sunrise over Gatlinburg, Tennessee

A Great Smoky Mountains History: The Establishment of Gatlinburg

gatlinburg sunrise
November 16, 2021

The mountain town of Gatlinburg wasn’t always the hustling and bustling area that we know today. Before the first European settlers arrived, the land was home to the Native Americans and served as an area to hunt, harvest and live. Today, Gatlinburg is one of the top vacation destinations in the country. Here is a little Great Smoky Mountains history about the establishment of Gatlinburg:

The First Settlers

smoky mountain ridge

The first non-native residents of Gatlinburg came from South Carolina. Martha Jane Huskey Ogle brought over her 7 children and they constructed a family cabin which still stands today. The Ogle family has made lasting contributions to Gatlinburg. Even today, there are hotels, shops and landmarks that carry their family name.

After the Revolutionary War, 50 acres of land were given to Tennessee from North Carolina, paving the way for many veterans of the war and other pioneers to settle in Gatlinburg. With more residents settling in, the mountain town began to blossom into early forms of what we see today.

Construction of the Town

In the mid-1830s, the first town structures were built, including the White Oaks Baptist Church. While most of the town’s residents were Presbyterian, the baptist missionaries were able to claim the first church. In 1867, the first school in Gatlinburg was built, which remained open normally only 3 months out of the year.

The Ogle family were also responsible for some of the first community buildings. Noah Ogle, Gatlinburg’s first merchant, built the town’s first store in 1850 that later transitioned to the first hotel. Soon after, the town began to grow in population and economically. It wouldn’t be much longer until tourism became a huge part of Gatlinburg’s future.

The Beginnings of Tourism In Gatlinburg

Noah Ogle wasn’t finished expanding in Gatlinburg. After moving his store to a more prime location at the intersection of River Road and Elkmont Highway, Ogle also took over his father’s store, which happened to house the town’s post office. These stores passed down for multiple generations, as grandsons and great grandsons took over and opened new shops along the way. Eventually, a general store was built which housed anything and everything the townspeople could need.

national park sign

Access to stores like these, plus the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1926 made Gatlinburg a hotspot for travelers and tourists. With the establishment of the national park, came a whole new era of tourism in the Smokies.

How Gatlinburg Got its Name

Stories of how Gatlinburg got its name vary, but they all have one figure in common – Radford C. Gatlin. Despite being the owner and founder of the town’s second general store, Gatlin was a controversial figure within the area. He was an extravagant preacher who founded his own “Gatlinite” Baptist Church. Additionally, he was a democrat in a majority republican community and eventually his beliefs and differences got him exiled from the town.

Now that you know a little more about the Great Smoky Mountains history of the town of Gatlinburg, you will have a better appreciation for the town the next time you visit. Are you interested in learning more about what to do in Gatlinburg today? Check out all the exciting activities in the Gatlinburg area and begin planning your next trip to our mountain town.