Hiking through history: Little Cataloochee offers a window to the past

One hundred years ago, the parking area and campground just past the fields in Cataloochee Valley where elk often hang out was better known as Nellie, a remote community in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As anybody who’s ever driven the steep and narrow access road from Jonathan Creek can imagine, it was hard to get in and hard to get out in the days when horsepower came mainly from actual horses. People didn’t have much, partly because of how difficult it was to transport outside goods up and over the ridge.

When settlement began in the 1830s, Robert Love, a big landowner in Haywood County, held all the land in Cataloochee. The Cherokee had a presence too, using the land as hunting grounds but not erecting permanent settlements there. Love sold the land to families who wanted to move in, acting as a mortgage holder by allowing them to pay in installments over a period of as many as 20 years. People came, and eventually they outgrew the valley.

When the settlers at Nellie found themselves in need of new land, they looked over the Davidson Divide, to an area known as Little Cataloochee.

If Big Cataloochee, where Nellie was located, was remote, Little Cataloochee was doubly so. Davidson Gap sits 2.6 miles past and about 1,200 feet higher than the parking area, accessed only after some steep uphills and multiple creek crossings.

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