Whether you know it or not, one of the main reasons people come to the Smokies and Gatlinburg is for the history and culture our little section of Appalachia has built for itself. We say “know it or not” because it’s either a conscious decision to want to visit for that reason or a subconscious yearning to see and experience what has remained from what used to be. When you see the Smoky Mountains National Park, you see something that hasn’t been moved or touched for eons. It’s a good bet that what you’re looking at has been that way for hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of years. There is a primeval connection people have with the Smokies – and that’s exactly what brought us all here in the first place!
The Smoky Mountains were settled by European immigrants starting in the late 1600s and they were greeted by the Native Americans who had been living here since their Paleo-era ancestors first called it home. More families from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany and France slowly began to immigrate and fill the mountains with the founding predecessors of our region’s Appalachian culture. They brought with them the upbringing, wisdom, knowledge and idiosyncrasies of their families and homelands, and over the next centuries, those families would mingle amongst the Native Americans and the other families who immigrated here. The “hillfolk”, as people think of them now, trace their iconic ways and traditions back to all these people weaving their heritages together and adapting them for the surrounding mountains and ecosystem.
This is where our Appalachian culture came from.
And the years passed as years do… through the Revolutionary War, through the development of our country, through the civil war and Western Expansion, generations upon generations built their houses as cabins across the ridges and deep in the woods. They built farms where the land was plentiful enough to harvest something, they made their own clothes, they fashioned their own toys from wood, they killed what they ate and ate what they killed and sat on their porches many a day and night playing what is now traditional Southern music on guitars, banjos, dulcimers, standup pianos and pump organs. That insular mountain community grew and laid a century-and-a-half down for their culture when the rest of the country began to take notice… and take an interest.
It first began when logging industries came to the Smokies for timber very early in the 1900s. For several decades, these logging companies greatly reduced the amount of forestry our area had. It was such a devastating loss that it helped prompt the establishment of the Smoky Mountain National Park in 1930. It was funded by the Rockefeller family and no lesser a man than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself came to make an address for its dedication. Although tourism in our area began some years before the establishment of the National Park, once the park was established, tourism in our area truly began to grow and foster a long-term relationship with visitors from all corners of the planet.
The irony that logging and destroying much of the Smoky Mountain forest would be the foundation for why the Smoky Mountains are more alive today than ever has not been lost.
As the decades in a post-WWII world went on, the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, in particular, became more and more popular as a place for people to vacation and bring their families. Many folks who lived here at the time had roots that went back generations – some were even descended from original pioneers – and the old ways continued on as strong as ever. Visitors became intrigued by their “hillfolk” lifestyles, arts, crafts and music and the “hillfolk” found a way to start making some badly needed money with what they already had. This eventually lead to the Smoky Mountain Arts and Crafts Community as we know it today, of which some members have skilled passed down to them from over 150 years ago!
History and culture continue on in the Smokies – the development of nearby Pigeon Forge and Dollywood, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum fire, the blizzard of 1993, the development of Ripley’s Aquarium, the moonshine and liquor industries of the early 2010s, the Smoky Mountain Wildfire of 2016 and much more continue on in our little part of the world.
To learn a little about the History of the Gatlinburg Inn, you could spend an entire weekend roaming the halls, viewing historic photos. Totaly immersing yourself in one of the few remaining original downton hotels in Gatlinburg.