Vintage farm furnishes antique mystique to area rich in natural magnetism

A new land-donation to the Virgin Falls State Natural Area allows visitors to stroll back into history a bit and ponder life lived at a slower pace during a more down-to-earth era.

A 19th century homestead adjoining eastern White County’s picturesque Dog Cove, which includes a still-habitable farmhouse and period outbuildings, has been added to the state of Tennessee’s public recreation-land holdings.

The state Department of Environment and Conservation — which along with Tennessee fish and wildlife officials manages the area — is ultimately planning to upgrade the vintage home so as to make it available for overnight guest rental. At this time, however, it’s only open for day-use visitation.

The Beecher Wallace Homestead, named after the man who settled the property and built the home, barn and shed structures in the late 1800s, was purchased from Wallace family heirs last summer by the Land Trust of Tennessee. Ownership of the parcel was then transferred to the state in December. The property adjoins 750 rugged wildland acres also acquired by the state in recent years with financial and technical assistance from the Land Trust, Open Space Institute and Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, according to TDEC.

Virgin Falls Natural Area Manager Stuart Carroll in Dog Cove.

A day-use area with eight miles of trails, Dog Cove is known for its small creeks, big woods, serene tranquility and lovely views.

“Dog Cove really is a true cove, reminiscent of Cades Cove in Smoky Mountain National Park,” said Stuart Carroll, park manager for Virgin Falls State Natural Area. “It’s not surrounded by mountains as high as around Cades Cove, but it’s a true cove in that there’s no water that escapes. The creeks appear and disappear, then reappear again. Then they finally they go underground — and that is the source for Virgin Falls and Lost Creek Falls.”

Liz McLaurin, president and CEO of the Land Trust, calls it “a magical place.”

“The conservation of this swath of land is an example of the way, over time, land trusts and partners can build relationships that stitch together special places for the enjoyment of Tennesseans and visitors now and forever,” said McLaurin.

A primary aspect of the Land Trust’s mission is working with landowners to purchase property and “create conservation solutions for Tennessee’s important places,” said Emily Parish, vice president for tho group.

“Dog Cove’s wildlife habitat, caves, creeks and storied history will be cared for and be accessible to the public for generations to come,” Parish said. She called the acquisition effort “a tremendous success for the growing corridor of protected land in the area.”

Likewise, Tom Lee, a Beecher Wallace family descendent who’s been taking care of the place for years, said he’s glad an arrangement was reached that both preserves the property and enables others to appreciate the homestead land and history.

“This place has meant a lot to my family for generations,” said Lee. “We are grateful to know others will have the opportunity to enjoy it and that it will always be cared for.”

Ranger Carroll said the Beecher Wallace farmhouse was built in 1888. Prior to that an old log house was situated on the site. He noted that some work needs to be done on the house before it can be open to the public for overnight stays.

Nevertheless, the Beecher Wallace home “is in pretty good shape for a 120-year-old house,” said Carroll. He credits that to regular maintenance and repair efforts by Mr. Lee, a longtime Cookeville-based home-renovation specialist.

“It’s going to be a nice place for people to come for a getaway,” said Carroll.

Over the years, the state has set aside a corridor network of protected lands across Tennessee’s mid-Cumberland Plateau. Among the patchwork are Fall Creek Falls State Park, Lost Creek State Natural Area, Virgin Falls State Natural Area, Bledsoe State Forest, and Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area. Other natural lands adjoining those are the Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain and Latimer High Adventure Reservation.

Taken as a whole, the plateau conservation corridor connects around 60,000 acres of “significant protected forested habitat,” according to TDEC.