“Nothing is impossible; there are ways that lead to everything, and if we had sufficient will we should always have sufficient means. It is often merely for an excuse that we say things are impossible.”
~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld
There are three churches in Cade’s Cove. The first you come to on the loop is the Old Primitive Baptist church. Naturally, I stopped. Inside the church was a man near the pulpit playing an instrument I had never seen. It is called a Psaltery Harp, or simply a Psaltery. It can be plucked or bowed. It can even be hammered like a dulcimer, though it is not in the dulcimer family I was told. This is an ancient instrument that is most often plucked, though our bard, a confessed self-taught amateur, was using a bow. Click here to hear a bowed Psaltery duet.
Our bard, whose name I neglected to ask, was from Marysville, Tennessee. He said that he likes to play at the Old Primitive Baptist church simply for the acoustics. I can understand that. The church was originally built in 1827. The building standing now was built in 1912. All of the wood came from the Cove, and for some reason, the builders chose pine for the ceiling. Its sap made it a sticky wood to work with, and the hand prints of the children who held the boards in place for the men to hammer can still be seen. Nevertheless, the simple wooden box provides a warmth that many modern churches just don’t have, and I enjoyed listening to this ancient instrument in such a place. It reverberated deep into my bones.
Though our bard was kind enough to tell us a few things, mostly about the inside of the church and his Psaltery, there was little detail about the church’s history or its surrounding graveyard (which very clearly holds many of the Valley’s first pioneers). But we didn’t need a lot told. Morgan County is littered with similar churches; the kind my great-grandfather Hamilton attended well into his 90’s. I never see a small wooden box church like this that I don’t think of him walking two miles, one way, down a pot-holed dirt road to his Union Church at Dingus, Kentucky. These places used to be part worship center, part community center for small populations with sometimes vast distances between them like those of Cade’s Cove. For me, these structures reflect the simpler times in which they thrived. I find that comforting, and I appreciate that they still exist. I’m hoping our bard will be there when I go back. I’ll be sure to catch his name and ask him to play for us again.