Gatlinburg is a mountain resort city in Sevier County, Tennessee, United States. It is located 39 miles (63 km) southeast of Knoxville and had a population of 3,944 at the 2010 Census and an estimated U.S. Census population of 4,144 in 2018. It is a popular vacation resort, as it rests on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park along U.S. Route 441, which connects to Cherokee, North Carolina, on the southeast side of the national park. Prior to incorporation, the town was known as White Oak Flats, or just simply White Oak.
For centuries, Cherokee hunters, as well as other Native American hunters before the Cherokee, used a footpath known as Indian Gap Trail to access the abundant game in the forests and coves of the Smokies. This trail connected the Great Indian Warpath with Rutherford Indian Trace, following the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River from modern-day Sevierville through modern-day Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Sugarlands, crossing the crest of the Smokies along the slopes of Mount Collins, and descending into North Carolina along the banks of the Oconaluftee River. US-441 largely follows this same route today, although it crests at Newfound Gap rather than Indian Gap.
Although various 18th-century European and early American hunters and fur trappers probably traversed or camped in the flats where Gatlinburg is now situated, it was Edgefield, South Carolina, native William Ogle (1751–1803) who first decided to permanently settle in the area. With the help of the Cherokee, Ogle cut, hewed, and notched logs in the flats, planning to erect a cabin the following year. He returned home to Edgefield to retrieve his family and grow one final crop for supplies. However, shortly after his arrival in Edgefield, a malaria epidemic swept the low country, and Ogle succumbed to the disease in 1803. His widow, Martha Huskey Ogle (1756–1827), moved the family to Virginia, where she had relatives. Some time around 1806, Martha Huskey Ogle made the journey over Indian Gap Trail to what is now Gatlinburg with her brother, Peter Huskey, her daughter, Rebecca, and her daughter’s husband, James McCarter. William Ogle’s notched logs awaited them, and they erected a cabin near the confluence of Baskins Creek and the West Fork of the Little Pigeon shortly after their arrival. The cabin still stands today near the heart of Gatlinburg. James and Rebecca McCarter settled in the Cartertown district of Gatlinburg.
Radford Gatlin and the Civil War
In 1856, a post office was established in the general store of Radford Gatlin (c. 1798–1880), giving the town the name “Gatlinburg.” Despite the fact that the town bore his name, Gatlin, who didn’t arrive in the flats until around 1854, constantly bickered with his neighbors. By 1857, a full-blown feud had erupted between the Gatlins and the Ogles, probably over Gatlin’s attempts to divert the town’s main road. The eve of the U.S. Civil War found Gatlin, who became a Confederate sympathizer, at odds with the residents of the flats, who were mostly pro-Union, and he was forced out in 1859.
Despite its anti-slavery sentiments, Gatlinburg, like most Smoky Mountain communities, tried to remain neutral during the war. This changed when a company of Confederate Colonel William Holland Thomas‘ Legion occupied the town to protect the salt peter mines at Alum Cave, near the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Federal forces marched south from Knoxville and Sevierville to drive out Thomas’ men, who had built a small fort on Burg Hill. Lucinda Oakley Ogle, whose grandfather witnessed the ensuing skirmish, later recounted her grandfather’s recollections:
… he told me about when he was a sixteen year old boy during the Civil War and would hide under a big cliff on Turkey Nest Ridge and watch the Blue Coats ride their horses around the graveyard hill, shooting their cannon toward Burg Hill where the Grey Coats had a fort and would ride their horses around the Burg Hill …
As the Union forces converged on the town, the outnumbered Confederates were forced to retreat across the Smokies to North Carolina. Confederate forces did not return, although sporadic small raids continued until the end of the war.
Early 20th century
In the 1880s, the invention of the band saw and the logging railroad led to a boom in the lumber industry. As forests throughout the Southeastern United States were harvested, lumber companies pushed deeper into the mountain areas of the Appalachian highlands. In 1901, Colonel W.B. Townsend established the Little River Lumber Company in Tuckaleechee Cove to the west, and lumber interests began buying up logging rights to vast tracts of forest in the Smokies.
Andrew Jackson Huff (1878–1949), originally of Greene County, was a pivotal figure in Gatlinburg at this time. Huff erected a sawmill in Gatlinburg in 1900, and local residents began supplementing their income by providing lodging to loggers and other lumber company officials. Tourists also began to trickle into the area, drawn to the Smokies by the writings of authors such as Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart, who wrote extensively about the region’s natural wonders.
