Native Americans of the Woodland period were among the first human inhabitants of what is now Sevierville, arriving sometime around 200 A.D. and living in villages scattered around the Forks-of-the-River area.
Between 1200 and 1500 A.D., during the Dallas Phase of the Mississippian period, a group of Native Americans established a relatively large village centered around a temple mound just above the confluence of the West Fork and the Little Pigeon River. This mound was approximately 16 feet high and 240 feet across and was surrounded by a palisade. An excavation in 1881 unearthed burials, arrow-points, a marble pipe, glass beads, pottery, and engraved objects. At the time of this first excavation, the mound was located on a farm owned by the McMahan family, and was thus given the name McMahan Indian Mound.
By the early 1700s, the Cherokee controlled much of the Tennessee side of the Smokies, establishing a series of settlements along the Little Tennessee River. A section of the Great Indian Warpath forked at the mouth of Boyd’s Creek, just north of Sevierville. The main branch crossed the French Broad and continued along Dumplin Creek to the Nolichucky basin in northeastern Tennessee. The other branch, known as the Tuckaleechee and Southeastern Trail, turned south along the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River. This second branch forked again at modern-day Pigeon Forge, with the main trail turning east en route to Little River and the other branch, known as the Indian Gap Trail, crossing the crest of the Smokies to the south and descending into the Oconaluftee area of North Carolina. The various Cherokee trails criss-crossing Sevier Co. brought the first Euro-American traders and settlers to the area.
Sevier County was created in 1794 and named after John Sevier. At a meeting at Thomas’s house the following year, the Forks-of-the-Little-Pigeon area was chosen as the county seat, and renamed “Sevierville.” James McMahan donated a 25-acre tract upon which to erect a townsquare. This tract was parceled out into half-acre lots upon which the purchaser was required to build a brick, framed, or stone structure.
The first Sevier County Courthouse was built in 1796. Before its construction, according to local legend, court was held in a flee-infested abandoned stable. Irritated lawyers were said to have paid an unknown person “a bottle of whiskey” to burn down the stable, forcing the new county to build an actual courthouse.
As the county grew, several large farms were established in the fertile Boyd’s Creek area. In 1792, Andrew Evans purchased a tract of land near the mouth of Boyd’s Creek and built a ferry near the site of the old ford. In 1798, Evans sold the farm to John Brabson, and it was henceforth known as the Brabson Ferry Plantation. In the early 1790s, Thomas Buckingham established a large farm between Boyd’s Creek and Sevierville. Buckingham went on to become the county’s first sheriff. In the early 1800s, John Chandler (1786-1875) established the plantation along Boyd’s Creek now known as “Wheatlands.”
As towns situated along the French Broad are connected via waterway to New Orleans, a flatboat trade flourished along the river in the early 1800s. In 1793, James Hubbert, who lived along Dumplin Creek, established Hubbert’s Flat Landing to trade with flatboats moving up and down the river.
In the early 1800s, Knoxville and Asheville were connected via Route 17, a crude road which followed the banks of the French Broad. This new road gave Tennessee’s cattle drovers greater access to markets along the east coast. In 1820, a stagecoach road connected Sevierville with Maryville to the west. Sevierville’s situation as a county seat along these early roads helped it to grow. By 1833, the town had a population of 150, including two doctors, two carpenters, a tanner, two tailors, a shoemaker, three stores, a hatter, two taverns, and two mills. Distilleries were popular means of supplemental income. By 1850, John Chandler’s distillery was producing 6,000 gallons of whiskey per year.
A notable late arrival in Sevierville was Dr. Robert Hodsden (1806-1864), who had accompanied the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. In 1844, Hodsden began construction on a plantation near Fair Garden, just outside of Sevierville to the east. This plantation, now known as Rose Glen, was worth $28,000 in 1860, one of the most valuable in the county.
In 1856, a fire swept through Sevierville, burning a recently-constructed new courthouse, 41 houses, and several shops in the downtown area. Perhaps more importantly, the county lost nearly all of the vital records of its early settlers.
Like other towns situated along the Parkway in Sevier County, Sevierville has reaped the benefits of the burgeoning tourism industry brought on by the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As of 2004, nearly fifty percent of businesses based in Sevierville were linked to tourism. For example, there are over 2,000 hotel and motel rooms in the city today, generating more than $500,000(USD) in hotel-motel tax revenues each year.
In spite of the local tourism boom, however, Sevierville is still the most traditional community in the county. With almost twice the population of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg combined, local industry accounts for twenty percent of the city’s economy, and most of the practical services of daily life, such as hospitals and car dealerships, are found nowhere else in the county.