thoughts and images from out of the way places
Hiking, Travel

Avent Cabin Hike

Tattered Red Curtains

High above Jakes Creek near the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits a beautiful, long forgotten cabin with surprising cultural significance.  The Avent Cabin was built around 1845 by Humphrey Ownby, making it one of the oldest remaining structures in the Smokies.  The remarkable detail that makes this cabin unique is that it was once owned by Mayna Treanor Avent, one of the South’s highly acclaimed artist.  Born into a wealthy family in 1868, Mayna’s childhood home was Tulip Mansion located within view of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Estate.  Mayna was a talented artist from a very young age;  when she was 20 she left for Paris where she studied Art at prestigious Academie Julian.  After her time in Paris, Mayna returned to Tennessee and married Frank Avent.  The two eventually built a home on Belmont Boulevard in the bustling city of Nashville.  Mayna’s art garnered praise from far and wide; commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to paint reproductions of  two famous portraits, and also by Vanderbuilt University to portray a chairman at the School of Medicine, Avent also has paintings on display in several distinguished museums including Tennessee State Museum.

Resting on Jakes Creek Trail

The Avent family spent much  time in their summer home in the Elkmont community of the Smokies.  In 1918 the Avent’s bought the small cabin on Jakes Creek from Steve and Eva Ownby who had been given the cabin as a wedding present by Eva’s father Sam Cook.  From that point on Mayna spent much of her time at the cabin, making it her official summer studio.  The huge southeastern facing window was installed by Mayna’s son Jimmy to let in the beautiful natural light of the Smokies.

It was this window that first drew my attention to this beautiful cabin many years ago when I was a ranger in the Smokies.  I was hiking down from Bearpen Gap when sunlight bouncing off the large glass panes caught my eye.  I had never noticed the cabin before as it is not on the main trail.  On this spring morning I crossed Jakes Creek to get a closer look at the remote cabin.  I peered inside the window and felt like I had stepped back in time.  Spread before me was a table filled with hand woven baskets, an old oil lamp and books stacked high.  Single beds were made up with vintage checkered blankets and fluffy down pillows.  In the far corner beside the fireplace stood a corner cupboard handcrafted to fit precisely into this space.  I was surprised to see a large spinning wheel sitting near a red ladder that led to a loft.  A colorful woven blanket hung behind the spinning wheel.  There were intricate oil paintings on blocks of wood; they depicted the view from the cabin porch.

Old stove in kitchen

A book in the small kitchen contained notes from visitors that had found this beautiful gem before me.  People that had been invited to stay by the Avent family and others like me that had stumbled across this magical place and enjoyed the serenity from the front porch.  Stories and memories were recorded in the book including a thanks from a couple of hikers that had found the cabin when a snowstorm caught them by surprise; taking refuge in the cabin, the hikers had left 3 dollars to replace a screen that had been cut so they could get into the cabin.  Sitting on the porch that day I didn’t know who Mayna Avent was, but I did know this was a very special place.

Mayna Avent died in 1959 at the age of 91.  Her artwork remains to be admired by all; it is a beautiful testament to a talented artist who lived life to the fullest, enjoying the simple pleasures this beautiful place has to offer.  In 1994 the Avent cabin was placed on the National Register of  Historic Places.  It achieved this status because it was deemed to be architecturally important, having been built in the mid-1800’s and because it is culturally important, having once been the studio of a renowned artist.

Shelter, on Jakes Creek

Last week I decided to take my youngest daughter Abby Rose to this special place.  After a hearty breakfast at the Pancake Pantry in nearby Gatlinburg, we set out to find the cabin.  Exploring the Elkmont community, we took our time going up the trail.  It was such a beautiful and warm early spring day and we enjoyed taking pictures of wildflowers that were beginning to bloom up the mountainside.  We finally found the small overgrown footpath to the cabin and crossed the long bridge over Jakes Creek.  To Abby’s dismay this is the longest footbridge in the Smokies and was a bit shaky as it crossed over the roaring creek.  We found the cabin, still standing proud after all these years.  We spent some time looking around…most of the furniture is gone now.  All that remains are three beds, a hat rack, and the corner cupboard near the fireplace. In the kitchen there is a sink and an old wood stove.  Upstairs in the loft the red curtains hanging in the window are torn and tattered now.  The bright color hints at the lively place this was when Mayna and her family spent summers here.  All is quite now.  Except for the roar of Jakes Creek.  Abby and I sat on the front porch and shared some vanilla caramels as we listened to the creek. It was so peaceful that Abby took a nap as I explored around the cabin.  It is such a wonderful, almost secret place.  I love to imagine Mayna creating one of  her beautiful paintings  in the light of the large window.  How blessed she was to have such an amazing place.  How blessed I am to get to sit on this porch occasionally.  I will be back.  Soon.

