Just a few miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a little town called Pittman Center. Located in Emert’s Cove, a wide valley along the Middle Fork of the Pigeon River, its situated in Sevier County. 2010 Census shows a population of only 502. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park borders the small town on the south and Pittman Center’s history is tied with the Great Smoky Mountains tightly. The town has a total area of 6 miles and spans most of Emert’s Cove, just north of the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Cove delves into Webb Mountain, a ridge that runs almost parallel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary. Pittman Center’s main section including the city hall and maintenance buildings, the elementary school and Burnett Memorial Chapel is set just above the confluence of Webb Creek and the Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River, which is the northern tip of the cove.
The main road that traverses Pittman Center is Tennessee Route 416, which connects US Route 321 along the Park border with US Route 411 in Sevierville. The official Pittman Center road signs are olive green with gold lettering. Being so close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and only miles from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the economy of Pittman Center is most based on tourism. Bent Creek Golf Village is also located in the borders of Pittman Center. Though Pittman Center has a city hall, it does not have a post office. The nearest post office can be found 5 miles away in Gatlinburg. Though closest to Gatlinburg, Pittman Center shares zip codes with Gatlinburg and Sevierville both.
Emert’s Cove, where Pittman Center is located, was a Cherokee hunting ground before the arrival of white settlers. After the Battle of Boyd’s Creek, and even more violent incidents, between the Cherokee and the folks to the west in what is currently Cocke County, the Cherokee were talked into signing the Treaty of Dumplin on June 10 in 1785, giving what is now Sevier County to the State of Tennessee. Though at that time, when the treaty was signed, the State of Tennessee was actually the State of Franklin. The Governor at the time was John Sevier. The State of Franklin was created in 1784 and dissolved in 1790. The Treaty of Dumplin was the only treaty ever signed in the State of Franklin.
Emert’s Cove was named after one of the first Euro-American settlers who arrived there after the treaty was signed and the area became part of Tennessee. Frederick Emert arrived with his family sometime between 1785 and 1793. He was born in Pennsylvania to German immigrants. Fighting in the American Revolution, he probably saw action at the Battle of Brandywine Creek.
Juliana Shultz was a widow when she arrived in Emert’s Cove around 1794 with her children. Daniel Wesley Reagan also arrived in the cove as one of the first few settlers who made this area their home. Many of the residents of Pittman Center are direct descendants of these first settlers to the area.
In the early 1900’s the State of Tennessee found Sevier County to be lacking in educational facilities. A settlement school was established in Gatlinburg in 1912 by the Pi Beta Phi fraternity but it still wasn’t enough and the school system was left lacking. A Methodist minister, Dr. John Burnett, wanted to build a larger scale school that would operate with no tuition fees. In 1919 the Methodist Episcopal Church endorsed a plan to build the school at its annual meeting and the Reverend Eli Pittman of Elmira, NY helped to secure $15,000 for construction. Burnett purchased Garfield Scott’s farm at the confluence of Webb Creek and the Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River in 1920. The 135 acre plot of land would become the new school’s campus. The school was built immediately and in late 1920 the Pittman Community Center, named after Reverend Pittman, was opened with 100 students enrolled. Over time the school expanded to a 1500 acre campus which included a general store, a post office and small hospital. With 240 students and 15 buildings the school supported itself by canning tomatoes and growing apples, which all work was being done by the students. It was run on an annual budget of $9,000.
Sevier County Board of Education purchased the Pittman school in 1955 and combined it with the Pi Beta Phi High School in Gatlinburg to become Gatlinburg-Pittman High School in 1963. The building from the original construction that is left remaining today is the Home Economics building, which the Methodist Episcopal Church gave to the town after its incorporation to use as the city hall. The building was place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
When visiting Pittman Center, one beautiful spot to add to the list is the Emert’s Cove Covered Bridge. Constructed in 2000 in honor of Frederick Emert who came here with his family as one of the first settlers, Emert’s Cove Bridge spans the water of the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River near Pittman Center. Mayor Judy Perryman and the Board of Alderman added local funds to the project in 1997 to go along with the state and federal funds allotted to the bridge project. In the spring of 2000 the team of Steve McCarter and Garry Schultz began construction for the town of Pittman Center. Pittman Center did this to continue its effort to add improvements to the town that furthers its vision, which is:
“To create and perpetuate a quality of living environment and to encourage quality development that supports that end. To encourage development that supports a tourist-oriented economic base that relates to and magnifies our unique relationship to and with the Great Smoky Mountains.”
The Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River was designated ‘an outstanding resource water’ in March 1998 by the State of Tennessee and the Emert’s Cove Bridge spans these waters. During that year, this was the only stream outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to receive the designation. Environmental stewardship has held the key for this distinction. “Save the Middle Prong” organization should receive thanks for all of their time and money spent to maintain the integrity of this national treasure for future generations.
To get to Emert’s Cove Covered Bridge, it’s just off Pittman Center Road on Hills Creek Road. The official address is 249 Hills Creek Road, Sevierville, TN. It’s a great place for budding photographers and just a place to spend some time in a beautiful place.
There are many other beautiful places to stop and spend some time near Pittman Center. One is a small picnic area with no name, just along the roadside on Webb Creek Road, not too far off of US 321. There’s a picnic table and room for possibly two cars. It’s situated right beside the creek and is shady and quiet. It’s the perfect place for a small picnic and to enjoy the clear, rushing water of the creek. Folks have been seen with lawn chairs set up in the creek, their feet in the water, enjoying a warm summer day.
If you drive on down Pittman Center Road toward the town center, be sure to stop at the City Hall and take a little tour of the historic building. The library is also a stop not to miss. The Pittman Center Town Library is located in the bottom of the City Hall building. They have some wonderful programs such as the second Tuesday of each month there is a Murder Mystery Book Club Meeting. The fourth Tuesday of every month there is a children’s reading program also.
At the City Hall building, there is a wonderful pavilion beside it on the hilltop with picnic tables and a small playground for children. There are benches across the road from it along the creek for folks to sit and enjoy the water. It’s peaceful and shady and the perfect place to spend a few minutes, or a few hours, enjoying the Great Smoky Mountains and Pittman Center.
History buffs will also like to visit the Old Emert’s Cove Methodist Church that is nearby. It has some hand carved tombstones in the little cemetery and is just lovely. Feel free to roam around and check out all of the history here.
Another place nearby that is a must if you’re staying in Pittman Center is the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are many wonderful trails like Old Settlers Trail, which is relatively easy, that will take you past old settlements and very old cemeteries where even the ancestors of Dolly Parton are buried. You can also try the Porter’s Creek Trail which goes by an old farmstead and is an easy hike. If you keep going, you can get to a waterfall and on to the Appalachian Trail. The Greenbrier community had over 800 residents spread over the mountain before the Great Smoky National Park was formed. The remains of their homes and farms are scattered over the area, the leftovers of stone fences and cairns, old fireplaces and such. One trail that is a bit strenuous but well worth the effort is the Ramsey Cascades Trail. It ends at the most beautiful waterfall, Ramsey Cascades. Ramsey Cascades is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park but don’t try to climb it. There is also the trail to Greenbrier Pinnacle which has a fire tower you can climb to get an amazing view of the mountains. Another great trail is the Albright Grove Trail, just a few miles east toward Cosby, TN. The Albright Grove Trail winds through the last remaining virgin forest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trees here along this trail have never been harvested and have grown to huge proportions.
Another feature of the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a very nice picnic area a couple of miles into the section. They have multiple picnic tables with charcoal grills and restroom facilities. Ample parking and a beautiful setting helps to enhance the mountain experience while having a picnic with family and friends. The river runs along the back of the picnic area and is easy to access. Fly fishing is also an option here and there are many guides you can hire to help you catch your first trout or even teach you fly fishing if you like. What a wonderful way to spend a sunny, mountain day.
If you like golf, the Bent Creek Golf Course is just a few miles away at the foot of Webb Mountain in Cobbly Nob. Also Rocky Top Sports World is a few miles away toward Gatlinburg where you can do multiple sports related things. Climbworks, a zipline company is also just a few miles down US 321. There, at Climbworks, you can zipline or mountain bike. They have packages you can purchase also and they are just across US 321 from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They advertise that if you choose, your feet won’t touch the ground for 2 and ½ hours when you zipline and use the sky bridges there. They also claim to have the only true mountain bike trail in Gatlinburg or Pittman Center area.
The Pittman Center area is not busy and more laid back than the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Quiet and scenic, you can get a true feel for the mountains and mountain life here. There are many rental cabins in and around Pittman Center so visitors can experience the Great Smoky Mountains in all their glory and quiet solitude. Do be aware there are bears roaming the mountains and they are not tame. This is their habitat so be sure to secure any trash or food items during your cabin stay and use bear proof trash receptacles.
Pittman Center is one of the Great Smoky Mountains best kept secrets. Be sure not to miss out on this beautiful gem hidden in the Great Smoky Mountains.