Gatlinburg History

 

The 1700s

For centuries, the first inhabitants of the Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountain area were the Cherokee hunters. They used a popular footpath called Indian Gap Trail to follow and hunt the prolific game that lived in the forests and coves of the Great Smoky Mountains. The Indian Gap Trail connected to the Great Indian Warpath and followed the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River in what is modern-day Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Sugarlands.

Apart from Cherokee hunters, the only Europeans that inhabited this area before the 1800s were fur trappers and traders also traversed and camped along these parts sporadically.

The -1800s

Gatlinburg’s First Settlers

In a time when exploring the wilderness was a lonely and often frightening endeavor one woman bravely took her family to the land that her deceased husband had wished for her to go.  Over two hundred years ago Martha Jane Ogle went to this land in eastern Tennessee, the “Land of Paradise,” with her two children and a few other family members, her brother, Peter Huskey, along with her daughter, Rebecca and her husband, James McCarter., and made a home there. This would eventually become the town known as Gatlinburg.  Many more would follow in Ogle’s footsteps to become the first settlers of this beautiful tract of land that still maintains traces of the natural beauty that Mr. Ogle had long been enamored of.

They all made the journey back to the Smoky Mountain area and found the logs William had cut and prepared. Shortly after their arrival they erected a cabin near the confluence of Baskins Creek and the West Fork of the Little Pigeon. The cabin still stands today near the heart of Gatlinburg.

More settlers began to move to the area after the War of 1812. Many of these veterans had received land deeds for 50 acre tracts in the area for their war service. Timothy Reagan (c. 1750-1830), John Ownby, Jr. (1791–1857), and Henry Bohanon (1760–1842) were notable among these first settlers, and their descendants still live in the area today.

What’s in a name?

The original inhabitants of the land named it White Oak Flats for the abundance of the stately trees that seemed to surround them in the mountains.  Surnames such as Whaley, McCarter, Trentham and Reagan began appearing around those parts as more people came to carve out a niche for themselves in the great forest. 

In 1854 Radford C. Gatlin opened the town's second general store, and when the town's new post office was established there in 1856, the town's name was soon changed from White Oak Flats to Gatlinburg.  Gatlin was a controversial figure in the community, a democrat in a republican community,  who not only owned the general store but sidelined as an exuberant preacher. He established his own "Gatlinite" Baptist Church.  Though the town still bears his name, Gatlin remained a contentious figure and due to a series of local disputes, confederate leanings in a pro-union town, and reasons that remain unclear Gatlin was eventually forced to leave the town. Nevertheless the town still carries his namesake into the 21st century and beyond.

Civil War

Times were hard in the first hundred years but the mountain people were tough, even when war broke out all around them.  Only a handful decided to join the cause and fight in the Civil War. Like many Smoky Mountain communities Gatlinburg held a strong anti-slavery stance. However, in spite of their pro-Union stance, Gatlinburg attempted to remain neutral during the Civil War.

Gatlinburg was briefly occupied by a company of Confederate troops led by Colonel William Holland Thomas who were trying to protect the natural saltpeter mines near the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Union troops eventually marched south from Knoxville and Sevierville to drive out Thomas' men, who had built a small fort in the area.

After everything had settled down the locals brought education to Gatlinburg in the form of subscription schools where parents were responsible for purchasing their child’s education.

Logging in and around Gatlinburg

With the invention of the band saw and the logging railroad, the lumber industry experienced a massive boom in the 1880s. As forests throughout the Southeastern US began being harvested at rapid rates, companies were forced to push deeper into areas of the Appalachian Mountains seeking timber. The logging industry came to the Gatlinburg area in 1900 when local figure Andrew Jackson Huff opened a sawmill in Gatlinburg.

While most of the locals had made their living on farms these companies saw the abundance of strong, healthy trees as an asset that they couldn’t pass up.  For a few decades they brought their own men and enlisted some of the Gatlinburg folk as well to hew the tall trees, but changing economic times and new areas to get timber lured them away from the area.  Evidence of their existence in the Smokies can also be seen when hiking some of its trails; cracked cement roads and old buildings where these grisly men slept tell another chapter in Gatlinburg’s story.

