Nestled in the Elkmont area of the Great Smokies National Park is Spence’s cabin. It is situated right on the Little River and is one of a number of cabins in Elkmont that served as summer/weekend homes for people in Knoxville. The Spence family owned Spence’s Shoe Store on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. Coach Rohe, with his usual powers of persuasion, convinced them to let us use the cabin for a week as a cross-country pre-season training camp. That was the week before the fall quarter began, so we didn’t have to worry about classes and could devote ourselves to putting in a lot of mileage before school started. On the way to the cabin we would stop at a grocery store in South Knoxville (or Sevierville) and stock up on a week’s supply of groceries.
In the mornings, Captain Dave Storey would lead us for an early morning run up the mountain trails—usually about 7 miles for the morning workout. After the run, we would often jump in the river for our bath; that river, which originates high in the mountains, was COLD. After the a.m. run we would eat breakfast. We rotated cooking and dishwashing duties. Then we’d rest up in anticipation of the afternoon workout, usually about 14 or 15 miles (for a total of 21-22 miles per day!) We slept well, except for one night:
The Spence family had warned us there were bears in the area and to make sure we didn’t leave any trash in or around the cabin. There was an extra refrigerator on the screened-in back porch that contained bacon. One night about 2am we heard a loud crash; Roy Hall woke up and said, “I think that’s a bear!” We got up, grabbed some flashlights, and sure enough, a large bear had crashed through the back screen door and had the extra refrigerator in a “bear hug.” Finally, with about 12 guys yelling and shining lights on him, he ambled off the porch and disappeared. We waited until he was gone before we ventured onto that porch. One time it rained there for about 3 days straight and soon all of our workout gear was soaking wet, including our shoes—having to put on wet clothes and shoes to go out on the next run was miserable.
“Follow-up to Spence’s Cabin: after the leases and “life rights” to the cabins expired in 1997, the National Park Service decided to let the cabins “return to nature” by slowly rotting. After much criticism (and much rotting), the Park Service decided to save at least one of the cabins and preserve it as a monument. Sure enough, they chose Spence’s Cabin, and within the last two years it has been restored for its “historical significance.” I like to think it’s a monument because our cross country team used it as a training camp in the mid-1960’s! I recommend a visit to Elkmont to see Spence’s cabin now—especially for the cross-country guys.