Witt Shields served Cades Cove well in many areas. He and his father, Henry, shared a deep concern for the community. During the Civil War, Henry was a staunch supporter of the Union and a leader of the “home guard”, organized to protect the Cove from Confederate raids. He was wounded while serving in this capacity. He significantly increased his property with acquisitions from the estate auction of D. D. Foute, a Confederate sympathizer and former partner of his father. The “muster field”, used for training the home guard, was located on or near this property. A significant amount of Henry’s property later was acquired by Witt Shields as the core of his farm.
Witt was a stabilizing influence for the Primitive Baptist Church and exhibited unyielding faith in his beliefs. The Church was significantly challenged by alternative Baptist doctrines. Witt was among those who “stayed the course” and remained firm in his Primitive Baptist foundation. Interestingly, his oldest son, George, joined the Missionary Baptist Church, perhaps due to the gentle persuasion of his wife, Polly Gregory Shields.
Witt’s highly successful farm adjoined the Primitive Baptist Church. He was a very innovative and progressive farmer, improving his soil condition through application of pulverized limestone, mined on the farm. His barn was a standard for the community, to the extent that it was thoroughly documented before destruction. Witt’s original house was of log construction. After he built “the best frame house in the Cove” in 1900, this small cabin became known as “the coffin house”. Here Witt crafted coffins for his grieving relatives and neighbors. His new house was “the envy of the Cove” replete with running water! Spring water was piped from the Carter Shields cabin vicinity to a “concrete refrigerator” on Witt’s back porch. Remnants of this refrigerator remain. Witt also established a mill and general store at his home. His industry and skills served the community well!
Not everything worked perfectly for Witt. Descendants report Witt invented a water powered clothes washer to make his wife’s chores a little easier. His wife got her long dress entangled in the drive belt and barely escaped serious injury. Her comment, “Witt Shields, you’re going to be the death of me yet!” One of his least successful ventures was “peach farming”. Seems that Witt spotted a sunny orchard location between his home and Cobb Ridge with great potential. The only problem was that transportation for the ripened peaches was by horse over pretty challenging terrain. Peach butter was the product which came home!
Witt knew that education was the key to the Cove’s future. He donated four acres to establish the Consolidated School, located adjacent to the Primitive Church. He also extended his water supply to the school and operated a “boarding house” for non resident teachers. Witt unsuccessfully lobbied to establish a Cades Cove High School so that the Cove children would not have to commute to Tuckaleechee Cove.
Andrew Witt Shields made many contributions through his faith, skills, dedication and family. This grandson of pioneer settlers has carved his niche in the Cades Cove heritage. Witt and both wives, Anna Walker and Mary Lawson, are buried with other community leaders at the Primitive Baptist Church.
Cades Cove Preservation Association
Old Timers Day Spring 2002