Shortly after Colonel W.B. Townsend established the Little River Lumber Company near Tuckaleechee Cove and Lumber entrepreneurs began buying large tracts of land in the Smokies to attain logging rights.  The area logging industry boosted Gatlinburg’s economy as local residents began supplementing their income by providing lodging to loggers and other lumber company officials. Find out more about the logging industry’s history and how it impacted the area by visiting the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum.

Gatlinburg in early Literature/Media

Mary Noailles Murfree, considered the first significant Appalachian female writer was from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She brought fame to the Smoky Mountain region with her book In the Tennessee Mountains (1884) (eight stories on the life and character of the Tennessee mountaineer).  Mary Noailles Murfree published this book initially under the pseudonym “Charles Egbert Craddock,” but later revealed her real name and identity in 1885.

Horace Kephart, a prolific writer and naturalist wrote about his life near Hazel Creek in what would later become the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  His writings about his experiences living in the great wilderness of the Smokies were first published in Field and Stream and Camping and Woodcraft in 1906.

Horace Kephart would later to be known as one of the fathers of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Both the writing of Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart bought the first tourists to the Gatlinburg area around the turn of the century.

The Early 1900s

The first school was not established in Gatlinburg until 1912. The Phi Beta Phi, a woman’s organization dedicated to helping the underprivileged, purchased 35 acres of land to create the school. The school opened its doors to only 13 students. The school was an immediate success, teaching both children and adults.  It quickly grew from 13 to 134 students within the first year it was opened. The school had a strong focus on arts and crafts, which is today linked today to the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and was responsible encouraging and maintaining the thriving “cottage crafts industry” movement of the time.

Jack Huff, Andrew Huff’s son, went on to begin building the LeConte Lodge on top of Mounte Le Conte in 1926.Jack, his wife Pauline,  and their family continued to operate the lodge until 1960. LeConte Lodge is still open to tourists who are ready to rough the hike today

It is also said that LeConte Lodge is haunted, and if you wake up at exactly 3:33 in the morning you might see a ghostly girl standing at the foot of your bed watching you. Though there have been many reports of this ghost, nobody seems to know who the little girl is (was?) or why she pops up at 3:33 to look at people sleeping.

Gatlinburg- 1930s-1950

The Creation of the National Park

With increased logging in the United States, Congress passed the Weeks Act in 1911 the w for the purchase of land for national forests. Seeing the rapid logging taking place in the natural wonder of the Smokies region, author Horace Kephart and Knoxville-area business interests began advocating the creation of a national park in the Smokies. This dream came closer to a reality when With the purchase of 76,000 acres (310 km2) of the Little River Lumber Company tract in 1926.

However, the park didn’t come about without a fight. Unlike national parks created out West, mostly on government land where many people chose not to live on, the land that became Great Smokies National Park was owned by hundreds of small farmers and a small group of timber and paper companies. The farmers did not want to leave their family homesteads, nor did the businesses want to leave huge forests of timber, many miles of railroad track, extensive systems of logging equipment, and their profits behind.

Fortunately, with the diligence of hardcore conservationists, backpackers, and trout fishermen, motorists, and key support groups in Asheville, NC and Knoxville, a bill was signed by President Calvin Coolidge that provided for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Due to complications purchasing the land from private landowners within the soon-to-be park boundaries, the official establishment of the park was delayed. Luckily many groups came together to raise total of $5 million by 1928.

The problem was not over however because the cost of the land had now doubled, so the campaign ground to a halt. The day was saved when the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund donated $5 million, which guaranteed the purchase of the remaining land.

The park was officially dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in September, 1940, at a grand ceremony at Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap along the Tennessee - North Carolina state line.

Between the great World Wars the US government created a program to provide employment and fulfill the dreams of President Roosevelt, an avid naturalist who had visions of maintaining the beauty of his country while providing work for its people.  The  Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a huge role in the early development of facilities and restoration of early settlers' buildings in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The (CCC), an agency created during the Depression to provide work and wages for unemployed young men, worked from 1933 to 1942 when World War II finally shut the program down. The men labored to create over 800 miles of hiking trails, build small structures and other assorted duties necessary to help the newly established park.  Pieces of their past are scattered throughout the GSMNP and can be seen on its trails, a vital part of not only Gatlinburg’s but American history as well. Once these and the park jobs dried up many of the workers decided to make a home in Gatlinburg; to leave its natural beauty would be a shame after spending so many years in it. 

