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Cook Cabin: Highlight of April Classic Hike of the Smokies

April 15, 2018

Sean Perry at Cook Cabin

Avid hiker and outdoor writer Danny Bernstein, led the April Classic Hike of the Smokies. Danny is a member of the 900 Miler Club, having hiked all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She also has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail Across North Carolina.

by Danny Bernstein

The Classic Hike of the Smokies on April 10 was from Big Cataloochee to Little Cataloochee.

Here’s the basic history of the area:

Cataloochee Trail sign1830s – Settlers move into Big Cataloochee

1850s – The next generation settles in Little Cataloochee. Little Cataloochee is known as an island community, since everything is known from its birth (1850s) to its end in the 1930s when the land became part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Sean Perry of The Hands of Sean Perry walked with us over Davidson Gap and down to the Cook Cabin. (That’s Sean talking with the hikers at Cook Cabin in the photo at the top of this post.)

Sean is a licensed building contractor and a carpenter by trade. He and his crew rehabilitated the Cook Cabin and rebuilt the three-sided porch.

Sean, who runs in the park, found the Woody House in Big Cataloochee and thought about the cabin and probably, its structural soundness. Through some effort on his company’s part, he contacted Friends of the Smokies and offered to help restore the Cook Cabin.

A few months later, park personnel approved his plans. Sean found this gratifying. To him, it said: “We trust you enough for you to do this.” 

This was not the first rehab of the cabin. The Cook Cabin, built by Dan Cook in the 1850s,  was dismantled in the 1970s after being vandalized. It was restored to its original site in 1999.

Cook Cabin and FOTS hikers

Hikers gather on the porch of the recently renovated Cook Cabin, which was built in the 1850s.

Logistics of restoration

Sean gave us a little insight as to the logistics of working on a historic cabin three miles from the nearest road.

Cook Cabin being restored

Crew members of The Hands of Sean Perry work on the Cook Cabin. Perry donated the restoration work. Photo by Hannah Furgiuele

He brought in six to seven people for five working days. The park had given him the keys to drive into Little Cataloochee. They set up their tents on the lawn in front of the cabin. During the week, Sean saw a boar and several bears and cubs.

Sean’s mom became the head of the kitchen staff and organized a camp kitchen on the opposite side of the road on a flat spot. Yeah Mom!

But she didn’t have to cook everything. Sean’s marketing team reached out to quality area restaurants who donated the best food to the staff. No fast food for this team. No, they didn’t deliver.

The crew used power tools. They replaced the decking with white oak and the sill beam with locust, wood provided by the park. But they couldn’t remove the old wood out of the park and were encouraged to build controlled campfires.

Cabin owners: Dan and Harriet Cook, Will and Rachel Messer

We walked to the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church and the cemetery where Dan Cook and his wife, Harriet, are buried. Dan fought in the Civil War. One of their daughters married Will Messer, who was quite the entrepreneur and did well – so well that he and his family could move out of the area when the park came.

Little Cataloochee Baptist Church

The Little Cataloochee Baptist Church cemetery is the resting place of early residents of the area, including Dan and Harriet Cook, the first residents of Cook Cabin.

Here’s Will Messer’s story with a mention of his wife from Rob Neufeld’s column in The Asheville Citizen-Times (June 12, 2015):

Will Messer owned apple orchards, ran the post office and a store and operated a sawmill and gristmill. He also supported schools, churches and others’ building efforts as the population of Little Cataloochee grew from 391 in 1880 to 1,251 in 1910.

Born in 1870, Messer moved with his mother and father, Elijah — a bookish stonemason and fiddle player — to Little Cataloochee as a child.

At age 23, he married Rachel Cook, daughter of Dan Cook and Harriet Caldwell, two early residents. They had 11 children, “ten daughters and every one of them’s got a brother,” Messer said, referring to his one son.

The Messers’ cabin featured a beautifully constructed chimney. Messer added a barn, apple house and spring house to his property and later bought another piece of property and built an 11-room house with hot and cold water and an acetylene lighting system. The Messers moved to Caldwell County in 1934.

Sean will be restoring the Palmer Barn. Watch for details. Thank you, Sean.

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The next Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike will be to Ramsey Cascades on Tuesday, May 8.

Individual hikes are $20 for current Friends of the Smokies members and $35 for new and renewing members. Funds go to support the Trails Forever program that restores popular trails in the GSMNP.

The Classic Hikes of the Smokies series is sponsored by Smoky Mountain Living, Mission Health, Diamond Brand Outdoors, Equilibar, HomeTrust Bank, Smoky Park Supper Club, and Leap Frog Tours.