A Smoky Mountains Timeline: The History of Pigeon Forge
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While it may be one of the country’s leading tourist destinations today, Pigeon Forge has a rich Appalachian history that dates back as early as the 1700’s. Next time you head towards the Smoky Mountains, make sure you stop by many of the historic sites in the area and try to imagine what Pigeon Forge looked like over a century ago. Here is the everything you need to know about the history of Pigeon Forge:
The name “Pigeon Forge” stems from the iron forge that was built by Isacc Love along the Little Pigeon River, in the area now known as the Old Mill. For years before any modern settlement, the Cherokee tribe used the valley where Pigeon Forge is located as hunting ground. Their footpath, now known as “Indian Gap Trail,” passes through Pigeon Forge into North Carolina. This trail brought the first European settlers to Pigeon Forge, including American Revolution veteran, Colonel Samuel Wear. Wear was one of the first permanent settlers in Pigeon Forge and is responsible for erecting Wear Fort that provided shelter for the pioneers of Sevier County.
In 1785, the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Dumpling Creek, giving much of modern day Sevier County to the U.S. Soon after, Robert Shields moved to the area and began construction on Shields Fort, which was located where Dollywood now stands. While Shields never faced backlash from the natives, Wear Fort was on the receiving end of many Cherokee attacks and had a long-standing rivalry with the natives. Eventually treaties were negotiated at Tellico Blockhouse in 1794 and peace was brought to the area.
Religion played a huge part in the development of the history of Pigeon Forge throughout the 1800’s. Many circuit rider clergymen would come to preach Methodist teachings in the valley, eventually establishing churches throughout the Appalachian communities. In 1817, the iron forge was established by Love and soon after, his son would create the first post office in the area. The forge was eventually purchased by John Sevier Trotter, who made several modifications, including adding the sawmill. Over 20 years later, the first health resort was established in Pigeon Forge at Henderson Springs. The first tourists soon arrived to visit the mountain springs and experience the health-restoring qualities of the water.
With the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, Pigeon Forge was officially put on the map. While there remained little to no outside revenue in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge began to boom. In 1961, Pigeon Forge was officially incorporated and the Rebel Railroad was built by the Robbins brothers. Later named the Goldrush Junction, this railroad simulated a ride on a Confederate steam train that was under attack, making this the first amusement ride in Pigeon Forge.
In 1982, Pigeon Forge issued zoning plans for the entire US-441 strip for tourism use. Soon after, Goldrush Junction was bought by then-owner of the Cleveland Browns, Art Modell. Modell turned the area into the theme park, Silver Dollar City, which eventually became Dollywood.
Pigeon Forge Today
Today, Pigeon Forge is celebrating 60 years of being a top-rated tourist destination in the U.S.! Attractions like Dollywood have thrived and expanded, the Pigeon Forge strip is filled with all kinds of shopping and dining options and the tourist economy continues to boom. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has become the most-visited national park in the country. With over 60 million tourists coming to explore Pigeon Forge every year, there’s no wonder the area continues to expand and grow!
Now that you know all about the history of Pigeon Forge, you’ll feel way more informed on your next visit! When you’re taking in the sights of all the attractions, try to remember the history the town was built upon. Still curious about all that Pigeon Forge has to offer? We’ve got all the answers!