6 Things to Know About the History of Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg sign

6 Things to Know About the History of Gatlinburg

The identity of Gatlinburg is much more than simply being one of the top vacation destinations in the country. Tennessee’s most visited mountain town has a deep history that is filled with stories of adventure, family, times of war, feuds, periods of transition and plenty of dreams. When staying with us at Old Creek Lodge we hope that you’ll take time to fully immerse yourself in our charming town as well as the memories of yesteryear. That’s why wanted to share with you some fun facts and tales of long ago. Now, sit back, relax and read along as we introduce you to White Oak Flats.

The Cherokee and Hunting

blue ridges in the smoky mountainsFor many centuries the Cherokee and other Native Americans called the hills of the Smokies and the surrounding areas home. Life then was based on hunting, trading and agriculture as well as a deep love for the land and their people. Shaconage was their name for the Smoky Mountains and translates to “place of blue smoke”. Native American hunters, including the Cherokee, once traveled footpaths over the misty blue ridges and into Gatlinburg. The Indian Gap Trail was often used to hunt game found within the forests as well as being used as a connector trail to the Great Indian Warpath. Yet as time went by the natives found that they were not the only ones to seek out game along the footpaths or call the mountains home.

The First Settlers of Gatlinburg

During the 18th-century hunters from Europe as well early Americans trekked over the hills and through the woods to the foot of Mount Leconte and what would become known as White Oak Flats. One man that wandered into the area was William Ogle. Upon arrival, he fell in love with the beauty of the area, started building a cabin and then went home to South Carolina so that he could return with his family. Unfortunately William passed away before he could return to Tennessee. To fulfill her husband’s dream, Martha Huskey Ogle packed up their children and along with her brother and moved to the Great Smoky Mountains. The family was the first to settle in what would soon become a growing community. The cabin that they lived in can be seen today and is located next to the Municipal Parking Building on the Parkway in downtown.

From White Oak Flats to Gatlinburg

historic building in gatlinburgBy the mid-1800’s numerous settlers had taken up residency in White Oak Flats, including Radford Gatlin. After a couple years of living in the area, Radford established the first post office, leading to the town being known as Gatlinburg. Conflicts arose throughout town due to a feud with Ogles as well as disagreements over him being a Confederate supporter in a community that mostly sided with the Union. By 1859, just 3 years after opening the post office, Gatlin was ran out of town but the name Gatlinburg remained.

The War Ends and Logging Begins

As the end of the century began the community was relieved of tensions from the Civil War and logging railroads made their way to the Smokies. Little River Lumber Company set their sights on the vast supply of trees in the mountains and once they did, there was no turning back. Tract after tract of logging rights were purchased throughout the area and sawmills were built. A new time filled with opportunity began but the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains was stripped of old growth trees one section at a time. However, lumber companies weren’t the only ones that had noticed the natural wonders of this particular corner of the Appalachians. Along with the loggers and their band saws came authors with their pens that wrote about the beauty of the wilderness.

If You Write About It, They Will Come

Phi Beta Phi Sign in GatlinburgAs word began to spread through the works of authors like Horace Kephart, tourists began to make their way to Gatlinburg and the Smokies. Photographers came as well with hopes of capturing the beauty and sharing it with others that had yet to witness the mountains firsthand. The Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity also made their way into town to establish a settlement that would help to provide education to the local mountain community. Focus began to be placed on educating locals, the gifts of the natural beauty of the area and the fact that tourism could help to provide for families and the community. Locals began to use the steady flow of tourists to take back the mountains. Andrew Huff created the Mountain View Hotel and his son Jack Huff built and ran the LeConte Lodge on Mount LeConte, an iconic mountain of the Smokies that overlooks Gatlinburg. Our owners’ grandmother Hattie Ogle McGiffin helped with the tourism movement by opening cottages for guests as well as the Bearskin Motel. The Wonderland Park Hotel had opened in Elkmont and the elite began establishing vacation homes in the area. With every guest that came and went, more would arrive after hearing stories of time in the Smokies. A tourism movement in the mountains started to grow momentum and the vision of a national park began.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

roaring fork area of the great smoky mountains national parkWith the help of individuals, private groups, authors, photographers, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., David Chapman and many others, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established in the 15th day of June in 1934. Today the park is made up of over 520,000 acres of protected land. However, creating such a place did not happen without great sacrifices. Families left the only homes that they had ever known, many without a choice, and entire communities that once existed in the hills of the Smokies are now only small traces that can be seen here and there. When visiting Gatlinburg and the national park try to remember all that was given up so that we and future generations could experience the natural beauty of Shaconage. Roam the trails, take in the views, respect the land and the people that once called it home by leaving no trace of your time among what is truly a national treasure.

The streets of Gatlinburg today are much different than even just 50 years ago, but you can still find plenty of the town’s history all around. Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts began in Gatlinburg as the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in 1912. Along with the first cabin ever built, you’ll find historical structures throughout the Roaring Fork Area and other parts of the national park. Our sister hotel, Bearskin Lodge on the River was built to honor Hattie Ogle McGiffin’s original Bearskin Motel. The White Oak Flats Cemetery is tucked away downtown and is place to pay respects to many that played great parts in Gatlinburg thriving as a community.

Old Creek Lodge hotel in GatlinburgWe would love for you to stay with us at Our Downtown Gatlinburg Hotel on your next trip to the Smoky Mountains. From our location you can easily stroll the streets of the area that was once referred to as White Oaks Flats and create memories of your own. Each of Our Guest Rooms has a private balcony that overlooks the river, as well as fireplace and other wonderful amenities! We serve a free complimentary breakfast daily and fresh baked cookies every afternoon. All you need to is Click Here to find the perfect accommodations to fit your needs and book your stay! We hope to see you soon!