In 1912, the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity established a settlement school (now Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts) in Gatlinburg after a survey of the region found the town to be most in need of educational facilities in the area. Although skeptical locals were initially worried that the fraternity might be religious propagandists or opportunists, the school’s enrollment grew from 33 to 134 in its first year of operation. Along with providing basic education to children in the area, the school’s staff created a small market for local crafts.
The journals and letters of the Pi Beta Phi settlement school’s staff are a valuable source of information about daily life in Gatlinburg in the early 1900s. Phyllis Higinbotham, a nurse from Toronto who worked at the school for six years, wrote of the mountain peoples’ confusion over the role of a nurse, their penchant for calling on her for minute issues, and her difficulties with Appalachian customs:
I soon found that people weren’t used to hurrying, and that it takes a long time of patient waiting and general conversation to find out what they have really come for, or to get a history of the cases when making a visit. I have had to get used to getting most of a woman’s symptoms from her husband, and not having heart failure when a messenger comes with the news that so and so is “bad off”, “about to die”, or “got the fever.”
Higinbotham complained that there was an unhealthy “lack of variety” in the mountain peoples’ diet and that they weren’t open to new suggestions. Food was often “too starchy,” “not well cooked,” and supplemented with certain excesses:One of the doctors was called to several cases of honey poisoning. The men had robbed some bee gums, eaten a pound or two of each and been knocked unconscious where they stood.
Evelyn Bishop, a Pi Beta Phi who arrived at the school in 1913, reported that the mountain peoples’ relative isolation from American society allowed them to retain folklore that reflected their English and Scots-Irish ancestries, such as Elizabethan Era ballads:
Many times it is the ballad that the child learns first, no Mother Goose melodies are as familiar, and it is strange indeed to listen to a little tot singing of the courtly days of old, the knights and ‘ladyes’ and probably the tragic death of the lover.
Extensive logging in the early 1900s led to increased calls by conservationists for federal action, and in 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act to allow for the purchase of land for national forests. Authors such as Horace Kephart and Knoxville-area businesses began advocating for the creation of a national park in the Smokies that would be similar to Yellowstone or Yosemite in the Western United States. With the purchase of 76,000 acres (310 km2) in the Little River Lumber Company tract in 1926, the movement quickly became a reality.
Andrew Huff spearheaded the movement in the Gatlinburg area, and he opened the first hotel in Gatlinburg – the Mountain View Hotel – in 1916. His son, Jack, established LeConte Lodge atop Mount Le Conte in 1926.In spite of resistance from lumberers at Elkmont and difficulties with the Tennessee legislature, Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened in 1934.
The park radically changed Gatlinburg. When the Pi Beta Phis arrived in 1912, Gatlinburg was a small hamlet with six houses, a blacksmith shop, a general store, a Baptist church, and a greater community of 600 individuals, most of whom lived in log cabins. In 1934, the first year the park was open, an estimated 40,000 visitors passed through the city. Within a year, this number had increased exponentially to 500,000. From 1940 to 1950, the cost of land in Gatlinburg increased from $50 to $8,000 per acre.
While the park’s arrival benefited Gatlinburg and made many of the town’s residents wealthy, the tourism explosion led to problems with air quality and urban sprawl. Even in modern times, the town’s infrastructure is often pushed to the limit on peak vacation days and must consistently adapt to accommodate the growing number of tourists.
Bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is an important tourist destination in Tennessee, with many man-made attractions. Ober Gatlinburg is the only ski resort in the state. It has eight ski trails, three chair lifts, and a wildlife encounter area and is accessible via roads and a gondola from the city strip. The Gatlinburg Trolley, a privately funded public transit system, caters to area tourists.
The Gatlinburg SkyLift takes visitors up 1,800 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain, and the Gatlinburg Space Needle provides a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains from its 407-foot observation tower. The attraction includes glass elevators, educational exhibits on the history of Gatlinburg, a two-story arcade, and unique shows and performances at the Iris Theater.
The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community is an 8 mile loop located on the north side of town, It is dedicated to preserving traditional mountain crafts. With over 100 artists and craftsmen, the Community is a living, breathing tribute to the history of Tennessee. The carvers, weavers, watercolor artists, casters, soap makers, potters, silversmiths and dozens of other artisans skillfully demonstrate their abilities.
Courtesy of Wikipedia