Early Gatlinburg History
For centuries, Cherokee hunters (and Native American hunters pre-dating the Cherokee) used a footpath known as the Indian Gap Trail to access the abundant game in the forests and coves of the Smokies. This trail connected the Great Indian Warpath with the 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. US-441 largely follows this same route today, although it crests at Newfound Gap rather than Indian Gap.
While 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. Shortly after his arrival in Edgefield, however, a malaria epidemic swept the low country, and Ogle succumbed in 1803. His widow, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle (1756-1827), moved the family to Virginia, where she had relatives. Sometime around 1806, Martha Ogle and her brother, Peter Huskey, made the journey over the Indian Gap Trail to what is now Gatlinburg, where William’s notched logs awaited them. Shortly after their arrival, they erected a cabin near the confluence of Baskins Creek and the West Fork of the Little Pigeon. The cabin still stands today near the heart of Gatlinburg.
In the decade following the arrival of the Ogles and Huskeys in what came to be known as White Oak Flats, a steady stream of settlers moved into the area. Most of these settlers were veterans of the American Revolution or War of 1812 who had converted into deeds the 50-acre tracts they had received for service in war. Among these early settlers were Timothy Reagan (c. 1750-1830), John Ownby, Jr. (1781-1869), and Henry Bohanon (1760-1842). Their descendants still live in the area today.
Gatlinburg is a key tourism destination in Tennessee. It not only contains many man-made attractions but borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ober Gatlinburg , is both a ski resort and an amusement park. The only ski area in Tennessee, it has eight ski trails and three chair lifts. It is accessible via roads and a gondola from the city strip. The Gatlinburg Trolley, privately-finded public transit system, caters to area tourists.
Another popular attractions is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies which also features special exhibits covering subjects like the Titanic, pirates and more recently the planet Mars. Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country, which are both named for Dolly Parton, are amusement parks located in nearby Pigeon Forge.
A few music and family-oriented theaters make their homes in Gatlinburg as well, including the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, which hosts a musical comedy. In recent years, the number of musical shows in Gatlinburg has dwindled with several shows having gone to Pigeon Forge and its many venues.
The entire area is a mega-haven for photographers of all types and even glamour model photographers often hold national events and shoots in the region. Some of the waterfalls, streams and other locations make for some of the most outstanding natural backdrops that are available.
Many visitors also partake of locally made candy (especially taffy and fudge), as well as visit one of the ubiquitous pancake houses. During the Christmas season the entire downtown area is decorated with lights. Visitors also benefit from a free shuttle bus that traverses the city every half hour.
Other visitors to Gatlinburg have been less complimentary. British journalist Martin Fletcher wrote in his book Almost Heaven: Travels in Backwoods America (1999) of “vile Gatlinburg”, noting the excess of arcades, crazy golf, and tourist trivia.