Park is thought to be a corruption of the Cherokee word “Gadalutsi," which is variously translated as "fringe standing erect" or "wave upon wave" in reference to the trees along the valley’s ridge crests.

Charlies Bunion: The name of this rock out-cropping along the Appalachian Trail was derived when Charlie Conner went hiking one day with Horace Kephart, an early proponent of a national park in the Smokies. When they paused for a rest on the rocks, Conner took his boots and socks off, exposing a bunion that looked like the surrounding rocks. Looking at Conner’s feet, Kephart remarked, "Charlie, I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you." And so he did. Charlies Bunion was originally known as Fodderstack.

Chimney Tops: Chimney Tops was given its name as a result of its unique dual-humped peak tops. The Cherokee name for Chimney Tops is Duniskwalgunyi, or "forked antler", referring to its resemblance to the antlers of a deer.

Clingmans Dome: The highest point in the Smokies, at 6643 feet, is named for Thomas Lanier Clingman, the first man to accurately measure the peak's elevation. Arnold Guyot named the mountain after the former Confederate general because of an argument between Clingman and a professor at the University of North Carolina, Elisha Mitchell, over which mountain was actually the highest in the region.

Cove: A cove is a widening out of a mountain valley, or a meadow land between mountains. Coves are closely related to "hollows" or "hollers" which are small valleys; or bottoms, which is characterized by flat terrain, usually along a stream.

Cucumber Gap Trail: This trail gets its name from the cucumber magnolia that grows in this area. The immature seed cones from the tree look like cucumbers.

Elkmont: The Knoxville Elks Club once held its summer meetings in this area. The gatherings gave rise to the land being called "Elk Mountain," which was later shortened to Elkmont.

Gatlinburg: Originally called White Oaks Flats, there are many stories as to how Gatlinburg got its name, all involving a controversial figure who settled here in 1854. Radford C. Gatlin opened the town's second general store. After the post office was established in his store in the mid-1800s, the town was renamed to Gatlinburg.

Gracie’s Pulpit: This landmark just past Alum Cave is named after Gracie McNichol, who hiked to Mount LeConte on her 92nd birthday. The pulpit marks the halfway point to the summit of Mt. LeConte along the Alum Cave Trail.

Grapeyard Ridge Trail: This trail located off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is named after the wild grapes that grew in this area.

Gregory Bald: This bald overlooking Cades Cove is named after Russell Gregory, an early settler in the area. He and other cove residents used the field to graze cattle during the spring and summer when the fields in the cove were needed for growing crops. Like most Cades Cove residents, Gregory supported the Union during the Civil War. He was ambushed and murdered by Confederate guerillas from North Carolina in 1863.

Holy Butt: Allegedly for religious reasons, an area resident known as Aunt Lydia renamed the mountain and stream from "Holly Branch" to "Holy Butt."

Juney Whank Branch: The stream and the falls are more than likely named for Junaluska "Juney" Whank, a man said to be buried in the area. However, there are some people who believe Juney Whank is a Cherokee phrase that means "where the bear passes".

Knob: A “knob" is a mountain top.

Lead Cove Trail: The name of this trail near Cades Cove is supposedly derived from the ore that was extracted here in the 1800s.

Licklog Branch: Herders used to cut deep notches into fallen trees and fill them with salt for their livestock near rivers and streams.

Mellinger Death Ridge: The ridge purportedly received its name when Jasper Mellinger went walking along the ridge and became caught in an illegal bear trap. Sometime later the trappers found him alive. Rather than risk their illegal operation being discovered, they opted to kill him. Mellinger's body was found a year later after one of the culprits confessed to the crime.

Meigs Mountain: Is named after Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs, a Revolutionary War veteran who conducted an early survey of the Smokies around 1802. He also served as Indian Agent for the Cherokee Nation from 1801 to 1823. Although the reason for naming this particular mountain after Meigs is unknown, Meigs supposedly hung a brightly-colored blanket atop the adjacent mountain, now known as Blanket Mountain, for use as a compass reference point, suggesting he conducted operations in the area.

Mount Cammerer: The mountain is named after Arno Cammerer, the well liked Director of the National Park Service in the 1930s. Cammerer was an instrumental figure in helping to establish a national park in the Smokies. With the help of Colonel David C. Chapman of Knoxville, Cammerer convinced John D. Rockefeller Jr. to make a gift of $5 Million, which was used to purchase the lands that would become the national park. After his death in 1941 the peak formerly known as "White Rocks" received his name. Mount Cammerer is also known for the historic fire tower that sits atop the mountain.

Mount Chapman: The 4th highest mountain in the Smokies is named after Colonel David C. Chapman, a Knoxville business leader who led efforts to establish a national park in the Smokies. As head of the Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission from 1927-1937, Chapman raised funds and negotiated hundreds of land purchases that made the establishment of the park possible.