Smoky Arts and Crafts Community

Smoky Arts and Crafts Community also known as Glades, was founded in 1937.  After years of peddling their goods in downtown Gatlinburg, a group of local artisans decided they would invite tourists to come to them.

These artists wanted to be near their places of creation along with their tools and resources. Visitors quickly followed and soon other craftsmen and artists joined the community opening workshops, studios, and galleries most of them right alongside or in their homes.

For over seventy years tourists have been experiencing art in its purest form, watching its creation from beginning to end by the craftsman himself.

Now boasting over 120 artists and craftsmen, all located on a convenient 8 mile loop road, this historic arts and crafts area has been designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail. Today, Smoky Arts and Crafts Community is the largest organization of independent artisans in North America.  Tourists can find a variety of hand crafted items such as quilts, old-fashioned straw brooms with hand carved handles, woven baskets, hand-dipped scented candles, Victorian ceramic pitchers, pottery, dulcimers, stuffed bears, leather vests,  handmade jewelry and more…

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts

Rooted to the settlement school founded by Pi Beta Phi in 1912, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts came about after Sevier County took over the public schools in the 1940s. The early settlement school had a strong focus on arts and crafts and helped develop craftsmanship and artisans that later thrived in Gatlinburg’s tourist Boom.

Pi Beta Phi and the University of Tennessee came together after Sevier County took over public education to establish a summer program of craft workshops for emerging Tennessee artists. This eventually came to be called the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts on the old

Pi Beta Phi Settlement School grounds

Now offering a year-round classes and workshops for college credit and an 11 month artist-in-residence program, The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is a nationally renowned center of contemporary arts and crafts education.

Gatlinburg Tourist Boom Begins

In 1934, the first year the Great Smoky Mountain park was open it was estimated 40,000 visitors passed through the city.

From 1940 to 1950, the cost of land in Gatlinburg increased from $50 to $8,000 per acre and thus the tourist boom began.

The 1960s-Today

Jim and June Gerding opened the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg in 1960. The Pancake Pantry was first specialty pancake house opened in the state of Tennessee. Gatlinburg’s Pancake Pantry has welcomed visitors to Gatlinburg ever since.

Opened in 1962, Ober Gatlinburg is Tennessee's oldest and only ski resort.  Still open today Ober Gatlinburg has eight ski trails and three chair lifts, many more attractions and is accessible via roads and a gondola from the city strip. Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Amusement Park had its beginnings as the Gatlinburg Ski Resort in 1961.  The Aerial Tramway, which was constructed in 1973, and the Ski Resort became Ober Gatlinburg in 1975, eventually becoming the year round attraction it is today.

In 1968, East Tennessee’s beloved Grand Old Opry Star Archie Campbell brought a show called “Stars of the Grand Old Opry” to Gatlinburg’s Heritage Hall. The show featured a consistent and talented group of performers and was so widely popular that the show had to be moved to Gatlinburg’s Ramada Inn Conference Center and eventually to Archie Campbell’s Hee Haw Village-a miniature theme park based on the popular show.

In 1977, The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre and Music Hall opened in Gatlinburg.  The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre sought to revive the 1890s style of entertainment. Their acting company at the time was known as the Great Victorian Amusement Company, and they first began performing plays with such titles as “Lucifer McRotten Strikes Again,” and “Whatever Happened to Millard Fillmore?” Still in existence today, The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre was recently proclaimed a National Historical Treasure by the city of Gatlinburg. Visitors to Gatlinburg can visit and attend shows at this historic theatre.

Built in 1980, “The Mysterious Manson” was created by Vincent "Val" Valentine.  This walk-through haunted house has long since attracted visitors seeking a good spook. Still open today, visitors can walk through creepy rooms and secret passageways in this turn of the century style haunted mansion.

Gatlinburg was catapulted into the national spotlight in 1992 after an aggressive fire burned an entire city block on the night of July 14th, 1992.

The fire began due to faulty wiring in a light fixture and consumed several downtown attractions such as Ripley’s Believe it or not, an arcade, a haunted house, and souvenir shop. The city block known as “Rebel Corner” was eventually rebuilt and opened to the public in 1995.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park & Tourism Today

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the United States.  This national park situated at the edge of Gatlinburg hosts more than nine million visitors a year, which is more than twice the annual attendance at any other park.

The smoke that rises from the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg isn’t really smoke. It’s similar to a mist. The vegetation in the Smokies traps and releases moisture that creates the smoking effect.

