6 People Who Shaped the History of the Smoky Mountains

Black and white photo of the Smoky Mountains.

Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains, the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN are two of the nation’s most popular vacation hubs. Over the centuries, a number of men and women have helped shape the history of the Smoky Mountains, slowly transforming it from the wild frontier into a beloved destination for family getaways. Read on for a look at six of the most influential figures in the history of Sevier County, TN.

1. John SevierThe famous courthouse in downtown Sevierville TN.

As the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier had a huge influence on the development of the Smoky Mountain region. A native of Virginia, Sevier moved to present day northeast Tennessee in the early 1770s. During the Revolutionary War, Sevier led the Overmountain Men (a group of frontiersmen living in Appalachia) to a decisive victory against Loyalist troops in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Before the state of Tennessee existed, John Sevier was the governor of “Franklin” from 1784 – 1788. Consisting of eight counties in modern day northeast Tennessee (including Sevier County), Franklin launched an unsuccessful bid to be the 14th state in the Union. Even after Congress refused to recognize the state, Franklin continued as an extra-legal territory until North Carolina’s military invaded.

After Franklin’s demise, John Sevier landed on his feet, becoming a state senator in North Carolina, then brigadier general of the Southwest Territory, and finally governor of Tennessee. Sevierville and Sevier County are both named after Governor Sevier.

The Historic Ogle Cabin in Gatlinburg TN.2. William and Martha Jane Ogle

The Ogles were the first family to settle in the future site of Gatlinburg, TN. When William Ogle came to the Smokies in 1802, he fell in love with the area, calling it “The Land of Paradise.” In preparation for his family’s arrival in the mountains, Ogle cut down trees and fashioned them into logs for a cabin. William then returned home to South Carolina to collect his wife, Martha Jane, and their seven children.

Sadly, William would not return to his beloved Land of Paradise, as he fell ill and passed away in 1803. However, Martha, her brother Peter Huskey, and the Ogle children traveled to the Smoky Mountains in 1807 to finish building the cabin that William started. This historic log home, the first cabin ever constructed in Gatlinburg, still stands and is open for viewing at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center.

3. Radford GatlinStunning view of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.

Although Gatlinburg was settled by the Ogle family, the city takes its name from a widely despised resident named Radford Gatlin. When Gatlin moved to town around 1854, the community was known as White Oak Flats, a reference to a type of tree that was common in the area. However, the town’s first post office was established in Gatlin’s general store in 1856, and before long, people were calling White Oaks Flats “Gatlinburg.”

Radford Gatlin’s time in Gatlinburg would be short-lived. He was constantly feuding with his neighbors, particularly the Ogles, and his pro-secession views were not popular in this staunchly pro-Union area. Ultimately, Gatlin was forced out of town in 1859.

The historic Old Mill in the Smoky Mountains.4. Isaac Love

Isaac Love is another important figure in the history of the Smoky Mountains. In 1817, this local businessman established an iron forge on the banks of the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River. Love had inherited 151 acres of land from his father-in-law and was keen to take advantage of Tennessee’s tax incentives for iron working. The iron forge produced bars of iron, building equipment, and farming tools that were sold across the nation.

In 1830, Love built a grist mill beside the iron forge, which was used by local farmers to grind their grain into flour. When the community’s first post office was opened at this grist mill in 1841, the burgeoning town gained the name “Pigeon Forge,” a reference to the iron forge on the Little Pigeon River. While the iron forge was dismantled in the 1880s, The Old Mill is still a popular destination in Pigeon Forge. In fact, The Old Mill is the most photographed mill in the United States!

5. Franklin Delano RooseveltA statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had a profound effect on the nearby cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. For the first time, people from all across the country were passing through these towns to see all of the magnificent scenery in the park.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a strong champion of the National Park system. Roosevelt expanded America’s national parks, boosted their funding, and oversaw the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Members of the CCC built 13,000 miles of trails, upgraded 125,000 miles of dirt roads, and planted two billion trees across the United States. In 1940, President Roosevelt officially dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the present day Rockefeller Memorial along Newfound Gap Road.

A statue of Dolly Parton in the Smoky Mountains.6. Dolly Parton

Few people have done more for tourism in the Smoky Mountains than Dolly Parton. Born and raised in Sevier County, Dolly grew up in a one-room cabin, the fourth of 12 children. Dolly showed musical ability at a young age and started performing on TV and radio programs around East Tennessee. Parton’s incredible talent and hard work have made her one of the most successful singer-songwriters in the world. As she became a global superstar, Dolly promised herself that she would “come back to my part of the country to do something great.”

Dolly did just that when she launched the Dollywood theme park in 1986. Dollywood is Sevier County’s largest employer and attracts around 2.5 million guests each year. Parton has also lent her name to two popular dinner shows in Pigeon Forge. In 1987, a year after Dollywood’s opening, Dolly was honored with her very own statue in front of the Sevier County Courthouse.

Where to Stay in the Smoky MountainsBeautiful views from the deck of the Time Well Wasted cabin.

Now that you’re an expert in the history of the Smoky Mountains, it’s time to start planning your vacation! When you stay with Hearthside Cabin Rentals, you will have the perfect home base for exploring Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. With everything from 1 bedroom cabins to 18 bedroom lodges, we are sure to have the perfect property for your escape. Browse our listing of Smoky Mountain cabins to find the vacation rental of your dreams!