Mount Guyot: The second highest mountain in the Smokies is named after a distinguished Swiss-born physical geographer, Arnold Guyot. In 1856, 1859, and 1860, Guyot, who was assisted by a local guide, conducted the first detailed surveys of the area now inside the Park.

Mount Kephart: is named for Horace Kephart, who quit his job as a librarian in St. Louis to live among the people of the Smoky Mountains. His book, Our Southern Highlanders, details his experiences during that time period. He also campaigned for the establishment of a national park in the Smokies, and lived just long enough to know that the park would be created. He died tragically in a car accident in 1931. Two months before his death, Mount Kephart was named in his honor.

Mount LeConte: There is considerable controversy over which member of the LeConte family the third highest mountain in the Smokies was named for. Most people, including the USGS, assume that Joseph LeConte, the famous geologist and charter member of the Sierra Club, is the man for whom the mountain was named. However, that claim has been challenged in recent years. The authors of A Natural History of Mount Le Conte, and the Georgia Encyclopedia, both claim the name honors Joseph’s older brother, John, who was famous as a scientist and as president of the University of California, at Berkeley. Allegedly, Samuel Buckley, a geologist, named the peak after John to thank him for his help measuring the peak's elevation.

Mount Sequoyah: Named after the Cherokee silversmith who created an alphabet for the Cherokee language. In the space of two years nearly all of his people could read and write the language.

Mount Sterling: According to early residents of the area the mountain was named after a 2-foot wide lead streak was discovered in the bed of the Pigeon River, near the mountain's northern base. The early residents mistakenly thought the lead was silver.

Newfound Gap: Named after a new passage was discovered in the late 1850s, which offered settlers a shorter route through the main range of the Smoky Mountains.

Oconaluftee: comes from the Cherokee word egwanulti, which means "by the river," a reference to one of the oldest Cherokee villages along the river. The Cherokee word was corrupted in pronunciation and spelling by the European settlers who arrived in the early 1800s. The word became Oconaluftee, and soon, by association, grew to mean the river itself.

Road to Nowhere: Lakeview Drive just outside of Bryson City is now known as "The Road To Nowhere" by most local residents. The construction of the 6-mile scenic drive came about when citizens of Swain County gave up the majority of their land for the creation of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During the 1930s and 40s hundreds of people were forced to leave their homes to make way for these Federal projects. Additionally, when the TVA filled Fontana Lake, Old Highway 288 was buried beneath its waters, and with it, many of those people lost access to their family cemeteries. In exchange for their lands, however, the Federal Government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road along the north shore of the lake, thus giving displaced residents access to old family cemeteries. Unfortunately for Swain County citizens, environmental issues stopped construction of the road at the tunnel, and it was never completed. As you might expect, lawsuits ensued. After a decades-long fight the dispute with Swain County residents was finally resolved in February of 2010 when the US Department of Interior signed a settlement agreement that paid Swain County $52 million in lieu of building the road.

Russell Field: This bald on the Appalachian Trail is thought to be named after Russell Gregory, an early settler in the Cades Cove area. He and other cove residents used the field to graze cattle during the spring and summer when the fields in the cove were needed for growing crops. Like most Cades Cove residents, Gregory supported the Union during the Civil War. He was ambushed and murdered by Confederate guerillas from North Carolina in 1863.

Shuckstack: The peak earned its name for its resemblance to corn stalks during fall harvest.

Smokemont: As one of the base camps for the Champion Fibre Company, Smokemont was once a thriving lumber town with homes, businesses and a school. It also housed a logging mill, commissary, a club house, and even a hotel. In the early 1920s the sawmill at Smokemont produced up to 45,000 feet of lumber and pulp wood per day. It’s now a campground maintained by the National Park Service.

Smoky Mountains: The Park is named for the mist or blue haze that surrounds the mountains resulting from the interaction between the moist environment of streams and waterfalls and the thick vegetation. The Cherokee name for the area, Sha-co-na-qe, means "place of blue smoke."

Spence Field: is named after James Spence who built a cabin in this area in 1830. The History of the Grassy Balds in GSMNP, an online book on the National Park Web Site, states that both Russell and Spence Fields aren't natural grassy balds, but were actually cleared by settlers for the purposes of grazing cattle.

Sugarlands: When the first American settlers arrived in the early 19th century they named this valley near Gatlinburg after the many sugar maple trees growing in the area at the time. Syrup was made from the sap in these trees, and was used as a sweetener in the days before the availability of cane sugar.

Townsend: In 1900, hoping to capitalize on the thick virgin forests of the Smokies, Colonel W.B. Townsend of Pennsylvania purchased 86,000 acres of land along Little River, stretching from Tuckaleechee Cove all the way to Clingmans Dome. The following year, Townsend received a charter for his new firm, the Little River Lumber Company. A band saw mill was erected in Tuckaleechee, and Townsend gave his name to the community that grew in the mill's vicinity.


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