Fun Facts About the Park

  •  Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of only two locations in the world where you can witness the synchronous fireflies phenomenon
  •  Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also considered the “Salamander Capital of the World?” The Park is home to 24 species of lungless salamanders.  
  •  North America’s largest salamander, the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is also found in the Smokies. The world’s largest hellbender, measuring 29 inches long, was captured in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1946.
  •  Biologists estimate that 1,500 bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park today.  This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile, one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears can live in wild.  

Tourism Today

Though the town of Gatlinburg only boasts, 3,944 permanent residents, Gatlinburg attracts more than eleven million visitors each year and can grow to a population of 40,000-plus on a given night. Nestled in between the Great Smoky Mountains, with three separate entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from downtown, Gatlinburg is one of America's premier mountain resort destinations.

Slowly but surely a resort was built, hotels popped up, and stores lined the main street that would attract people from around the country.  Now it is common to see visitors from all parts of the globe with a walking stick in hand, trekking around the woods and witnessing the glory of the Smokies with their own eyes.  What was once a quaint mountain village settled by a fearless woman has become the “Gateway to the Smokies,” where hints of the past mingle with touches of the present.

 

 

In a time when exploring the wilderness was a lonely and often frightening endeavor one woman bravely took her family to the land that her deceased husband had wished for her to go.  Over two hundred years ago Martha Ogle went to this land in eastern Tennessee, the “land of paradise,” with her two children and a few other family members and made a home there; this would eventually become the town known as Gatlinburg.  Many more would follow in Ogle’s footsteps to become the first settlers of this beautiful tract of land that still maintains traces of the natural beauty that Mr. Ogle had long been enamored of.

Yet it wasn’t known as Gatlinburg; the original inhabitants of the land named it White Oak Flats for the abundance of the stately trees that seemed to surround them in the mountains.  Surnames such as Whaley, McCarter, Trentham and Reagan began appearing around those parts as more people came to carve out a niche for themselves in the great forest.  The man for whom the town is named, Radford Gatlin, was the proprietor of the second general store in the area yet was soon banished due to varying reasons.  He was also a somewhat eccentric preacher and a democrat where the woods were known to breed Republicans.  Nevertheless the town still carries his namesake into the 21st century and beyond.

Times were hard in the first hundred years but the mountain people were tough, even when war broke out all around them.  Only a handful decided to join the cause and fight in the Civil War, most families preferred to remain neutral and endured the many raids of both the Union and Confederate soldiers.  After everything had settled down the locals brought education to Gatlinburg in the form of subscription schools where parents were responsible for purchasing their child’s education.  Nearly a century later in 1912 the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity built the first public settlement school; this was responsible not only for educating Gatlinburg’s children but also maintaining the thriving “cottage crafts industry” movement that had recently begun.

Between the great World Wars the US government created a program to provide employment and fulfill the dreams of President Roosevelt, an avid naturalist who had visions of maintaining the beauty of his country while providing work for its people.  The Civilian Conservations Corp came to the Gatlinburg area and began its work in what would become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; men labored to create over 800 miles of hiking trails, build small structures and other assorted duties necessary to help the newly established park.  Pieces of their past are scattered throughout the GSMNP and can be seen on its trails, a vital part of not only Gatlinburg’s but American history as well.

This effort helped bring more people to the area that was quickly gaining in interest; it also brought timber companies in the early 1900’s.  While most of the locals had made their living on farms these companies saw the abundance of strong, healthy trees as an asset that they couldn’t pass up.  For a few decades they brought their own men and enlisted some of the Gatlinburg folk as well to hew the tall trees, but changing economic times and new areas to get timber lured them away from the area.  Evidence of their existence in the Smokies can also be seen when hiking some of its trails; cracked cement roads and old buildings where these grisly men slept tell another chapter in Gatlinburg’s story.

Once these and the park jobs dried up many of the workers decided to make a home in Gatlinburg; to leave its natural beauty would be a shame after spending so many years in it.  Slowly but surely a resort was built, hotels popped up, and stores lined the main street that would attract people from around the country.  Now it is common to see visitors from all parts of the globe with a walking stick in hand, trekking around the woods and witnessing the glory of the Smokies with their own eyes.  What was once a quaint mountain village settled by a fearless woman has become the “Gateway to the Smokies,” where hints of the past mingle with touches of the present.