A History of the Wears Valley Area
Much like many of the areas across Tennessee, the beautiful area of Wears Valley has a rich and distinguished history behind it. Even though businesses have made their home here in the Valley, it has managed to maintain its image as a place for peace and comfort; whether it is staying in a cabin with 360 degree views of the Smoky Mountains, or enjoying the various eateries and shops along this stretch of road that connects Townsend to Pigeon Forge. Most people know that Dolly Parton grew up in rural Sevier County, but Wears Valley also was home to residents who played a pivotal role in the founding of, not just Tennessee, but the entire country itself.
While the community is named Wears Valley, the area is also known as Wear Cove. Early settlers preferred this type of area, because the soil here is very fertile due to its limestone makeup. Wear Cove was created from a process in which erosion weathered through old sandstone and revealed the newer limestone underneath. Other well-known limestone coves that are numerous in the Smokies include Cades Cove and Tuckaleechee Cove. Surrounding Wear Cove is Cove Mountain, Roundtop, Hatcher Mountain, and Davis Mountain. The hollows of Little Cove, Happy Hollow, and Smith Hollow cut into the ridges throughout the area. These landforms can be seen as you drive through the area. For a look at a more personal history of the area, it is important to know who was involved in the creation of Wears Valley as it relates to Tennessee and U.S. history.
Samuel Wear was born in Virginia, but his contributions to the great state of Tennessee are where his legacy has been cemented. Wear was a Revolutionary War soldier, famous for fighting in the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina. Here, he was a Captain under Colonel John Sevier, who later became just as vital to the statehood of Tennessee. A couple years later he would build what was known as Wear’s Fort in what is now Pigeon Forge to protect early settlers from Native American attacks. Unfortunately, the Fort was located on the footpath of the “Indian Gap Trail” which led to its junction with the Great Indian Warpath.
Before Tennessee gained statehood in 1796, there was a growing movement for the State of Franklin to join the Union; Wear and Sevier were part of this movement. John Sevier was President of this territory, which encompassed much of East Tennessee, and Samuel Wear served as a state constitutional delegate and as Sevier County’s first county clerk. Despite serving in government, these two would continue to fight in the efforts to ward off small bands of Cherokee warriors.
As the commander of the Sevier County militia in 1793, Wear’s Fort came under siege to the Cherokee faction, Chickamauga. Now under the government which was now the Southwest Territory with William Blount as Governor, the militia--with Blount’s approval--proceeded to raid the Cherokee village of Tallassee killing more than a dozen Cherokee. This was a violent and sometimes ignored part of early United States history resulting in many deaths as the Cherokee and Euro-Americans felt threatened by land both thought were their own. Many of these battles were played out on the fields of East Tennessee and Wears Valley.
Wears Valley was named Crowson Cove after the first white settler in the area, Aaron Crowson. He settled in the area, arriving from North Carolina with his friend, Peter Percefield. The year was 1792, and there were problems with the Cherokee, who didn’t want Euro-Americans settling on their land. After Percefield was killed in a Cherokee attack, Crowson rode back to Wear’s Fort to gather reinforcements, but the Cherokee had left. Crowson’s friend was buried in the area now known as Crowson Cemetery, and later, he would receive a land grant for this piece.
Religion was a vital part of life in Tennessee as churches began to pop up with great regularity on the new United States landscape with Europeans bringing a piece of their home with them to the promise of a new life here. The Bethlehem Church was erected around the year 1800 by Crowson with help from a few other early settlers in the area. It was a multi-denominational church that served the purpose of Baptists and Methodists throughout the century. Services from Baptists were led by an elected pastor, while Methodists had circuit riders lead their service. Circuit riders--for those unfamiliar with the term--were the name give to clergymen during this period who were assigned to travel around certain regions to minister and organize congregations. The name also refers to the fact they always traveled to a location on horseback, and they were always on the move; traveling with limited resources, they preached at any place that was available in different communities.
While religion and churches had an important role in people’s daily lives, they also served a role in honoring those during the somber occasions of funerals. Throughout the 19th century funerals were held near the valley’s western part at Headrick Cemetery. Instead of holding a service inside the church, people found it more convenient to convene at the cemetery location. The most prominent spot at this cemetery was a large oak tree that provided shelter for the people attending. This became difficult at times, since the weather would not always cooperate, driving a need to hold a funeral service indoors; especially in 1902, when a severe thunderstorm took down the tree, apparently, with a lightning strike. This led to the long-awaited building of a chapel, known simply as the Headrick Chapel. The chapel--like the Bethlehem Church--was shared by the faiths of Baptists and Methodists. Both would honor the deceased by ringing the church bell once for every year of life that person lived. It is a tradition that has been carried on by generations of folks and is still done today. This has led to the Headrick Chapel’s recognition of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Samuel Wear and John Sevier spent a great deal of time fighting their causes in the Wears Valley area, but a handful of others also were prominent early settlers and contributed vastly to the growth of the community. The Ogle name is recognized here as well as in the Gatlinburg area in the realm of first settlers in the area. John Ogle, son of William and Martha Ogle, the first settlers in Gatlinburg, was an early resident of Wears Valley and a War of 1812 veteran. William J. Headrick was a Revolutionary War veteran arriving in 1821 from Pennsylvania. He served in important battles in Trenton and Brandywine in the fight for independence from Great Britain. Peter Brickey entered the Cove in 1808 and operated a large farm in the area, while maintaining a distillery, as well. Brickey built a log home shortly after arriving and still stands in the area between Townsend and Wears Valley; also it is among the homes in the area listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He came to Wears Valley from Virginia with his wife Nancy. They would have no children of their own, but they had three servants that are buried next to them in the cemetery that bears their surname.
