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An Abbreviated History of Gatlinburg

Jun 21, 2019 | History

The city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee has quite an interesting history. Here is an abbreviated discussion of how we got where we are.

The Ogle Family

Ogle Cabin

The Ogle Cabin

The Oglesby family were the first individuals to settle the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The family moved from South Carolina in the 1800’s and would later change their name to Ogle. William Ogle worked with the Cherokee Indians to build his family’s cabin.

After building his family’s cabin in East Tennessee, he returned home to South Carolina where he tragically passed away from Malaria. After his death, his wife, Martha Ogle, moved with her seven children to live in this place that her husband described as a “land of paradise.”

White Oak Flats

Before the area gained the name Gatlinburg, it was called White Oak Flats, a name derived from the types of trees found around the land.

As the years passed, settlers made their way to the little town of White Oak Flats. A majority of these settlers were Revolutionary War veterans from North Carolina. The town began to grow as the residents started businesses and built a school and a church. In 1835, the first Baptist church was introduced to a Presbyterian community. The first school was finished in 1867, although it was initially only in session three months out of the year.

Enter Mr. Gatlin

In 1854, a rather unpopular gentleman named Radford Gatlin purchased fifty acres of land that joined land owned by the Ogle family. Gatlin also made claim to thousands of acres in what is now Sevier County. Gatlin had obtained notoriety for a disagreement with the Baptist church, which allegedly resulted in a fistfight on church grounds.

Gatlin opened a general store, followed by a post office located in the store, in White Oak Flats. The town changed its name after Gatlin opened his post office, although the specifics of how the name change happened are very unclear.

Despite his success in the area, Gatlin was highly disliked by town residents because of his outspoken nature and a very public feud with the Ogle family. Even after the town name change, it is said that Gatlin was banished because of his political beliefs.

Tourism Growth

In 1937, Mr. R.L. Maples, Sr. sold his property in the area known as the Sugarlands to the National Park Service. He then moved his family to Gatlinburg and built the original structure that would grow to become the Historic Gatlinburg Inn. To this day, the inn remains in the hands of the descendants of the Maples family and is the only one of the original town hotels still remaining.

The Arts and Crafts Community was also established in 1937, followed by the dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940.

In 1954, the Gatlinburg SkyLift opened up, immediately becoming a huge hit with tourists, many of whom still return annually to take the ride up Crockett Mountain for the best view in Gatlinburg. It was built on land right next to and owned by the same family who owned the Historic Gatlinburg Inn.

The Wildfires

In 2016, massive wildfires swept through Gatlinburg, destroying many properties, burning thousands of acres of land, and displacing thousands of residents and tourists. The citizens and business people in the area banded together to quickly rebuild. Today you can still see remnants of the fire, but tourism into Gatlinburg has returned stronger than ever.

SkyBridgeIncluded in the wildfire destruction was the Gatlinburg SkyLift, but it has been rebuilt even better than before (allowing for three riders per seat) and is now paired with the all new SkyBridge (the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America) to create a truly breath-taking mountain experience.

Gatlinburg Today

Over 200 years after Gatlinburg, Tennessee was settled, it is now the second most popular wedding spot in the United States, has a multitude of attractions that brings in millions of visitors a year, and is home to over 522 thousand acres of the Great Smoky Mountains. A visit to Gatlinburg offers resorts, hiking trails, arts and crafts, wildlife and spectacular mountain views.

Without the journey Martha Ogle made with her children to the cabin her husband built so long ago, there might not be a Gatlinburg, Tennessee.









Ogle Cabin photo – By I. Brian Stansberry, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2529275