By DAN WHITTLE
Before there was a Smoky Mountain National Park, there was the Carver Family Apple Orchard.
The Carvers have been a landmark Cocke County, Tenn. family for at least seven generations.
Carver-grown apples not only pre-date the nearby massive national park, they also predate the Civil War. The orchard dates back to the 1830s.
"It's likely soldiers from both the Confederacy and Union consumed Carver-grown apples," verified Danny Carver, 67-year-old reigning patriarch of the family.
Maybe the old adage - "an apple a day" - could have prevented the entire War Between the States? Or maybe "an apple a day" could have prevented contrary Washington folks from recently shutting down Tennessee's largest and most attended park during this peak fall tourism season.
Walking on orchard grounds is like stepping back in time, plus it serves as a photographer's delight with beautiful horses moseying through the hundreds of trees that feature apples coming to maturity at various times. Each tree has its own bird house to help control insects.
"We've had a bumper crop of apples, so many that some are falling to the ground before we get them harvested," noted daughter Danielle Carver. "With the ample rain and moderately hot summer it was ideal for apples. The wet summer was not so good for the vegetables we grow and merchandise here at our barn that draws tourists in by the hundreds. Rain also was not good for our children when out of school."
The national park's recent closure brought up a worrisome point to the hard-working Carver family.
"We're hoping the park's recent closing didn't hurt our tourism trade, and result in loss of jobs here," noted Danielle, Danny and Irene Williamson Carver's youngest daughter. "October and November are normally big tourism months before wintertime sets in."
History lives at Carver Orchard, dating back to 1836 when Joseph Campbell planted the first apple trees. Campbell's daughter Jemina married Israel Carver 1. Danny Ray Carver is Israel's great-great-great-grandson, who with wife, daughters' Danielle and Stacey and grandchildren, head the enterprise, including the increasingly popular Carver Apple Orchard Restaurant.
It's a family-operated business from the trees to apple squeezing time in the barn, and from the front to back at the eatery, regionally famous for the Carver's fried apple pies.
"We're the seventh generation of Carvers to farm our 75-acre orchard," noted daughter Stacey.
"My brother, Rodney Williamson, is 'head chef' in our restaurant kitchen," confirmed family matriarch Irene. "Two Williamson brothers also help run the barn where we market our apples and fresh-squeezed apple cider. A fourth brother does our main carpentry work, so it's a family operation through and through."
Someone in our group ordered chicken and dumplings from waitress Robin Williamson, a cousin to the Carver daughters.
"I've had the chicken and dumplings over in Pigeon Forge," confirmed Murfreesboro resident Mary Sue Salmons recently as a tourist to the mountain region. "They don't compare with the homemade chicken and dumplings over at Carver's Apple Orchard Restaurant."
"My family always makes a point to dine at the Carver's Apple Orchard Restaurant here on Cosby Highway (Route 321 that runs between Interstate 40 and Gatlinburg) when we go to the Smokeys," confirmed Smyrna resident
Dorothy Jean Barnett, whose family goes to the mountains each fall to view the beautiful golden foliage. "Their fresh-squeezed apple cider is too good to adequately describe."
"We always serve fresh-squeezed, ice-cold cider with piping hot apple fritters to our restaurant guests," confirmed waitress Robin.
"Ain't they (horses) and the apple trees purrrdy," described one restaurant customer over a plate of country ham while gazing out over the orchard through the restaurant's large picture windows.
A nearby diner asked daughter Stacey to speak …
"I'd be rich if I had a nickel for every time I'm told I talk like Dolly Pardon," added Stacey in her slow-talking, beautiful-sounding mountain brogue. "Now, if only I could sing like Dolly."
The Carver Apple Orchard enterprise, including the big barn where they market all types of apple products plus other fruits and vegetables, has been featured in multiple national news media outlets.
A "spiritual testimony" by daughter Stacey about a very "personal mountain miracle" has also circulated nationally in various religious publications.
"It was about 1:30 a.m. one cold winter's night a few years ago when some friends and I were out doing drugs and alcohol. We had a bad wreck on the side of a remote mountain. I'm told paramedics laid me off to the side of the road thinking I was dead," Stacey shared bravely. "A male friend passenger in the car was killed at the scene."
But a "nurse" suddenly appeared to help the paramedics!
"The nurse instructed the paramedics what to do, and told them I wasn't dead, and that I needed transported immediately to the nearest hospital," Stacy accounted.
A month later, following prayer over her hospital bed by a mountain preacher uncle, Stacey came out of a coma.
"I had months and months of physical therapy learning to walk and talk again," Stacy accounted. "I'm a living, walking and talking mountain miracle..."
So, how did that mystery "nurse" arrive at the accident scene?
"I've spoken with the paramedics, and they agreed the nurse didn't come on the mountain in a vehicle," Stacy said. "She didn't leave the mountain in a vehicle. Actually, we've decided there was no actual physical nurse present at my accident. There truly was a 'nurse angel' that told the paramedics what to do, and that I wasn't dead there beside the road."
Former Smyrna Methodist minister Dr. Ron Brown was present as Stacey shared her "testimony."
"No one can doubt the presence of the Lord and His angels, like shared here today by Stacey Carver," Dr. Brown noted.
"Her testimony sent chills down my spine," added Sharon, the minister's wife.
"I had months and months of physical therapy," added Stacey, now fully recovered physically. "I don't remember things as well as I would like, especially names. But I'll never forget the 'Nurse Angel' that saved my life up on that old ice-covered mountain!"
Daughter Stacy now oversees and personally cooks the "chocolate creations" at her own Stacy's Candy Store enterprise there beside the historic landmark orchard at 3460 Cosby Highway.