A Tale Of Two Cities
So you are planning your trip to Gatlinburg, but you have the big question. Which is the better city to stay in? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? Well, I know the answer from my standpoint, but my answer could be completely different than what other people think. So I decided it was time to launch an article covering the pros and cons of each city, but also going to have a little bit of history about each location.
Pigeon Forge History
Pigeon Forge is what many people view as a resort city. The city was first settle in the 1780s with Colonel Samuel Wear becoming one of the first permanent settlers. Around the year of 1792 around Walden Creek and Little Pigeon River, the present day Pigeon Forge City Park a stockade was put up and would serve as a shelter for settlers and travelers alike.
What is interesting is that was not the only fort to be put in the region. In 1786 after, the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Dumplin Creek giving up most of the Sevier County area to the United States, a second fort was built. This fort was built by Robert Shields who put the fort up along Middle Creek, which is near what is present day Dollywood. The fort would serve as home to 6 families and had a shared kitchen and common areas. However, if you were a visitor to Pigeon Forge prior to 1994 you may have seen a cabin that Shields built for his children. That cabin was bought by Horatio Butler in 1797 and remained in his family until it was torn down in 1994.
Development of Pigeon Forge would continue and in the year of 1810, after many of the Cherokee and settler battles was over with, Mordecai Lewis managed to get a 151-acre land grant along Pigeon River in what is the heart of Pigeon Forge. Now, what you may not know is the city would actually be named after the iron forge that Isaac Love would build in 1817. The Pigeon Forge Mill would be erected in 1830 by Isaac Love, but William Love would establish the post office on May 29, 1841. If you are a tourist to the Pigeon Forge area you may find it interesting that the “Old Mill” is still standing, but not in the same region that it was original placed in.
Le Conte Lodge A Ramada By Wyndham
The 1870s would see a revival of the Pigeon Forge area as a tourist destination. Yes, I know I found it odd that tourism in the 1870s was around and it was going to Pigeon Forge area. That comes from the fact that people believed at the time that coming from the larger urban areas that the mountain springs would restore their health.
With the 20th century a lot of people thought of Pigeon Forge more as an isolated mountain hamlet. This meant that the region did not really have much in the way of growth promise or even being used as a tourist town outside of the springs. That would all change after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established. At the turn of the century the town only had a no major roads and only a rare bridge from time to time. The nearest railway station was in Sevierville at the time.
The growth in Pigeon Forge would not come right after the park was opened. The region was mainly controlled by a few large families in the Gatlinburg region who really did not like the development. That allowed Pigeon Forge to become the target for all the economic growth in the region. One of the first commercial attractions was one called Rebel Railroad, which opened in 1961. This featured a Confederate train being raided by Union soldiers. As time went on this would eventually be renamed Goldrush Junction, but would finally settle as Silver Dollar City.
As Pigeon Forge started to compete for the Worlds Fair crowds in Knoxville, the region allowed for more development. This included some of the outlet malls that we all see located along US-441 when we are driving down the street. In the early 1990’s the outlet malls would account for 44% of the towns revenue.
Belle Aire Motel
Silver Dollar City is the place that we now know as Dollywood. This happened after the location partnered with Dolly Parton to help boost their recognition in the area. It would eventually work well enough that the main competition in the theme parks, Magic World, would go out of business in 1994.
Video On Pigeon Forge
What Does Modern Day Pigeon Forge Hold
Modern day Pigeon Forge is still a great place to check out. However, compared to the small little mountain hamlet that people are used to seeing, if they are older, then the changes are noticeable. Ever since the growth experienced during the Knoxville Worlds Fair and the commercialization it has continued to grow.
With that being said, modern day Pigeon Forge has a lot of attractions that you are going to enjoy if you are looking for attractions outside of nature. The city also offers plenty of lodging as well for people to enjoy. The downside is the sprawl that has come with the developement definitely keeps a lot of the mountain charm out of the city.
