Pigeon Forge, located in the eastern portion of Tennessee, is known for its traditional Appalachian crafts, music and folklore. Visitors flock to Pigeon Forge each year to enjoy popular tourist attractions, like Dollywood, unsurpassed shopping and some of the best chalets, vacation condos, and cabins in Smoky Mountains.
But long before it was a popular tourist destination, the Pigeon Forge area was actually a Cherokee Indian hunting ground. So how did it eventually become a family-friendly resort community? Here’s a bit of local trivia to add some historical perspective to your next visit.
Native American roots. Today’s US-441 closely follows an ancient Cherokee footpath called as the Indian Gap Trail, which crossed the Smokey Mountains from North Carolina through the Pigeon Forge valley, eventually connecting with the Great Indian Warpath near what is today known as Sevierville, Tennessee. The Warpath, also known as the Great Indian War and Trading Path, was that part of a network of trails in eastern North America developed and used by Native Americans. Much of what is now Sevier County was ceded to the United States by the Cherokee in 1785 with the signing the Treaty of Dumplin.
Settling in. Early Euro-American settlers followed the Indian Gap Trail to the Pigeon Forge area in the early 18th century. Among these pioneers was Colonel Samuel Wear who became the area’s the first permanent settler. Wear built a small fort near what is now Pigeon Forge City Park to provide a safe stopover for the early pioneers. Unfortunately for Wear, his fort straddled the Indian Gap Trail and ultimately served as a catalyst for tensions, and battles, between the frontiersmen and the Cherokees. Wear’s grave is marked today by a monument in Pigeon Forge City Park.
A “state” of mind. In the late 1700’s the Pigeon Forge area was part of what is today known as the “lost” State of Franklin an autonomous United States territory that later became part of Tennessee. Created near the end of the American Revolution, Franklin never officially joined the Union and only existed for four years.
The name game. In the days of the early settlers, flocks of now-extinct passenger pigeons would gather on the banks of the area’s river, which was therefore dubbed The Little Pigeon River. In the early 1800s, Issac Love would build a iron forge along that same river and a small community soon grew nearby. The town was named Pigeon Forge in tribute to Love’s ironworks complex and the rich diversity of frontier wildlife that once lived along the river.
The birth of tourism. Tourists began visiting Pigeon Forge in the 1870s with the opening of a health resort at Henderson Springs. It was common at that time for urban dwellers to seek out mountain springs thought to have health-restoring qualities. The opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934 heralded a new era of tourism for the region, although no tourism-oriented businesses were established in the Pigeon Forge area until the latter half of the 20th Century. Rebel Railroad, which offered Civil War reenactments and train rides, opened in 1961 shortly after the town officially incorporated. The attraction was later renamed Goldrush Junction and a log flume amusement ride was added. In 1976, the it was again rebranded as Silver Dollar City and continued to grow in popularity, eventually becoming Dollywood in the mid-1980s when entertainer Dolly Parton became a partner in the venture.
A shopper’s paradise. In the early 1980s, the town launched an aggressive economic plan to develop theme parks, music venues, and outlet malls in order to increase tourism. By 1987, four outlet malls had launched in Pigeon Forge and by the early 1990s, such malls accounted for 44% of the town’s gross revenue. Today, shoppers from across the nation visit the town’s more than 200 factory outlets and specialty stores.
Tune in for more local information on Pigeon Forge in the coming blog posts.