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.