Belle Aire Motel
What I view as the negative is the lack of natural beauty in the city and region itself here. The developement has hit and has been good, but at the same time it has taken a lot of the beautiful views and nature that used to roam the region and bottled it up. Not to mention, I do not like the fact that you can walk in the town and reach your attraction, but it takes quite a bit longer than in Gatlinburg because everything is so spread out.
What To Do In Pigeon Forge
In Pigeon Forge you will notice that you have a lot of attractions. I do have a quick list and description of these attractions and will post it here. Still, some of the attractions are overlapped between Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville. This should help you decide in some form if you should do Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.
- Dollywood: This theme park is named after country music legend Dolly Parton and features roller coasters, water rides, shows, and more.
- Titanic Museum Attraction: This museum is shaped like the Titanic and tells the story of the ill-fated ship through exhibits and interactive experiences.
- The Island in Pigeon Forge: This entertainment complex features restaurants, shops, and attractions, including the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-foot-tall observation wheel.
- The Old Mill: This historic gristmill is still in operation and offers tours, shopping, and dining.
- WonderWorks: This interactive museum features exhibits on science, technology, and history, as well as a ropes course and a laser tag arena.
- Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster: This thrilling coaster takes riders on a scenic journey through the mountains.
- Hollywood Wax Museum: This museum features lifelike wax figures of celebrities and movie characters.
- Alcatraz East Crime Museum: This museum explores the history of crime and law enforcement in America.
- Parrot Mountain and Gardens: This attraction features exotic birds and lush gardens.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Pigeon Forge is located just outside this beautiful national park, which offers hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Who Would Like Pigeon Forge
This is one thing that I have given a lot of thought to. I would think the people that would enjoy Pigeon Forge would actually be the people that are looking for more of the attractions and less of the nature.
By this I mean people that are wanting to explore attractions more would really like the city. However, if you are looking for more of the mountain feel then you may not really want to stay in Pigeon Forge.
Who Would Not Like Pigeon Forge
The first group that I would say that would not like Pigeon Forge are the people trying to avoid the large crowds. The crowds in Pigeon Forge tend to be looking more for the attractions and theme parks. So if you are looking for a quiet type of retreat then the Pigeon Forge area may not be the best option for you to enjoy. So that can help sway your opinion on Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.
Pros And Cons Of Pigeon Forge
- Has a large number of restaurants to pick from.
- The available lodging is often a lot more varied than in Gatlinburg.
- Theme park is present in the city in the form of Dollywood.
- Plenty of other unique attractions are in the city.
- Larger roadways does allow for easier, but very crowded traffic flow.
- The crowds can be quite a bit larger than what you are expecting.
- Everything is spread out, which makes walking to different attractions difficult.
River Terrace Resort & Convention Center
The history of Gatlinburg is actually found starting in the Cherokee history. That comes from the fact that Cherokee hunters and other tribes would start to use the trail as a footpath to connect to other regions. The trail was noted mainly for the amount of game that it had along it. The trail would also connect to the Great Indian Warpath which followed the Little Pigeon River from Sevierville, thru Pigeon Forge and Gatlinbug before going to Sugarlands. The trail would actually cross over the slopes of Mount Collins before going down North Carolina to the banks of the Oconaluftee River. To put that into modern perspective it tends to follow US-441 that so many of us take across Newfound Gap.
Now, as for the settlement of the town of Gatlinburg itself, it would not come along in the 1800’s. In fact, in 1803 the first settler to the region that would build a cabin with the help of the Cherokee in the region, William Ogle, who came from South Carolina would arrive. He would build his cabin and go back to get his family. The downside is the return trip to fetch his family back contracted malaria and died.
William’s widow would move with her family aid her brother, her daughter, and also her daughters husband would come back. When they arrived they did find the notched logs that were ready to build the cabin. It would be built in the region near where Baskins Creek and the West Fork of Little Pigeon River meets. James and Rebecca, Williams daughter and son-in-law would settle in the Cartertown district in modern day Gatlinburg.
