In the 1960s, while building the park, former superintendent Morris E. “Smokey” Harsh discovered what’s now the park’s historic Pioneer Farm cabin, which had been hidden in the walls of an old farmhouse.
Using his own memory of such farms as a guide, Harsh set about rebuilding the cabin and recreating a farm, splitting pickets for fences, hewing shakes for roofs, collecting other authentic farm buildings that would have been employed in a self-sufficient farmstead prior to World War II.
Superintendent Scott Durham, who worked with Harsh, says the cabin now attracts more than 10,000 visitors annually, notably photographers who find it an ideal subject.
“Smokey traveled the hills in Appalachia and saw many of these old farms first hand,” Durham said. “So when you visit the farm, you’re seeing a farm as it would have appeared back when Smokey experienced them.
“He set about rebuilding the house but did not make any attempt at a restoration. What he could do was recreate a typical pioneer farm, and so that’s what he did.”
The cabin was built in about 1835 and likely existed as a simple single-pen structure until 1915 when a larger farmhouse was built around it. The cabin then became one of its rooms.
While the park lodge and facilities were being built, Harsh was tasked with bringing down old buildings and was in the process of dismantling the farmhouse when he discovered the cabin beneath.
He saw the opportunity to develop the structure as a park attraction, and though his idea was not approved by the director of the state park system in Charleston, he proceeded, undaunted.
“Thanks to Smokey, visitors are now able to see one of the most authentic recreations of a farmstead that exists,” Durham said.
Unfortunately, the cabin at first suffered from its isolation in one of the more remote reaches of the sprawling, forested park, and vandalism had become a problem. However, park rangers found a remarkable solution.
“One day,” Durham recalled, “We walked in and found a pile of ashes in the middle of the floor. Someone had tried to burn the cabin, but then we came up with a way to solve that problem:
“we needed to find someone to live there. We’d provide them a space to farm, and they’d provide the security.”
As a result, visitors now have the opportunity to observe an active farmstead in which authenticity is heightened by having a resident farmer.
Guided interpretive hikes to the farm are now regularly afforded by park rangers, Durham said, as are photography courses that feature the farm, though visitors are welcome to walk several hundred feet down the farm lane to the cabin from a gate and paved parking area.
The farm is one of many park highlights. Though perhaps best known for its namesake waterfalls, the park is also home to an 18-hole golf course, an award-winning lodge, 14 vacation cottages, and a 50-site campground.
Its conference facilities, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails keep visitors coming back year after year.