History of Gatlinburg TN
Gatlinburg, surrounded on three sides by the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park , has evolved from a rural hamlet to a thriving gateway community in less than a century.
First named White Oak Flats for the abundant white oak trees in the valley, it was settled in the early 1800's by English, Scotch, Irish, and Scotch-Irish immigrants. The Ogles, Huskeys, McCarters, Reagans, and Whaleys were the first to settle the valley of the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River and its tributaries. Most heads of households were Revolutionary War veterans, come to claim title to 50 acre tracts of land allotted to each for their patriotic service. It is believed that a middle-aged widow, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, was the first official settler here. She came with her family to start a new life in what her late husband had described as a "Land of Paradise" in what is now East Tennessee .
The first homesteads were located at the mouths of Baskins Creek, LeConte Creek (then called Mill Creek for its numerous grist mills), and Roaring Fork Creek, where each joined the Little Pigeon River. In the decades following, Maples, Trenthams, Ownbys, Clabos, Oakleys, Kings, Cardwells, Bohannons, and other families took up residence along streams, in hollows, and up mountainsides. Radford C. Gatlin came here in 1855 and opened the village's second store. Although Gatlin was a controversial figure who was eventually banished from the community, the city still bears his name.
As a self-contained sustenance community, the "Burg" changed little in its first hundred years. When the Civil War erupted, a number of locals joined the Union and a few the Confederacy, but in general, the mountain people tried to remain neutral. Although only one Civil War skirmish was fought here, countless raids were made upon the area by both sides to gather vital resources needed to sustain the war efforts. As with much of the South, deprivation and hardship persisted in the area long after the war.
Education came in the form of subscription schools in the early 1800's, where parents paid for each child's schooling. The first public school was established around the time of the Civil War, and finally a settlement school was created by the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity in 1912. This latter institution not only provided academic and practical education for area children, it also contributed to a rebirth of Appalachian arts and crafts and the so-called "cottage craft industry" movement.
Timbering began replacing sustenance farming as the primary economy base in the early 1900's. In fact, Gatlinburg's first hotel was built to accommodate traveling lumber buyers. With the coming of the national park in the 1930's and the subsequent first waves of tourism, the area's economy began to pick up. Many of the mountain families, displaced by the park, moved into town and took jobs in the new hotels, eateries, and service facilities that sprang up to cater to a burgeoning tourist industry. World War II slowed progress and growth, but at its end, the tourists came back with renewed fervor and the sleepy little village of Gatlinburg expanded to meet the demands. Incorporated in 1945, Gatlinburg has since developed into a four-season resort and convention mecca.