Pigeon Forge History
Pigeon Forge derives its name from a historic iron forge built by Isaac Love in approximately 1820 on a site very near the present Old Mill. His son built the historic Old Mill in 1830. Unfortunately, that forge was dismantled and possibly moved sometime before 1884. The forge was located on the beautiful Little Pigeon River, so named because of the vast numbers of now extinct passenger pigeons that fed on the nuts of the beech trees that once lined the river banks. It was said that their numbers were so numerous that they would frequently break the sturdy limbs of the beech trees while roosting.
Pigeon Forge had human inhabitants long before Isaac Love. For centuries, the Cherokee used the valley in which Pigeon Forge is now located as a hunting ground. The Cherokee traveled through the Pigeon Forge area on a footpath known as the Indian Gap Trail which crossed the Great Smokies and joined the Great Indian Warpath in present day Sevierville. The Warpath headed west to the Overhill and past the Cherokee towns along the Little Tennessee River. Today, this ancient path is nearly paralleled by US 441.
It was the Indian Gap Trail that brought Pigeon Forge its first Europeans in the early 1700’s. Traders from Virginia as well as hunters and trappers from North Carolina passed through Pigeon Forge before 1750. The first permanent European resident was Colonel Samuel Wear, who arrived sometime after 1783. A veteran of the American Revolution, Wear built a small fort near what is now Pigeon Forge City Park. A safe stopover for early pioneers was provided by the fort. Wear went on to serve on the committee that drafted Tennessee’s state constitution.
In 1783, the Cherokee ceded much of what is now Sevier County, to the US. Early pioneers began buying and were granted tracts of land. As they did throughout the young US, conflicts between the Native Americans and the settlers ensued. Treaties signed in 1794 and 1798 decreased the number of conflicts. In the early 1800’s, the first tourists arrived in the valley. They came for the revivals held by Methodist circuit riders. It is said these revivals could last for weeks at a time. The revivals were held in the Middle Creek area on the grounds of what is now the Middle Creek Methodist Church.
In 1810, a Revolutionary War veteran, Mordecai Lewis was granted a 151 acre tract on the Little Pigeon River near the heart of what is now Pigeon Forge. It was Lewis’s son-in-law, Isaac Love that built the forge from which Pigeon forge gets its name. Love also erected a mill in 1830 and his son established the first Pigeon Forge post office in 1841. The mill and forge were purchased by local businessman John Sevier Trotter in 1849. Many modifications were made and the forge eventually dismantled and possible moved. The mill however remains. Now referred to as the Old Mill, it has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
More early tourists arrived in the 1870’s to visit a health resort at Henderson Springs. The water of mountain springs drew urban visitors who were drawn to their health restoring properties.
Until 1934, Pigeon Forge was a beautiful but very isolated mountain hamlet. There were no major roads, the nearest rail station was in Sevierville and even bridges were extremely rare. That began to change with the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934. Gradually improvements were made to Us 441 and soon campgrounds and lodges began to spring up. However, development was slow in Pigeon Forge until the 1950’s. It was then that outside entrepreneurs, sought to develop Gatlinburg, but land was limited and controlled by a few families that sought to block the outsiders. And so, those developers moved on to Pigeon Forge.
In 1961, the first of many tourist attractions appeared in Pigeon Forge. The Rebel Railroad simulated a Confederate steam train under attack by Union soldiers during the Civil War. In 1964 it was renamed Goldrush Junction. The park was sold in 1976 and became the Famous Silver Dollar City.
In 1982, to capitalize on the upcoming Knoxville World Fair, Pigeon Forge set out an aggressive economic plan that focused on theme parks, outlet malls and live music venues. This plan has succeeded beyond the planners wildest dreams.
In 1985, Silver Dollar City negotiated with country music mega star Dolly Parton to become a partner. Dolly was born in nearby Sevierville. The park was renamed Dollywood and it remains to this day one of the world’s most popular theme parks.
Today, tourists continue to flock to the dynamic and vibrant Pigeon Forge for its breathtaking scenery and its diverse attractions.