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Pigeon Forge, TN is celebrating a major anniversary in 2017! Two hundred years ago, an iron forge was built along the banks of the Little Pigeon River where The Old Mill Square stands today. This iron forge became an iconic part of the city and served as the inspiration for the name “Pigeon Forge”. To mark this special occasion, Visit My Smokies did a little research to bring you the history of Pigeon Forge’s iron forge.
Isaac Love and the Iron Forge
Local businessman Isaac Love established the iron forge in 1817 on the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River. Love inherited the riverside property from his father-in-law, Mordecai Lewis, who owned 151-acres of land in the area. During this period, the state of Tennessee offered tax incentives for the creation of iron works on land that was unfit for farming.
To take advantage of these business-friendly conditions, Isaac Love purchased over 7,000 acres of land around the iron forge. Brown hematite ore was mined in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and brought to the forge via ox-drawn wagons. The iron forge’s blazing hot furnace smelt the ore into pig iron, which was then molded using a 500-pound trip hammer. The massive hammer was operated using power from the Little Pigeon River.
Isaac Love’s iron forge produced farming implements, building equipment, and bars of iron that were sold across the country. You can watch WBIR’s interview with local historian Jimmy Proffitt to learn more about the iron forge:
The Forge is Joined by a Mill
In 1830, Love and his sons built a grist mill next to the iron forge, which was used by farmers in the area to grind their grain into flour. Today, this historic grist mill is known as The Old Mill and attracts over one million visitors each year. The Old Mill also has the distinction of being the most photographed mill in America!
In May of 1841, Isaac’s son William established the area’s first post office at The Old Mill Square. Since the iron forge located on the Little Pigeon River was the heart of this growing mountain community, the city was given the name “Pigeon Forge”.
Despite its historical significance, the iron forge never turned a profit. Isaac Love sold the forge in 1841 and the furnace changed hands a few times before being dismantled in the 1880s.
Legacy of the Iron Forge
Although the iron forge is no longer standing, its legacy can still be seen when you visit Pigeon Forge. In addition to giving the city its name, the iron forge spawned The Old Mill Square, which is among the area’s most popular destinations for shopping and dining.
The Old Mill Square is home to a few shops that pay homage to the history of the iron forge. The Iron Mountain Blacksmith Craft Shop is a unique store where visitors can watch a third generation blacksmith demonstrate his trade. For a fee, guests can take a hands-on blacksmithing class where they make their own souvenir knife using a hammer, anvil, and furnace.
The Old Forge Distillery also takes its name from Isaac Love’s iron forge. This excellent distillery is located close to where the forge once operated and incorporates local history into its branding. Their signature moonshine, 1830 Original, references the year that The Old Mill was constructed.
To learn more about all of the wonderful attractions and shops in town, check out our complete listing of Things to Do in Pigeon Forge!