The cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN both have truly fascinating histories! To help get you excited for your next vacation, Hearthside Cabin Rentals has put together five interesting facts about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge that you probably didn’t know.
From around 1784 – 1788, eight counties that would one day be part of East Tennessee formed their own independent territory called “Franklin.” Named after Benjamin Franklin, this small area applied to be the 14th state in the Union, but their bid was rejected by Congress in 1785.
When the federal government failed to recognize Franklin, its residents decided to go rogue by forming an autonomous nation with its own constitution and court system. Revolutionary War hero John Sevier became Franklin’s Governor/President.
After a number of years of tension with neighboring North Carolina, troops from the Tar Heel state invaded Franklin and arrested John Sevier. The state of Franklin was soon disbanded, but John Sevier landed on his feet and eventually became the first governor of Tennessee. The city of Sevierville, which is located next to Pigeon Forge, is named in his honor.
One of our favorite facts about Gatlinburg is how the city got its name. Despite being founded by the Ogle family in 1807, the community was named after Radford Gatlin, who arrived around 1854. The town was originally known as White Oak Flats, but its name was officially changed to “Gatlinburg” after the community’s first post office was established in Gatlin’s general store.
Ironically, Radford Gatlin was one of the most hated men in town. He was constantly feuding with the Ogles over his attempts to divert the town’s main road, and he was a Confederate sympathizer in a staunchly pro-Union area. In 1859, Gatlin was finally chased out of the town bearing his name.
The “Pigeon” in Pigeon Forge refers to a now-extinct species of bird called the passenger pigeon. These birds were once very common in East Tennessee, but they suffered a sharp decline after more Euro-Americans started moving to the area. While Native Americans did eat passenger pigeons, it was the white settlers who really ramped up the hunting of this bird in the 1800s. The last confirmed shooting of a passenger pigeon in North America was in 1901.
Built in 1830, The Old Mill is the most iconic landmark in Pigeon Forge. Today, the mill is famous for grinding grain into flour, but the mill has had a number of unconventional uses in its day. In the early 1840s, the mill was the site of the town’s first post office where William Love (one of the mill’s builders) chose the name “Pigeon Forge” for the burgeoning community. “Pigeon” was a reference to the Pigeon River/passenger pigeon and “Forge” was a nod to the iron forge that once stood beside The Old Mill.
During the Civil War, the mill was used to knit uniforms for the Union and acted as a makeshift hospital for wounded soldiers. In the early 1900s, The Old Mill provided electricity for the residents of Pigeon Forge. The town relied on mill-generated power until 1935!
Back in the 1930s, a number of officials in the National Park Service and Tennessee politicians thought that no one would want to visit Cades Cove because it was “nothing except impoverished farm land…barren of any attraction.” To remedy this, the officials proposed a plan to build a 400-foot-long dam in the valley in order to create a lake.
Although it may sound crazy today, this idea was endorsed by the director of the National Park Service, the governor of Tennessee, the mayor of Knoxville, and even more well-known local leaders. Fortunately, a group of environmentalists was able to stop the NPS from flooding the area that would become the most visited section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We hope that reading these fun facts about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge has put you in the mood to start planning your vacation! When you stay with Hearthside Cabin Rentals, you will have the perfect home base for enjoying everything the Smoky Mountains have to offer. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins to 18 bedroom lodges, we are sure to have the ideal property for your escape. Browse our selection of cabin rentals in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to book your next getaway!