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The Storied History of Pigeon Forge

Posted by on June 16, 2017

Pigeon Forge Tennessee has a very interesting history. Located five miles north of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this town actually received it’s name from one of the first businesses built in East Tennessee. This was an iron forge and furnace built around 1820 by a man named Isaac Love. Since Iron was so very hard to come by, the state of Tennessee was bringing it from surrounding states. To combat this, the state legislature passed a law that allowed non farm-able land to be purchased for free as long as the land was used to produce iron. This meant that Isaac love was able to purchase 70,000 acres where he built his furnace and iron forge. The forge earned its name from the location where it was built, next to the Little Pigeon River. Pigeon Forge is situated between Gatlinburg and Sevierville in a little valley surrounded by mountains on three sides. On the west, Pine Mountain. To the East there is Shields Mountain, and to the South lays Cove Mountain. Shields Mountain was included in Love’s 70,000 acre purchase because of the banks of ore that it contained.


Pigeon Forge's Samuel Wear For hundreds of years, this area was used by the Cherokee Indians as their hunting grounds. Thus, a foot path came to be and was named the Indian Gap Trail. The Cherokee would travel along the trail starting in North Carolina. They would cross the Smoky Mountains and make their way through the Pigeon Forge Valley. This trail was not only used primarily by the Cherokees, however. The Indian Gap Trail provided access for hunters and trappers coming from North Carolina, as well as traders traveling to Pigeon Forge and Europeans. This travel brought the first permanent settler to the Pigeon Forge area, a man by the name of Colonel Samuel Wear. He first came to the area between 1781 and 1783. As a veteran of the American revolution, he had been a soldier at the Battle of Kings Mountain.


Colonel Wear built a fort where Walden Creek and Little Pigeon River join together, and it remains a historical site to this very day. Due to the location of this fort, The Cherokee often targeted it when they attacked the area. So often, in fact, that Colonel Wear retaliated in 1793. With a small party of 60 men, the Colonel set out into the Overhill Cherokee area. While there, they attacked and destroyed the town of Tallahassee, taking several Cherokee prisoners and leaving fifteen dead. When spotted by Cherokee warriors a year later, Colonel Wear as well as his two sons were fired upon, but they managed to escape unscathed. When the State Constitution of Tennessee was drafted, Colonel Wear was a member of the committee that drafted it.


In 1785, the Cherokee surrendered and signed the Treaty of Dumplin. This reverted ownership of what is now most of Sevier County to the United States Government. As a result of this, things began to calm in the area. Even though there were still occasional encounters between settlers and the Indians, nothing major took place. However this was changed in 1800, when a Cherokee warrior murdered the son of a couple residing in Pigeon Forge Valley. This event required the intervention of the new Governor Archibald Roane to prevent any reprisal from the locals.


Not long after, tourism began to grow in the Pigeon Forge Valley area. That is to say, it became a hot-spot for people traveling to the health spa established at Henderson Springs in the 1870’s. This was very near to the fort Colonel Wear had built. People would travel to the area and visit the springs believing that the waters had medicinal powers. Although this was never proven, people undoubtedly left feeling better.


Although the area was becoming more popular, Pigeon Forge was still a very small, rural community in the 1900’s. In fact, the towns population 1907 was only 154 people. No major roads were established, and the railroad line closest to the little town was located in Sevierville. Finally, in the 1950’s, US-441 was greatly improved and is now known as the Parkway. This wasn’t even open to tourist vehicles until 1969. With this finally being accessible, campgrounds and lodges sprang up, and has slowly grown to the amount that exist today.


The neighboring town of Gatlinburg was a town controlled by a couple of families that were not overly welcoming of outsiders. Thus, anyone wishing to set up a business in the area looked to Pigeon Forge. The town became incorporated in 1961, allowing Pigeon Forge to open the way to tourism. A pair of brothers set up a themed railway ride in the Middle Creek area that they named Rebel Railroad. They were originally from North Carolina. This theme ride depicted confrontations between union and confederate soldiers. As the civil war ended, the ride was renamed Goldrush Junction and was revamped to a Wild West theme. This was so successful they opened a log flume ride in 1967 in the hopes of creating an amusement park. Over the years, the Amusement park changed hands several times. It was sold in 1976 and renamed Silver Dollar City. Dolly Parton later became a partner in 1985. Thus, it was renamed Dollywood.


As the 1980’s progressed and Pigeon Forge became more volatile in the tourism market, businesses opened and flourished. Everything from live music, theme parks, lodging, outlet malls, and restuarants. Even museums if that’s what interested you. Pigeon Forge was the area for everything. This little town grew and thrived on tourism.


As of 2000, according to the US Census Bureau, Pigeon Forge City had grown from 154 people to 5,083. This was a huge growth and one the original settlers of the 1700’s would never have expected. The area not only grew, but prospered as well.


Sadly, as with everything related to fame and fortune, there were also drawbacks to living in Pigeon Forge. Due to tourism, the value of land went sky-high. Due to this, many farmers living on small family farms could no longer afford the ever increasing costs of rising property taxes. Many sold out, even though the land had been owned for generations. While some of these families would leave the area completely, others would find a way to use the prosperity of the area to cash in for themselves.


Pigeon Forge does indeed have a wealth of historical history that even to this day draws tourists from all over. People visit campgrounds and lodges for vacations, and visit the historical sites that lay throughout the area. From the 1700’s to the present, history has created a wealth of historical and interesting reasons to visit this Tennessee town.

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