This now bustling tourist-loving town was once a place where farming and ingenuity was rapidly expanding. This area welcomed many firsts as a result of the ideas and leadership of many men and women on the city council. The city got its name from a variety of sources, and the story behind it is quite interesting. The first part of the city's name – “Pigeon” – came from the local Little Pigeon River. The river received its name from passenger pigeons that would fly over the area but have now become extinct. The second part of the name came from the bloomer “Forge” that was built by Isaac Love in 1817. This building was located on the same piece of land that the present day Old Mill is located. This historic old mill was built around 1790 on the 151-acre land grant. This grant previously belonged to Mordecai Lewis.
In the beginning of the 1700s, the Indian Gap Trail brought Pigeon Forge’s first European settlers to the area. At this time, the area was governed by North Carolina. Pigeon Forge is the site of the Iron Forge, built by Isaac Love, whose son would later go on to build the Old Mill in 1930. These two men were very instrumental in the expansion of this now historic city.
Forging ahead in the world, the first telephone was installed in Pigeon Forge in 1898. Pigeon Forge was also given a new school in 1923 to accommodate the growing population. During this time and up until 1934, this area was basically untouched by man. There were no major roads and the mountain was basically isolated. The closest railway was in the next city, Sevierville. This same year, 1934, is when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened and campers began to come visit the area. At the same time, lodges were being built.
In 1952, the east side of the Parkway was paved for a two-way highway. In 1956, workers began to pave the west side. Years later, the historical Norma Dan Hotel, which is still being operated today, originally opened in 1958 on the weekend of July 4. Around this time, Fort Wear Game Park was a zoo with wild animals. On occasion, the elephant would escape and go to the river. This was entertaining to the school children who would watch in amusement from their local school building.
When motels first moved into the area, they were smaller and cottage-like – nothing like the buildings that we see in the area today. At the beginning of the late 1960s, the more grand scale attractions came to the Smokies. For the summer shows that went on during the summer months, students (and porpoises) were flown in from Hawaii to perform at Porpoise Island. This show was vital to attracting guests to the city. The attraction known as Magic World captivated the attention as well as the hearts of the young people. The Prehistoric Dinosaur exhibit was also popular, as well as Ogle’s Water Park! Later, a mountain ocean wave pool came to the area along with Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. All of these attractions made way for the unique and exciting tourist attractions that fill the Smokies today.
In 1967, the city manager of Pigeon Forge made a whopping $1.00 per year and passed a resolution to allow the election of up to five commissioners. In previous years, only three commissioners at a time had been allowed. This same year, the current city manager was a woman by the name of Mrs. Earlene M. Teaster. She helped pave the way for what we know now as Pigeon Forge. Several years later, family-style restaurants began to appear in Pigeon Forge, and some of these restaurants are still landmarks today. Some of the more popular restaurants included The Apple Tree Inn, Remac’s Drive-In Theater (which became a Pigeon Forge institution), Hurst’s Diner, and the Dog-N-Suds. Souvenir shops began to appear in the area a short time after this. One of the most well-known gift shops was the Hillbilly Village.
Big things started happening in Pigeon Forge when the Rebel Railroad attraction opened in 1961. This attraction simulated a Confederate steam train under attack during the Civil War. The same year, Pigeon Forge was pleased to welcome the new fire department, which cost $100 a month to run. Several years later in 1964, the Rebel Railroad was renamed Goldrush Junction. The park was sold in 1976 to become the famous Silver Dollar City.
With growth and population at an all-time high, the tourists increased their frequency of visits as well. The 1970s sparked the new wave in food distribution known as fast food! Burger King was the first of its kind to venture to Pigeon Forge in order to establish its name in the tourist area. Their signature phrase, “Have it your way,” won over many customers.
The beginning of the 1980s is when the Parkway expanded to be six full lanes, and Wears Valley expanded to be five different lanes. Later on in the 1990s, now popular attractions such as the Dixie Stampede Dinner Theater, King Solomon’s Palace, and the Kingdom Resort opened. It was not until 1985 that the Silver Dollar City was renamed “Dolly” because of a partnership with Dolly Parton. The park would go on to become Dollywood and is recognized as one of the most popular theme parks to this day.
Mt. Leconte is the largest peak to be seen in Pigeon Forge to this day. Although the mountains have stayed the same, the town has changed by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years. Make sure to visit this historic city to experience all it has to offer!