As Summer begins and we get to the halfway point of another wonderful year of business we’ve had here in Gatlinburg, we become aware and appreciative for our history as a hospitality icon in East Tennessee and for the history of the Smokies in general. This spirit will come alive soon enough in the form of the Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales and, in celebration and anticipation for it, we’d like to offer an article on how the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg came to be.
Well before settlers from all over central and Western Europe came across the ocean and planted their familial roots, the area was territory to the Cherokee Native Americans. From the 1700s to the 1800s (and still on today, really) folks from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France and the nations surrounding them came over and began the foundation for our families, culture and society that we have in Gatlinburg today. The first permanent settler to the “White Oak Flats”, as Gatlinburg was known before it was Gatlinburg, was William Ogle (which is a likely reason why we have so many Ogles in our county today!) who was soon after followed by other ancestors of prominent family names like Huskey and McCarter at the start of the 19th century. In 1856, a confederate named Radford Gatlin had a post office established a general store he had at the White Oak Flats. This is where we get “Gatlinburg” from – though the real fun of telling that story is mentioning that Gatlin was so unpleasant and cantankerous with his neighbors that he was eventually run out of the very town he was named after! That doesn’t happen to too many people.
The next truly huge event that helped shape our area to what it is today came in 1934 when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was formally designated a national park and government protected land. In between the 19th and 20th century previous to that, the European settlers moving in meant that a progressively growing logging industry which also lead to the rail line that Walland and Townsend, TN, are known for. The logging was so aggressive that it was doing damage to the beauty and ecosystem of the mountains and locals had started to put money together to begin a preservation effort. The US government actually authorized the Smokies to become national park territory in 1926, but it would take another 8 years and more than 7 million dollars (which would be over $100,000,000 today!) from public and private donations. One such donation was $5,000,000 from John D. Rockefeller Jr. himself. The park has since been designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and became part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
The formation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park created a major evolution for Gatlinburg as well. While Gatlinburg had been slowly growing and attracting some attention here and there before, now the city had really started to be put on the tourism map. We had half a million visitors come to and through Gatlinburg before the 1940s! This also lead to our Arts and Crafts Community, which went from a collection of neighbors who happened to have amazing Southern crafting skills and had gained some reputation for them into a formerly organized entity as we know it today.
This is just a sampling of the long, wonderful and occasionally heartbreaking history our little corner of the world has been able to call the past and we encourage you to Google “History of the Smoky Mountains” and “History of Gatlinburg” for much more detailed information on either.
Learn about our own history in the Smokies CLICK HERE