Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a paradise for history buffs! The Smoky Mountain area is home to a number of beautifully preserved buildings that were constructed in the 1800s. To help you make the most of your next vacation, Visit My Smokies has put together a guide to the top five historical places near Gatlinburg TN.
1. The Walker Sisters Place
The Walker Sisters Place is a historic log cabin in the Little Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Originally built in the 1840s, the cabin remained in use until 1964! The most famous residents of the cabin were the Walker Sisters, five unmarried sisters who refused to leave their traditional homestead, even after the establishment of the national park.
Ultimately, the Walker Sisters were granted a lifetime lease for their cabin and became quasi-ambassadors for the park. When they weren’t tending to the land, the sisters chatted with tourists and sold homemade treats and toys. Today, visitors to Little Greenbrier can see the Walker Sisters’ cabin and a nearby schoolhouse that was built by their father.
2. Elkmont Ghost Town
The Elkmont Ghost Town is another one of the fascinating historical places near Gatlinburg TN. At the turn of the 20th century, this sleepy mountain community was transformed into a bustling logging town when the Little River Lumber Company was formed. The lumber company even built a railroad to connect the riverside logging operation to a sawmill in Tuckaleechee Cove.
The construction of the railroad had the unintended consequence of turning Elkmont into a popular vacation destination. Wealthy families in the nearby city of Knoxville started to take the train down to the Smoky Mountains for weekend getaways. Soon, these families began buying land from the lumber company and building vacation homes.
When the national park was established, many seasonal residents in Elkmont obtained lifetime leases for their summer cottages. Most of these leases expired in 1992, turning Elkmont into a ghost town. While some of the abandoned properties have been demolished, the National Park Service has committed to restoring and preserving 19 of the historic buildings. As of October 2017, six structures have been renovated and opened to the public.
3. The Old Mill
The Old Mill is Pigeon Forge’s most iconic landmark. This famous grist mill was built in 1830 beside the town’s iron forge. As the iron forge smelt ore into pig iron, the grist mill used power from the Little Pigeon River to grind grain into flour. When the area’s first post office was established at The Old Mill in 1841, the burgeoning community took the name “Pigeon Forge”, a nod to the iron forge located beside the Little Pigeon River.
During the Civil War, The Old Mill was an asset to the Union Army in East Tennessee. Looms were installed in the mill to make uniforms for soldiers and injured servicemen were treated on the third floor. In the early 1900s, The Old Mill provided electricity for the city of Pigeon Forge.
Over 185 years after its initial construction, The Old Mill is still in operation today! When you visit The Old Mill Square, you can buy a bag of freshly ground flour or grits at the general store or enjoy tasty dishes made from the grist mill’s products at the Old Mill Restaurant or the Pottery House Cafe and Grille.
4. Cades Cove
Attracting over 2 million visitors each year, Cades Cove is the most frequented section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This breathtaking valley takes its name from Chief Kade, a Cherokee leader who used to hunt in the area. The cove’s first Euro-American settlers, John and Lurena Oliver, arrived around 1818. By 1850, Cades Cove was home to a farming community consisting of 685 people.
While the establishment of the national park led to a mass evacuation from Cades Cove, a number of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley. Visitors to the cove will find John Oliver’s cabin and other homesteads, three beautiful churches, a working grist mill, and a cantilever barn. All of these landmarks are easily accessible along Cades Cove’s 11-mile, one-way loop road.
5. Historic Ogle Cabin
The Historic Ogle Cabin is Gatlinburg’s very first log house. Construction of the cabin began in 1802 when William Ogle decided that the Smoky Mountains would be his family’s new home. Ogle found a suitable spot for a cabin, cut down some trees, and fashioned several logs before returning to his wife, Martha, and their seven children in South Carolina.
Tragically, William contracted malaria and passed away in 1803 before he could make it back to the Smokies. In the wake of her husband’s untimely death, Martha brought the whole family to Gatlinburg to finish building the cabin that William had started. Today, you can see the Historic Ogle Cabin at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center.
We hope you enjoy visiting all of these historical places near Gatlinburg TN! For even more interesting history from the Smoky Mountains, check out our blog about the Civil War in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.