Well, a decade would pass and their would be a variety of people moving into the region and starting to settle. The main area of settlement was found in the White Oak Flats area. Most of these people moving to the region were veterans from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 who managed to secure 50-acre deeds. Some of the families descendants still live in the region. That includes the family of Timoth Reagan, John Ownby Jr. and Henry Bohanon.
Sidney James Mountain Lodge
The shaping of the modern town of Gatlinburg would start in 1856 when a post office was established. The post office was in the general store of Radford Gatlin, which gave the name of Gatlinburg. What is interesting is he did not arrive in the flats until 1854 and was constantly at war with his neighbors. In 1857 a full feud was in place between the Ogles and the Gatling, which mainly stemmed with the main road in the town.
Well, in 1859 Gatlin would be removed from the town and region. Gatlin was run out of the town area from his Confederate sympathies and the rest of the residents were mainly a pro-Union town. He would not return to the region and would leave behind the lasting legacy of his name on the town.
During the War Between the States the city of Gatlinburg tried to remain neutral. Granted, the Union ties were strong with the residents. That would change when William Holland Thomas’ legion would arrive to protect the salt peter mines at Alum Cave.
That would last until troops from Knoxville would march down to push the troops out of Burg Hill, the fort the Confederates has built. This would be the only major action in the region and was the action that would force the Confederate forces out of the Gatlinburg region. The Confederates would end up doing raids into the region still, but nothing major came from the raids.
The region after the war would be seen as a great place for lumber. The region would see the band saw and the logging railroad start to cause a revolution in the area. It was in the 1880s that would start. However, in 1901 Colonel W.B. Townsend would build up the Little River Lumber Company in the Tuckaleechee Cove which was to the rest and started to buy up large tracts of lumber in the region.
A sawmill would be built by Andrew Jackson Huff. The residents would then find that the lumber company was starting to provide an income stream. At this time tourist would start to trickle into the region as well. This mainly comes from Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart who would talk about the natural beauty in the region.
The settlement school, which many of us recognize as the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts was started in 1912. The school did have a very tough time starting off as a lot of people thought it was being run by religious zealots and was not meant for neutral educational training. After the first year, though, and word spreading about the quality education the school went from 33 students to 134.
If you are interesting more in the daily life of Gatlinburg at the turn of the century then you will want to stop here. The school and the museums in the regions and even some stores have various letters and documents from the school. These help to detail in great description about the way daily life would work in the town.
The logging would increase in volume and would be very upsetting to a lot of the conservationist in the area. In 1911 it would lead to the Weeks Act, which allowed for the purchase of national forest land for logging. It was at this time that Horse Kephart and other Knoxville businesses would start lobbying for the creation of a national park like Yellowstone or Yosemite. After Little River Lumber Company purchased and additional 76,000 acres the movement began to gain a lot of traction.
River Terrace Resort & Convention Center
To help spearhead the need for a National Park, Andrew Huff started to develop the Gatlinburg region. He did this by opening up the Mountain View Hotel in 1916. His son would go on to establish LeConte Lodge on top of Mount Le Conte. It would be until 1934 and with much fighting between the Federal government and the loggers and Tennessee that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established.
The park would dramatically change the future for Gatlinburg. In the first year of the National Park being opened it started to show the changes as 40,000 visitors went through Gatlinburg to head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Land prices in the region jumped to what in 2021 would be the equivalent of 90,000 dollars per acre.
Gatlinburg would continue to develop and for the most part did not have a lot of explosive development outside of restaurants and hotels right away. All of this would change in 1992 after a fire burned almost an entire city block in the town. The fire would have new fire codes put in place and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! actually ended up catching fire 2 more times after being rebuilt.
