Blue Ridge Parkway | TOMKINS KNOB OVERLOOK (MP 272.5)

Jesse Brown Cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Jesse Brown Cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway

View: None
Trails: Tomkins Knob Trail, Mountains to Sea Trail
Picnic Tables: None

There is not even a hint of a view at the Tomkins Knob Overlook, as the place is completely overgrown. However, this pullout serves as the official parking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway for the Jesse Brown Cabin and Cool Springs Baptist Church. The structures aren’t located here, but you can get to them by hiking a tenth of a mile on the Tomkins Knob Trail, which runs .6 mile from here to E. B. Jeffress Park. If you don’t even want to walk that far to see them, enough people have pulled over to park in front of the cabins that an unofficial parking spot large enough for two or three cars has been worn into the ground. This is just .1 mile down the Parkway to the north.

You can also pick up the Mountains to Sea Trail from here. This is a 1,150-mile long trail that runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the North Carolina Outer Banks. It is not part of the National Park system, so I didn’t hike or write about it, but you can get information on the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail website.


Cool Spring Baptist Church near Mile Post 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cool Spring Baptist Church near Mile Post 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Jesse Brown Cabin near Mile Post 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Jesse Brown Cabin near Mile Post 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Small communities often did not have enough people to support a church and a preacher of their own. Thus, traveling “circuit-riding” preachers would come through town and preach for the day. According to the wayside exhibit next to the church cabin, the field where the two cabins now stand is supposedly where circuit preachers Bill Church (whose family I have since learned lived in the area) and Willie Lee often preached. The “church” you now see, which is nothing more than a log cabin, is not the actual church used by the Tomkins Knob preachers, but a building typical of one used as a church by mountain communities. Such cabins served mainly as shelter from bad weather. The preaching was usually done outside.

The other cabin (the one closest to the road) belonged to Jesse Brown, a farmer and preacher who also lived in the area. The question I ask myself is, “If Brown was a local preacher, why did circuit-riding preachers need to come here?” Furthermore, the wayside exhibit states that Bill Church and Willie Lee often stayed at “Jesse Brown’s nearby cabin,” as if they were guests of Jesse Brown himself. If the Church family lived in the area, why would Bill Church stay at Jesse Brown’s cabin? Why not go home to his family’s cabin?

First off, neither cabin was originally located in this field. In fact, they weren’t anywhere near each other and most likely were not even built in the same era. Brown built his cabin a half mile from here sometime before 1840, and it was later moved to Tomkins Knob. The Church family eventually purchased the cabin in 1890 and owned it until the land was acquired by the U. S. government for the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 1905, Aaron Church had it moved to the present location so that it would be closer to a nearby spring.

The “church” cabin now on display started out at Tomkins Knob, but it was relocated to the present spot by the National Park Service. It has been restored twice despite the fact that nobody knows what it originally looked like. For that matter, nobody knows what it was originally used for. I found one source that claimed it was used as a barn by the Church family. Nothing is mentioned about who built it or when it was built.

But why would Bill Church stay at Jesse’s cabin when his family lived in the area? Well, there is no mention of when Brown lived in comparison to Church. Perhaps Jesse Brown was long dead in his grave when Bill Church was preaching. Perhaps Church was actually staying at his family’s cabin, the one they purchased in 1890 known around the area as the Jesse Brown Cabin.

All of my questions stem from the “fact” that Jesse Brown was a local preacher and the Church family lived in the area and even owned the Brown Cabin. I put “fact” in quotes because these are Internet facts, and who knows if they are true. Take what I have written with a grain of salt, or even as a writer simply questioning “out loud” what doesn’t make sense. All I can say for sure is that the cabins were not originally at this spot. The rest is just conjecture.

Both the church and the cabin are empty, so other than taking a photo there’s not much to do here.

Information panel next to the Cool Springs Baptist Church near Mile Post 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Wayside exhibit next to the Cool Springs Baptist Church near Mile Post 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Last updated on December 18, 2023
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