Known for their majestic appeal, flock of tourist attractions, unique culture, and country charm, the Great Smoky Mountains allure many to travel to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, Tennessee, year after year. Whether you’ve been here many times or are planning a first-time trip in the future, we invite you to take a moment to learn a bit about our Smoky Mountain history. With a rich cultural background, these southern Appalachian mountains helped shape the area into the welcoming and scenic retreat it is today.
Starting with the Cherokee, the Ogle family, and the founding of the most-visited national park in the country, the history of our beloved Smokies comprises everything from indigenous survivors and pioneering women to lumberjacks and a presidential dedication. Today, we also invite you to join this rich history by visiting some of our historical sites on your next vacation to the beautiful city of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, TN.
The Ogle Family
Gatlinburg’s history finds its roots in the turn of the 19th century when settlers first noticed the grandeur of the Smoky Mountains and made plans to move there. When the first European settlers arrived in the Smokies, Cherokee survivors who fled to the hills during the Trail of Tears were helpful in teaching Appalachian ways and lifestyle.
Among those first settlers was the famous William Ogle, who called the area the “Land of Paradise” in the mountains of East Tennessee. With such enthusiasm, William is best known for starting to build the first log cabin in the area. Settlers eventually named the area White Oak Flats, which was later changed to — you guessed it — Gatlinburg.
Basically, the Ogles are considered the founding family of Gatlinburg, and it’s evident all around the Parkway and neighboring towns. On your next vacation to the area, keep an eye out for the Ogle name, including at Fannie Farkle’s for their famous Ogle Dog!
The Ogle Cabin
Around 1802, William selected the site where he would build a home for his family in Gatlinburg. After cutting the logs, he returned home to South Carolina to gather his family. Sadly, instead of traveling back to East Tennessee, he tragically fell ill and died in 1803.
In 1807, William’s wife, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, moved with their children — 5 sons and 2 daughters — as well as her brother, Peter Huskey, and his family to the Great Smoky Mountains. They honored William’s wish, finished the cabin he started and settled amidst the beauty of the paradise he had hoped they would enjoy together.
Members of the Ogle family lived happily in the cabin until 1910. In fact, William and Martha’s great-grandson, Andrew Ogle, and his family were the last to live in the Ogle cabin. In 1921, the Ogle farm was sold to Pi Beta Phi, who used the cabin as a hospital.
From 1922 to 1926, the cabin was used as a museum, housing mountain artifacts. Later, the cabin was moved from its original site to the former site of the community’s first church building. Today, you can visit the original Ogle cabin near the Gatlinburg Welcome Center.
The Ogle Store
Great-grandson to William and Martha, Noah Ogle was Gatlinburg’s first merchant of record. He established his store in 1850 on the site that later became the Riverside Hotel. In 1910, he moved his store to the intersection of Elkmont Highway and River Road.
In 1916, Noah’s son, Ephraim, took over the store, and until 1925, the Gatlinburg Post Office was housed inside the E. E. Ogle and Company store. Eventually, the Ogle general store was torn down in the 1970s and replaced by the shops of the Mountain Mall. Today, you can see remnants of the original Ogle store inside the mall.
The Ogle Family Legacy
Despite changes through the years, the legacy of the Ogle family — their homes, workplaces, and history — continues to live on. Descendants of the area’s first settlers, the Ogles are still honored as the founding family of Gatlinburg. And through each of their stories, the history of Gatlinburg is woven and enriched.
A Brief History of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Logging in the Smoky Mountains
Logging was a major industry (and source of income) for mountain people settling in the Great Smoky Mountains in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s no surprise, considering how many 100s of acres of trees are found in the area. While logging provided important work and resources for homes, it also produced an unfortunate side effect. By the mid-1920s, logging had destroyed 300,000+ acres of Smoky Mountain trees.
Restoring the Smokies & Creating a Legacy
Around this time, several people began work to preserve the area’s natural beauty for future generations. Ann Davis, after a trip to several national parks out west in 1923, suggested the creation of a national park in the Smokies. David Chapman, a business leader from nearby Knoxville, TN, worked as chairman of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. Paul Fink was instrumental in the route of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains.
Horace Kephart and Georgia Masa used their resources and talents — paired with their passion for the beauty of the area — to raise $5 million from Tennessee and North Carolina residents to buy the land from loggers. John D. Rockefeller Jr. added the remaining $5 million, kicking off a decades-long effort to make the Great Smoky Mountains National Park what it is today.
Civilian Conservation Core
Once 300,000+ acres were turned over to the federal government by 1934, Congress authorized the development of public facilities within the park boundaries. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an organization created during the Great Depression to provide jobs for unemployed young men, worked hard to develop trails, bridges, campgrounds, and buildings for the park.
Formal Dedication by Roosevelt
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the great honor of formally dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940. Speaking from the Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap, he declared it “for the permanent enjoyment of the people” — and we locals still take that to heart. We welcome everyone from around Appalachia, the country, and the world to visit our favorite place on earth.
The Walker Sisters
Understandably, not everyone was happy about the national park’s creation. Perhaps the greatest example, the 6 Walker sisters lived within the borders of the national park before it was public land, and they held onto their homesteads until their death. They were so passionate in their pleas, they were the only people allowed to stay within the national park’s borders. They remained there until the death of the last sister in 1964, selling homemade children’s toys, doilies, and fried apple pies.