Greystone Lodge On The River
Video On Gatlinburg
What Does Modern Day Gatlinburg Have
Modern day Gatlinburg is a great place to stay. However, for a lot of people the commercialization of the city is a major turn off. The city has a lot of tourist in it and has quite a few options for entertainment. At the same time the unique shops in Gatlinburg are offering a lot of goods that you cannot find anywhere else. I know that the Village shops tend to be a great place to find the unique items. If you are looking for tee-shirts, though, you have plenty of options of tee-shirt shops to stop at as well.
Something else that modern day Gatlinburg offers is a lot of different entertainment options. Some of those are the mountain coasters, but others are the distilleries. Still, depending on where you are at in Gatlinburg the city has managed to hold onto some of its charm with various bluegrass bands performing at different times in the city.
What To Do In Gatlinburg
I have to admit that Gatlinburg has grown quite a bit and you have plenty to do. So I thought I would have a quick list of some of the attractions in Gatlinburg. Mind you, some of these are going to be outside of the city limits and may require some driving to reach. So this can help out in getting to know about Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park: This national park is one of the most visited parks in the United States. It offers numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic drives.
- Ober Gatlinburg: It is a ski resort and amusement park that offers skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and other winter activities. In the summer, you can enjoy the alpine slide, mountain coaster, and scenic chairlift.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: It is a popular aquarium that houses over 10,000 sea creatures, including sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles. You can also experience interactive exhibits and dive shows.
- Gatlinburg SkyLift Park: It offers a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains as you ride on a chairlift. At the top, you can enjoy a walk across the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.
- Gatlinburg Space Needle: It is a 407-foot observation tower that provides a panoramic view of the city and the mountains.
- Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community: It is an 8-mile loop road where you can find over 100 artists and craftsmen selling their handmade items, including pottery, paintings, jewelry, and woodcarvings.
- Sugarlands Distilling Company: It offers free tours and tastings of moonshine, a distilled spirit popular in the southern United States.
River Terrace Resort & Convention Center
Who Would Like Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is one of those cities that has a niche type of visitors that come back year after year. These visitors are often looking for the quite of a mountain town. That is the people who would like Gatlinburg, but please note that the town is starting to develop quite a bit and while it is still a fairly quiet town, it is not fully quiet. So that can help you decide if you want to use Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.
The other people that enjoy Gatlinburg are your outdoor adventure seekers. This comes from the fact that Gatlinburg is a great spot to serve as a launching point into the great outdoors that the national park has to offer. So definitely people who are looking to explore the outdoors will enjoy Gatlinburg.
Couples or people that are looking to elope also tend to enjoy Gatlinburg. We have covered some of the wedding chapels in Gatlinburg before and how they are great for couples. However, I have to admit the mountain scenery and the mostly quiet town definitely helps provide quite a bit of ambiance to the town and in some cases sparks some romance.
Belle Aire Motel
Gatlinburg – Who Would Not Like It
A group that may not really like Gatlinburg is more along the lines of who we think will like Gatlinburg at the same time. That group falls under the people that want a quiet and laid back vacation. Yes, Gatlinburg still has some spots that are quiet, but as we mentioned before the town is developing and with that comes a lot of noise and more of a crowd.
Pros and Cons of Gatlinburg
- Since Gatlinburg is close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park it is a natural jumping off point for the mountains.
- Typically has a variety of festivals or conventions happening.
- Plenty of unique and non-chain style restaurants.
- A variety of hotels are located in the city and provides a broader based selection to meet a family or individual needs.
- Is a family friendly location.
- As the town has grown the roads have been limited in expansion which often means traffic jams can happen.
- The commercialization of the city has led to more sales people who are trying to sell time shares or condos in the city.
Belle Aire Motel
Which One To Choose Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?
The choice really is not a clear one on which is better Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Both of these locations have their pluses and drawbacks. However, I know for me I like being in an area that I can safely walk to places and not be sprawled out all over the place. Not to mention, I really love the drive into Gatlinburg. So for me I tend to favor Gatlinburg, but that comes from my personal choose. Others may like Pigeon Forge more than I do. Still, one thing that is important is you are going to love your time in the mountains no matter where you stay so you take your pick Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge both are great.