Sorghum Mill in Cades Cove

There is a popular photograph of the Gregg-Cable house in Cades Cove taken from across a field of the house, showing it at an angle, the fence that surrounded it, as well as a few landmarks that stood outside the property. One of those landmarks is a Sorghum Mill – a very important piece in the history of Cades Cove.

For sweetener in food and drink, Great Smoky Mountain settlers used such home-made products as maple syrup, honey and maple sugar. They also used a dark, sweet syrup called molasses. Added to biscuits or corn bread with a little butter and you had a mountain delicacy that hard to beat.

In Cades Cove, molasses was made by way of a sorghum mill like the one found near the Gregg-Cable house. From its beginnings as sorghum cane, Molasses are produced by stripping the leaves off the sorghum cane, then feeding them between the rollers of the sorghum mill.

A mule, horse, or an ox would walk in circles, attached by a harness to the long poles of the mill. This continuous walking would keep the rollers turning which pulled the stalks further into the mill where the sorghum juice was squeezed out of the stalks. The juice was then collected and subsequently boiled down in an outdoor furnace until it was thick and dark. Molasses could be used as a sweetener in a variety of ways. Molasses can be purchased about the middle of September into October at the Cades Cove visitors center.

The sorghum mill is an interesting contrast to the Cable Mill. The farmer had two energy sources: water power and animal power. One was strong but stationary; the other portable but relatively weak. Both served well into this century on mountain farms.

Cades Cove Blacksmith Shop

During the years when people actually called Cades Cove home, before its designation as a national park, no person was more revered or needed than the blacksmith. Some say, in those days, a blacksmith was as important if not more so than a doctor.

In those days, horses were THE mode of transportation, and in some cases powered farming equipment. A blacksmith’s abilities were needed at some point or another by every farmer in the Smokies. When James V. Cable, son of John P. Cable, inherited his father’s mill and farm, he took it upon himself to teach himself the trade of a blacksmith. Maybe it was the numerous people who brought him grain and logs to be milled that planted the idea in his head. Grains and logs were milled by way of wagons drawn by horses and mules. Each required horseshoes. At the same time as the grains and logs were being milled, most customers wanted their animals shod. It was way more convenient than traveling somewhere else. The metal shoes worn by mules and horses, on average, needed pulled and reset every 8 or so weeks. Blacksmiths were in constant need to carry our these tasks.

In order to do this, blacksmith cut the nail ends off and then pulled the shoes right off the mule or horse. The hoofs were then trimmed down like fingernails. Finally, the old shoes could either be reset or brand new shoes could be made and re-shod. The process called for the metal to be heated until it was bright hot and molded into a horseshoe.

But it wasn’t just horses that needed such things as new shoes, blacksmiths in the Smokies crafted metal to be used in the home, on the farm and in the light power industry. The list of items made by blacksmiths could fill up page after page. Things like adzes, axes, hinges, bolts, plows, nails, hammers, chains, hoes, bits, broadaxes, hooks, kitchen knives and drawknives. Cades Cove blacksmiths were certainly welcome and well respected for their skills and paid in everything from labor to crops to cash money.

Today, the James Cable’s Cades Cove blacksmith shop still stands and is a monument to a profession that had as much to do with the lives of those early Cades Cove settlers as any crop or natural resource produced in the area.

Cades Cove Controlled Burn Scheduled for This Week

Don’t be surprised if you see a few brush fires being watched in the Cades Cove area this week. Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire management personnel will be conducting a few controlled burns in Cades Cove Nov. 5-9. Of course, this is one dependent on weather cooperation.

In all, about 570 acres are tabbed to be burned as a part of this prescribed burn.

In order to keep Cades Cove’s fields from being reclaimed by forest, they are strategically being burned. Around 950 acres of fields are mowed twice a year that are visible to motorists and cyclists from the Cades Cove Loop Road. The Cove’s many other fields – totaling around 1,500 acres, are kept up by burning or mowing on a three-year rotation.

These seasonal controlled burns benefit the park as well as its inhabitants. They encourage new grass, providing high quality cover and opportunities for wildlife including deer, turkeys, and ground nesting birds who forage for food on the ground.

Without these prescribed burns, officials with the park say that Cades Cove would quickly convert to pine and hardwood forest, instead of the lush green meadows people are used to seeing.

The burn will be carried out by national park staff. Firefighters will ignite the grasslands each day and make sure the fire stays within its designated boundaries. Grass sections surrounding each field marked for burning have been cut short in order to contain the burned sections.

Cades Cove Loop Road will remain open this week but motorists may experience delays due to smoke or other safety concerns.

“Motorists are asked to reduce speed in work zones and if smoke is present, keep windows up and headlights on,” said Dave Loveland, fire management officer. “The public, of course, will notice smoke in the valley but it will dissipate quickly and not unduly impact their visit.”