The Walker Sister Homestead still stands today, situated along the Little Brier Gap Trail. On your way, stop at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse, which their father helped build in 1882. This classic one-room schoolhouse was used mostly as a school in winter when there was less farm work for the kids, and as a church otherwise until 1936.
6 Historical Sites Near Gatlinburg TN
Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a good way to stretch your legs in the great outdoors, we highly recommend visiting historical sites near Gatlinburg, TN! Naturally, we suggest visiting the original Ogle cabin, checking out the remnants of the Ogle store in the Mountain Mall, and hiking to the Walker Sisters’ home and schoolhouse.
However, Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and surrounding areas are full of historical sites to explore. Indeed, the National Park Service (NPS) manages and maintains 90+ historic buildings and structures within the park boundaries. To get you started, here are 6 of our favorite historical sites in the Smoky Mountains!
- John Cable Grist Mill
This classic water-wheel-powered mill, located in Cades Cove — an 11-mile, one-way loop that takes you on a tour of wildlife, beautiful mountain views, and rich history — was built in only 3 months by John Cable in 1886. It was the largest mill in the Smokies at the time and is still in operation. Come get your bag of bonafide Tennessee cornmeal at the Cades Cove Visitor Center today!
- John Oliver Cabin
Nestled in Cades Cove, the John Oliver Cabin was built in the early 1820s by John and Lucretia Oliver, the first permanent Euro-American settlers of Cades Cove. They lived in their cabin until the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934. A short walk off the main loop of Cades Cove will get you here, and you’ll have the chance to visit one of the oldest structures in the Smokies.
- Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts
Open since 1912, the Arrowmont School first began as a general education school for early settlers to the Gatlinburg area. Today, the school functions as a national art education center where students from all over the world are invited to attend various workshops and classes.
- The First Baptist Church
Although the Smokies’ first settlers were Presbyterians, the first church in the area was Baptist. The first frame church building was constructed in 1875, and this building was reconstructed into a stone church in 1951. This structure is located at the corner of the Parkway and Baskins Creek Road.
- Little Cataloochee Church
Located 2 miles in on the Little Cataloochee Trail, this primitive white-painted church is nestled in the Cataloochee Valley, surrounded by 6,000-foot peaks of the Smoky Mountains. Built-in 1889, the Little Cataloochee Church served roughly 1,200 people as a gathering place, and the fenced, well-maintained cemetery became the final resting place for many of its members. Each year on Memorial Day, descendants of the early Cataloochee families still return to the church to decorate the graves of their relatives.
- Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin
Just before you enter the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail — a popular scenic drive along a 6-mile paved road that features 100-year-old cabins, barns, and homesteads — make a stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guided nature trail. Along the hike, enjoy mountain and forest scenery before reaching a view of this Ogle farmstead that consists of a cabin, barn, and tub mill built by Noah “Bud” Ogle in the late 19th century. His tub mill (one of the few left in existence) continues to grind, using water from the LeConte Creek.
Sugarlands Visitor Center — Museum, Movie & MORE
FREE to the public and open year-round (except Christmas Day), the Sugarlands Visitor Center welcomes all to learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Featured is a 21-minute movie about the park, a museum wildlife exhibits, a gift shop, and nearby hiking trails. Park rangers are almost always hanging around to help and answer questions. There are also maps, restrooms, and plenty of parking.
Where Is the Sugarlands Visitor Center?
Simply take the Parkway in Gatlinburg past Ski Mountain Road, through the entrance into the national park. About 1.7 miles down the road, the Sugarlands Visitor Center is on the right. Parking is free!
Did YOU Know?
- The Cherokee originally called Gatlinburg “Shaconage,” which meant “Land of Blue Smoke.”
- Radford Gatlin, Gatlinburg’s namesake, was banned from Gatlinburg because of his political views in the Civil War era.
- The City of Gatlinburg was incorporated in 1945.
- The Walker sisters had a 7th sister, but she lived outside of the national park’s boundaries.
- Some of the historical structures found in Cades Cove were relocated from their original home elsewhere in the national park.
- Newfound Gap is the lowest pass through the Smoky Mountains and can be explored along…Newfound Gap Road.
- Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the national park — and all of Tennessee — at 6,643 feet and features an observation tower with 360 views!
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also known as the “Wildflower National Park” for year-round blooms and the “Salamander Capital of the World” for its variety of salamander species.
Live the Ogle Life at a Cabin in the Smokies
Give modern cabin life a try when you book a cabin rental in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, TN, through Cabins for YOU! With 450+ cabins ranging from 1-16 bedrooms (including pet-friendly options) and budget-friendly to luxury, we have the perfect place for you to return to after exploring the national park, historical sites, and downtown attractions.
Not to worry, you won’t have to hunt for food, fetch water from the river, or light lanterns to guide your way at night. Our cabins feature fully equipped kitchens, free high-speed Wi-Fi, and king-size beds to keep you comfortable. Plus, we offer an array of amenities for entertainment, including private indoor pools, outdoor hot tubs, home theaters, and rec rooms!
Best of all, you can enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains just like the Ogles — with breathtaking mountain views, peaceful wooded scenery, or a rushing river only a glance away. Book your memorable stay with your partner, family, or friends today online or at 1.800.684.7865 and take a stroll through Smoky Mountain history today.