The Civil War was a tremendously difficult time for many families in Wears Valley. Most Civil War engagements were fought in the South, and people of all social strata were affected. The Brickey farm was one casualty of this war even though he did not live to see its destruction. During the Civil War, a familiar friend and foe to residents of the area, the Cherokee, staged a raid in the Cove in 1864 but was quelled by the Reverend Isaac Trotter, who at the time, operated an iron forge in nearby Pigeon Forge. Earlier during the war, a man named William Holland Thomas became the first white chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee were mainly pro-Confederate, and they were organized by Thomas to help stave off a Union attack.
Not everyone in the area were supportive of the efforts of the Confederacy during the War. William C. Pickens was one resident in Wears Valley who caused quite the ruckus. He was part of a band of small pro-Union forces that sought to destroy various railroad bridges across East Tennessee early in the War. After the attack on the Strawberry Plains bridge went awry, Pickens was severely injured. Another Union sympathizer named WIlliam Brownlow was named as a complicitor and hid out in the Wears Valley area to avoid authorities. He was a former circuit rider who was famous as a publisher of the anti-slavery paper, the Whig. Brownlow was eventually jailed and arrested for treason charges; however, he was released by Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin in late 1861 after a brief stay.
The post Civil War era can be started by describing another prominent Wears Valley resident, Alfred Line. He established a farm at Roundtop Mountain, one of the surrounding coves of the Wears Valley community. Roundtop has a unique feature in which a mountain stream flows down its slopes. This became a small recreational area known to attract tourists in the later stages of the nineteenth century. This was due in large part to the belief that the spring had healing benefits and perpetuated the fountain of youth theory that was prevalent in that time period. Most people think of tourism that came after the Great Smoky Mountains were established, but the pre-modern era can be traced here with this and the building of the Line Spring Hotel by D.B. Lawson in 1910. Prior to the building of the hotel, Lawson’s father would purchase the Alfred Line farm. The hotel served a role in the economy by providing a market for local farmers. Currently, sitting on the original Alfred Line farm on 12 acres is The Appalachian RV Resort, which offers secluded camping and serene views.
Another member of the Lawson family would have a lasting impact in the Wears Valley community, and that would be D.B.’s (Daniel) father, J.D. (James). Lawson was born in 1826 and was known for being an old time circuit rider preacher. The Wears Valley United Methodist Church held its first service on Christmas Day 1886 with J.D. Lawson preaching its first sermon. The Church still stands today under the foundations of fellowship, worship, and education.
Schools quickly became an important part of the early settlers’ plans after the first churches were built. After some planning on a system, two buildings were built--one in the lower end and one on the upper end of the Cove. Aaron Crowson donated the site on the lower end, and it was named “The Crowson School”. W.H. Kings donated the land on the other end of the valley, with residents naming it “The King School”. These small schoolhouses--as one could imagine--had the basic bare bones teaching materials: a blackboard, several teaching books, and a large “chart” that sat on a stage with words that were read by the class together. As the population grew, so did the need for improvements. This lead to the building of the new Wearwood Academy that graduated its first class in 1912. Later, the Sevier County Board of Education would buy the property and change the name to Wearwood School. They would then absorb the King and Crowson Schools into Wearwood, and soon built two more classrooms to accommodate the new students.
Modern day tourism has been fairly kind to residents of Wears Valley; however, it hasn’t always been welcomed by some groups. In 2005, developers were looking to build around 400 homes on Cove Mountain. Despite the efforts of petitioners to halt the process, they were unsuccessful in pleading their case to the Sevier County Regional Planning Commission. They felt that the housing expansion would destroy the natural beauty of the mountain’s qualities.
Today, visitors to Wears Valley come from places all over the world for fishing, biking, hiking, swimming, and shopping. With its proximity to the Smoky Mountains and scenic views, this makes Wears Valley a prime destination for lovers of the great outdoors. There is something here for everyone of all ages and interests to enjoy, as it has been a special place with a rich history for hundreds of years, and hopefully, hundreds more.