walker sisters cabin
November 16, 2021

Long before the Great Smoky Mountains were part of a national park, it was an area rich in agriculture and pioneers coming to the area to live a simple life. Among these people were the Walker Sisters and their ancestors before them, and they refused to let the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park disturb their way of life. Keep reading to learn more about the unusual history of the Walker Sisters:

Early Life for the Sisters

All of the Walker Sisters were born and raised in the Smokies. John Walker, their father, received the land and cabin from Margaret’s, his wife, father after he returned from fighting in the Civil War. John and Margaret went on to have 11 children, 7 daughters and 4 sons, and they all lived to be adults, which was rare for this time period. From oldest to youngest, the sisters were:

  • Margaret
  • Polly
  • Martha
  • Nancy
  • Louisa
  • Sarah Caroline
  • Hettie

All 4 sons got married and moved away, and the 6th daughter, Sarah Carolina, was the only Walker daughter to get married and leave their home. After their father died, the homestead was left to the remaining daughters. These women took on the responsibilities of the farm, and for the rest of their lives, they raised livestock, took care of the land, and made their own clothes.

The National Park Moves In

Right before middle sister Nancy died in 1931, the national park initiative was approved by Congress. Land was negotiated for until 1940 when President Roosevelt officially dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While many residents left after the dedication, the Walker Sisters refused to leave their home. They made a deal with the government and received $4,750 for their land and they were allowed to continue to live on their property on a lifetime lease.

With this deal, there were certain rules the sisters had to follow. They couldn’t hunt, fish, cut wood, or graze livestock. While the family couldn’t continue as they had in the past, they made the most of living in a national park. In 1946, a journalist wrote an article about how the sisters were living on their own like people had over 100 years ago. Visitors from all over the country wanted to see the sisters when they came to the national park, and so they took the opportunity to sell children’s toys, crocheted doilies, apple pies, and other handmade items.

The End of the Lifetime Lease

The lifetime lease the government gave to the sisters only lasted until the last sister passed away. Polly Walker passed away in 1946, and Hettie passed away in 1947. After Martha passed away in 1951, Margaret and Louisa decided they couldn’t continue to entertain tourists and get all of their work done, so they asked the national park to take the “Visitors Welcome” sign down that led to their house. Margaret died at 92 in 1962, and Louisa stayed in their home until she died in 1964. The last sister, Sarah Caroline, who was the only sister to leave and get married, died in 1966.

Seeing the Walker Sisters Cabin Today

While the sisters have long passed away, you can still see their homestead today. The National Park Service wasn’t sure what to do with the property, so their home sat empty for 10 years before it was preserved in the 1970s. The springhouse and corn crib are also preserved, and you can see them if you hike Metcalf Bottoms Trail to see the property where these sisters lived.

Now you know about the unusual history of the Walker Sisters in the Smoky Mountains. These women lived like pioneers long after those days were over, and they were some of the most interested and beloved people in the Smokies. Want to learn even more about the Smokies? Find out more about the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!