10 Important Moments in Smoky Mountain History

old mill in pigeon forge
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It’s no secret that the Smoky Mountain area is rich in history. From the first settlers to the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are a number of events that shaped the Smoky Mountains into what they are today. We’re taking you back to the beginning of it all with 10 important moments in Smoky Mountain history.

1. William Ogle Paid a Visit to “The Land of Paradise”

In 1802, a man named William Ogle traveled from South Carolina to what is now known as Gatlinburg. He called this place “The Land of Paradise,” and it’s where he saw himself, his wife and their 7 children moving. William had chopped down some timber and logs for the home, but unfortunately fell ill when he returned to South Carolina and died in 1803. His wife, Martha, brought her family to the area in 1807 and finished building the cabin he had started. Martha and her children became the first official settlers in the area.

2. Isaac Love Built an Iron Forge

Black and white photo of The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge TN.In 1817, a man named Issac Love built an iron forge on the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River. The forge produced bars of iron, building equipment and farming implements that were sold across the United States. In 1830, the same man, along with his sons, constructed a grist mill beside the iron forge. Farmers used the grist mill to grind their grain into flour. In 1841, a post office was established at the grist mill, and the town received the name “Pigeon Forge.” The name was inspired by the iron forge on the Little Pigeon River. You can still visit this operating grist mill today — it’s The Old Mill!

3. Gatlinburg Got Its Name

The town that the Ogle family settled in was known as White Oak Flats, and it would keep this name until the 1850s. That was when a man named Radford Gatlin came to town. Gatlin was in charge of the town’s general store, and when the first post office was established in his store, the town became known as Gatlinburg. Although the town was named after him, Radford Gatlin was hated around town and was eventually ran out of town in 1859.

4. Civil War in the Smoky Mountains

A cannon firing during a reenactment of a Civil War battle.The Civil War was a trying time in Smoky Mountain history. Although the Smoky Mountain cities were largely pro-Union, Tennessee had elected to secede from the U.S. and join the Confederacy in 1861. When the war broke out, Gatlinburg tried to remain neutral, but the city became occupied by Confederate troops who wanted to mine saltpeter in Alum Cave. Eventually, the Confederate Army was forced out of Gatlinburg in 1863 after the Battle of Burg Hill. In Pigeon Forge, The Old Mill served as a makeshift hospital and a quasi-factory for the production of Union Army uniforms.

5. The Civilian Conservation Corps Were Created

In 1933, the development of the national park began. The Civilian Conservation Corps were created during the Depression to assist young men who were unemployed. The group provided work and wages for many young men and began working on constructing roads, trails and campgrounds.

6. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was Established

In 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established by the U.S. Congress! Of course, the establishment of the national park had a huge impact on Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. For the first time, people would start to travel to East Tennessee to take in the beauty of the area.

7. President Roosevelt Dedicated the National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park signAlthough the park was established in 1934, it wasn’t until 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park. He spoke from the Rockefeller Memorial Monument to more than 10,000 people who were in attendance. The memorial monument can be seen on Newfound Gap.

8. Number of Visitors to the National Park Reached 1 Million

The year after, the annual number of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park reached 1 million! This was a big milestone for the national park and would set the pace for growth the national park continues to see year after year.

9. First Theme Park Opened in 1961

Dollywood express trainTwenty years later, in 1961, the area’s first theme park opened. It was known as Rebel Railroad and was famous for its coal-fired steam engine. In 1970, the theme park got a new owner and was renamed to Goldrush Junction. In 1977, it changed once again and was rebranded as Silver Dollar City. In 1982, our Smoky Mountain hometown hero, Dolly Parton, became co-owner of Silver Dollar City. In 1986, the park reopened as what we all know and love today: Dollywood. 1.3 million people showed up on Dollywood’s opening day!

10. Breaks Record Number of Visitors Year After Year

1941 was the first year the Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw 1 million visitors. Since then, the park has continued to shatter records and welcome more visitors each year. In 2019, the park saw its biggest success, with 12,547,743 total visitors! That was over 1 million more visitors than 2018! Other record-breaking years include 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. With its gorgeous scenery, 850 miles of hiking trails, scenic drives and diverse wildlife, it’s not hard to see why so many people come to the Smoky Mountains year after year.

Now that you know all about the most important moments in Smoky Mountain history, we bet you can’t wait to learn more about how the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is today! Get more information about the national park.

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