May 19th, 8:05pm
Earlier we wrote about the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and how the park resulted in the relocation of hundreds of families from the mountain communities within the new park’s boundaries. Many families sold their land to the park service (well under market value) and those who chose not to ultimately lost their property under eminent domain. A few families requested a lifetime lease, including the famous Walker sisters, who lived in Little Greenbrier.
“These old women are ‘rooted to the soil.’ We have always understood they were to be permitted to spend the rest of their lives on their property. If they were ejected from the park we should be subject to severe criticism, and in my opinion, justly so.” Ross Eakin, superintendent of the Great Smokies at the time, sent this as memorandum to the Director of the National Park Service on Nov. 18, 1939 in support of the Walker sisters after they refused to sell or leave their property. Eakin’s plea was successful and the five Walker sisters were granted a lifetime lease. They maintained a traditional way of life on the property, despite (or for) the carloads of visitors to see them as a park attraction, until Louisa’s death in 1964. One can visit the remaining buildings, preserved and placed on the National Register of Historic Places, including their cabin and schoolhouse/Baptist church.
Robin Goddard, pictured above, is a park volunteer (who received the National George B. Hartzog, Jr. Award for Enduring Volunteer Service from the National Park Service in 2013) who hosts a weekly program at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse. Standing in front of the schoolhouse, Robin led us through typical lessons of the era, and taught us about shape note singing, a distinct form of using voices as instruments to sing four-part hymns and anthems - using distinct shapes for easier sight-reading of the musical notations. A local later described shape note singing as something they would trek through the woods and across streams to sing, but wouldn’t cross a road to hear it.