The Cumberland Plateau: Autumn, Apples and a Homestead History By Allison Fox

Crossville may be hailed as the “Golf Capital of Tennessee,” but the Cumberland Plateau offers more than good greens, especially during the red and gold of autumn. Teeming with Tennessee beauty, itâ€TMs the gateway to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, as well as Fall Creek Falls, Tennesseeâ€TMs largest and most-visited state park. With tranquil nature trails and a Southern small-town vibe, this region holds an abundance of Tennessee heritage and a host of secret treasures. Fall is the perfect time to take advantage of the plateauâ€TMs natural charm—and you just might discover a thing or two you didnâ€TMt know about your neighbors to the east.

For instance, do you know about the Cumberland Homesteads? Take any Crossville exit off I-40, head south on Highway 127, and youâ€TMll find yourself in the Cumberland Homesteads district, a community steeped in history: It originated in the Great Depression era as one of President Franklin Rooseveltâ€TMs New Deal communities. A U.S. Resettlement Administration project, Cumberland Homesteads promised hope to unemployed miners, textile workers and hardscrabble farmers, allowing them to trade labor for the chance to build homes and establish farms in this new model community. A rigorous application process facilitated the selection of 252 families, who were the â€~poorest of the poor,â€TM but met high standards of character and work ethic, to begin a new life in Cumberland County. The pride and determination of these original homestead families continues on...

In 1988, the Cumberland Homesteads district was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, this community is home to many descendants of original homesteaders. Several of these residents live in the original compact homestead houses, which have a distinct visual style. The façades feature Crab Orchard sandstone on the exterior; inside youâ€TMll find thick wood-paneled walls, narrow stairways and modest kitchens. Residents here are keen on keeping the stories and lifestyles of their ancestors alive, hosting events throughout the year to celebrate and bring awareness to this significant place. While about 100 of these planned communities sprung up during the New Deal era, Marcia Threet, Cumberland Homesteads Tower Association President, explains, “We are one of the only surviving communities thatâ€TMs still in one piece, partially because the houses were built of stone. Weâ€TMre pretty unique.”

Another Crossville gem awaiting you in the Homesteads district is Cumberland Mountain State Park. Many are unaware that this 1720-acre park began as part of the Cumberland Homesteads project. The land was acquired in 1938 to provide a recreational area for the families selected to homestead on the Cumberland Plateau. Built around beautiful Byrd Lake, today the park is a serene getaway any time of year, with cabins, hiking trails, campgrounds, water activities and newly remodeled patios and common areas at the park entrance. Recently opened inside the park is a museum detailing the parkâ€TMs origin and the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who worked hard to build it.

Homesteads Apple Festival
The annual Homesteads Apple Festival will be held September 26-27, promising plenty of apple goodness and old-fashioned family fun. Apples were a staple for Homestead families in the 1930s and beyond, providing a useful supply of fresh and preserved food, and several old orchards can still be found in the Homesteads district. Todayâ€TMs Homestead descendants proclaim, “Apple Festival is our tribute to the original Homesteaders and their wisdom of preserving the bounty of the harvest.” The festival is held on the grounds between the Homesteads Tower Museum and the still-operating Homestead Elementary School.

At this family-oriented event, fried apple pies are a hot commodity, along with fresh apples, cider, apple butter and southern staples like pintos and cornbread and barbecue. More than 100 craft booths on site display their wares and offer demonstrations, including soap making, weaving, wood-turning and beaded jewelry. Local storytellers contribute tales of days gone by, and an antique tractor show marks the rich agricultural past of this region. A â€~kid zoneâ€TM offers entertainment for little ones, and the festival stage features toe-tapping music all day—from folk to bluegrass, with a gospel focus on Sunday. Festival attendees can also tour the Homesteads Tower museum, where youâ€TMll step back in time to find a wealth of home and farming artifacts from the era, as well as information on the communityâ€TMs original families. You can even climb the 97 steps inside the octagonal tower (which houses a 50,000-gallon water tank) to view the beautiful vista of the surrounding community.

Admission to the Apple Festival ($5 for adults, free to children 15 and under) benefits the Cumberland Homesteads Tower Association, a non-profit working tirelessly to preserve and promote the Cumberland Homesteads Historic District, including the operation of both Homesteads museums.

Autumn on the Plateau
With a moderate climate year-round, the Cumberland Plateau is a destination for the outdoors in any season, but there is perhaps extra magic to be found in the crisp air and glinting light of the seasonsâ€TM interchange. A little trip east will gain you an abundance of history, small-town charm and a refreshing foray into natureâ€TMs peaceful spaces. Oh, and if youâ€TMre looking to taste some Tennessee wine at its finest, youâ€TMll be in the right place for that, too. Two stops on the Upper Cumberland wine tour can be found on the plateau: Stonehaus and Chestnut Hill wineries.

And of course, if golf is your thing, then do get out on the Crossville greens this fall: Ten championship courses await you!

Cumberland County hosts several other fall events and festivals, celebrating local heritage, natureâ€TMs bounty and Southern good times:

· September 19: Sweet Corn Festival at Autumn Acres Annual season-opening day of Autumn Acres, featuring corn mazes, hayrides, a barn sale, 5K Pumpkin run/walk and more.

Location: Autumn Acres


· October 3: Fairfield Glade â€~Hit the Trailsâ€TM Festival A celebration of outdoor recreation in Cumberland County, including guided walks and information booths on outdoor activities.

Location: Peavine Road, Fairfield Glade


· October 9-10: Crossville Oktoberfest Great German food and domestic and imported beverages.

Location: Knights of Columbus Grounds


Allison is a writer and food enthusiast in Cookeville, TN.