Lonely Bed

Corner Cupboard and ladder to loft

Fireplace made from Field stone

Bed Frame stamped with ‘Steel-Leonard Bros Furn. Co, Winchester Tenn’

Artist Window

Old Beds and hat rack

Old Oven Door


Abby Rose Cantrell

Nap time

Cooking Pot

Exterior Wall

Door to Kitchen

Rear of Avent Cabin

Abby Rose Cantrell

Abby Rose

Abby Rose Cantrell

Path to Avent Cabin

Abby Rose Cantrell

The longest footbridge in the Smokies

Abby Rose Cantrell

Abby Rose Crosses Jakes Creek

Some historical information on Mayna Avent is from “Mayna Avent: Artist in the Woods” by Courtney Lix, published in Smokies Life  Magazine, Volume 2#4.
Elkmont is 4.9 miles West of Park Headquarters on Little River Road.  Immediately before the campground a road runs left 0.6 mile to Jakes Creek  Road to access Meigs Mountain Trail, Blanket Mountain Trail and the terminus of  the Cucumber Gap trail.
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  1. According to Mayna’s grandmother was Margaret Ormsby and her fathers middle name was Ormsby. So the cabin stayed in the family?

  2. My grandfather Carl David Ownby was born in the cabin. His father Humphrey Ownby built the cabin his mother is buried near the ranger station. Every year we would go to Cades cove for family reunion and visit great Uncle Lem my grandfather would tell us the stories about being raised up in the mountains…

  3. The optimal high altitude property!

  4. What more could anybody ask for in your home!

  5. wonderful memoires of my childhood are at this cabin. My parents spent their honeymoon there. Funny story, My mother who had never cooked except chocolate chip cookies, went to fix her new husband eggs in the fire place. Useing the frying pan that was next to the fire place, ( that hadn’t been used in sometime). Well the eggs started to turn to rust. Frustrated she turned to my father and said i’m walking to get pancakes. Which we all know is not a short trip. I specialy proud of my Aunt Mayna for seeing that it was put on the Historical list your a wonderful person.

    Enjoy, but do not start a fire in the fire place!

    • What a wonderful story,thank you so much for sharing! Your mom sounds like a woman after my own heart; I had never cooked anything except chocolate chip cookies and chess cake before I was married!
      You are so blessed to have such fond family memories of this beautiful place. We are all blessed that your aunt worked so hard to preserve this wonderful place!

  6. Wonderful memories as a child staying at the cabin for week or two at a time, in the summer. I am so greatful to my Aunt Mayna for seeing that it was placed on the historical list. My children love visiting.

  7. Great photos and such a wonderful, awesome place to visit and explore. I love all the old cabins in the Elkmont area. The National Park Service has finally settled on a preservation plan and have been meaning to get back up there to see what work has been done. I think they have refurbed (or are in the process of refurbing) the Appalachian Clubhouse. I think the plan was to also salvage a bunch of the historically significant cabins but not all of them.

    • Hi Kevin…thanks for the good word. I checked out your website and you are an awesome photographer. The last time I was at Elkmont there was a lot of work going on. They have put in a parking lot near Jakes Creek trailhead. The Appalachian Clubhouse has a new roof and front porch. I’m so glad they are restoring some of the cabins. My favorite, the old one room log structure is being shored up with some scaffolding around the chimney. I love that place!

  8. I want you to take me here the next time I come to see you!! I love this!! Great job!!

  9. Melanie, I love how you find the deep beauty of the most ordinary things. Your eye elevates something as plain as an iron stove door and makes me look twice, considering not only the looks of the piece but the importance of its place in someone’s life.

    I remember the Avent cabin well. Jim talked me in to hiking up there when I was super-pregnant with Brendan and I thought that we would never get there and then I thought I would never get back. But I have never forgotten how it felt like I had come home, sitting on that porch.

    • Holly…Thank you so much! You have no idea how I appreciate your encouragement!

      I love this cabin, and the first time I found it I was working for Jim. It is such a special place. Back then, with all of the furniture and books it really did feel like I was at home. Even now, with it completely deserted, I could sit on that porch forever and listen to Jakes Creek go by.

      The only thing that surprises me is that Jim let you go when you were so pregnant! Remember how nervous he was about getting you to the hospital on time? He used to make me read the emergency birth procedure handbook at least once a week in case you got stuck in traffic on Little River Road when you went into labor. Wow…that seems like yesterday! Miss you guys!

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