- [S106] The Mountain Press, 22 Aug 2015.
Upland Chronicles: Bohanons formed friendship with New York couple
On Aug. 18, 1926, newlyweds Bob and Mary Parke left Buffalo, N.Y., in their two-passenger Chevrolet roadster and drove to the Smoky Mountains. “We drove through Sevierville, about 900 miles from home. Gatlinburg proved to be the jumping-off place,” Bob Parke later recalled in a written account. “It was a hamlet. I remember a frame hotel, a gas station, a small country store and a few houses.”
At the Mountain View Hotel, the young couple was advised to “enter the mountains by a road leading to Greenbrier, from which a trail led up Mount LeConte.” Following a treacherous drive, the newlyweds crossed the wooden bridge into Greenbrier Cove.
Bob and Mary aborted their hike after an unexpected rainstorm caught the naive newlyweds by surprise. They retreated to the LeConte Hotel, where Kimsey Whaley offered to rent them a cabin for $3.50 a week. “A lovelier setting for a honeymoon cabin would be hard to imagine,” Parke recalled.
The next morning, a mountaineer who lived nearby came to greet them. “He was a friendly man, slender, small of stature, and had a complexion that said outdoorsman. He wore overalls, what appeared to be the upper part of pajamas, and a straw hat with holes that his hair stuck through.”
“Welcome strangers. My name is Mark Bohanon. I live yonder,” he pointed. “We’d be proud to have you visit with us.” The two men shook hands. Next day Bob and Mary walked up the footpath that led them to a family that was to change their lives.
Mark Bohanon was born July 4, 1878, one of eight children of Henry and Sophie Ogle Bohanon. On Jan. 22, 1871, he married Matilda Plemmons and they had 14 children.
In the ensuing weeks, Bob and Mary became well-acquainted with the Bohanon family, as well as other mountain neighbors such as Mack Whaley, who led them on mules on their postponed hike to the summit of Mount LeConte.
“Rarely can you find people as happy as the Bohanons. They were solid, self-supporting, self-reliant, skilled in the lore of mountain living,” Bob Parke later wrote. “They were a loving family. No offspring talked back to a parent. Both parents assumed and practiced responsibility to raise the children. Religiously they were fundamentalist, believing the Bible without question. Refrigeration was a dispensable luxury. They cooked and canned. Central heating was meaningless. They had a fireplace, an iron stove and a forest full of firewood.”
Mary, a graduate of Vassar College, and Bob, soon to graduate from Antioch College, learned much from their new friends that summer. Matilda showed them how to spin yarn. Then she started to knit. By the time they left for home, she had knitted Bob a pair of socks.
When it came time to leave the mountains, the Parkes wanted a bearskin as a souvenir. From his high fence, Mark Bohanon removed a beautiful hide of a half-grown bear, about 42 inches long with thick, glossy black hair. Bob paid Mark his price of $15.
The bearskin caused a lot of excitement. Dogs downwind from the Parkes’ passing car barked at them. At every stop for gas, they were besieged by yelping dogs, “some of them in a frenzy.” Then they were off to Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Bob was to graduate and Mary took postgraduate courses in education and child care.
After Bob graduated from Antioch, the couple returned to Buffalo, where Bob joined his father’s real estate firm.
Leaving Mary at home with their 1-year-old son, Bob returned to Greenbrier Cove with his father and sister in 1928. They stayed at the LeConte Hotel and spent at least one night with the Bohanon family at Mark’s insistence, because night-crawling copperheads made a walk back to the hotel too dangerous.
After they returned to Buffalo, the families began exchanging letters. Mark Bohanon sent several, all in different handwriting. In 1929, the Parkes received a letter from the Bohanons stating that they had moved out of Greenbrier. They had a new address: Bird’s Creek, Route 9, Sevierville.
When Bob and his sister Margaret returned in 1930, Greenbrier seemed different without the Bohanons. Otha, son of Mark and Matilda, came one day, and they caught trout that they ate for lunch. Later, they visited the Bohanons in their new home at Bird’s Creek.
Bob returned in 1933 with his brother-in-law to spend a week in the wilderness of the Smokies carrying 75-pound packs. Driving home from a convention in Gainesville, Fla., Bob made his fifth visit to the Smoky Mountains with three students in 1940. They were welcomed at the Bohanon home.
In July 1947, Bob retuned with two of his three sons. They drove to the Bohanon farm on Bird’s Creek, where they slept in sleeping bags in a barn and his sons got acquainted with their father’s mountain friends, eating several meals with their genial hosts.
In 1950, Mary joined Bob on an automobile trip around the United States. Their first stop was Mark Bohanon’s house. By this time, the Bohanons had moved from Bird’s Creek to Sims Road. Mark and Matilda were becoming advanced in years, and their physical activities had been reduced.
After dinner that first evening, they were sitting on the front porch when they heard voices. Up the road a regular parade was coming. It was the Bohanon clan all walking together toward them. They had guitars and songbooks, and they gathered around the porch and played and sang.
In 1962, Bob Parke received a letter reporting Mark Bahanon’s passing at age 83. After the death of Mark Bohanon, Bob’s visits to the mountains became shorter. They were calls for an hour or two en route to other destinations. Mary and Bob visited Matilda until her passing in 1967 at age 89.
In June 1979, Bob attended the Bohanon family reunion at Greenbrier. Mary had died a year before.
In 1982, at the urging of family and friends, Bob decided to write about his half-century adventure with the Bohanon family. His oldest son pointed out a unique feature of those experiences: “Lots of people meet other culture. Yours is different because you have continued the contacts and watched the people change.”
Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.
The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email@example.com.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, 460, 1880.
- [S75] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume II, 1955-1973, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 7 Mar 1962.
Bohanan, Mark 84 farmer b. Jul 4 TN d. 3-7-1962 R8 Sev f. Henry m. Sophia Ogle Sims Chapel Cem Survivors: wife Tilda Plemmons 8 sons Rev Russell Bohanan R8 Dave Levi Otha Decatur Oscar Lee Walter 5 dau Mrs Oscar Roberts Mrs Commodore Whaley Mrs Bessie Stoner Mrs Martha Gilbert Mrs J P Trotter 1 bro James 208 gc including 6 generations 1 gggc.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 175.