Where the Smoky Mountains beckon and a charming city calls, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a popular vacation destination located at the foot of Mount LeConte, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. Whether it be a fun family trip, a mini-break with friends, a refreshing church retreat, bonding time with coworkers, or a weekend getaway with your spouse, Gatlinburg has something for everyone to enjoy. From exploring historic structures, hiking through beautiful forests, and checking out local museums to shopping for handmade souvenirs, eating hearty Southern meals, and relaxing in a mountain cabin, memorable moments are around every corner in Gatlinburg!
A Unique History
The history of Gatlinburg begins in the early 1800s with its very first European settlers: the Ogle family. Upon discovering the area he called “The Land of Paradise,” William Ogle, father of 7 and husband to Martha Ogle, began building his family a new home with the help of local Cherokee people. Eager to make the final moving preparations, William returned to his family in South Carolina. Unfortunately, before the family could make the journey to this wondrous place together, William fell ill and passed away. Determined to live out her late husband’s dream, Martha traveled to the area, completed their cabin with the help of her brother, and raised her children in White Oaks Flats (named after the land’s predominant tree), later to be known as — Gatlinburg. The rest, as they say, is history…quite an interesting one, in fact.
1802 | The First Cabin
William began construction on Gatlinburg’s first home in 1802, and his family completed the cabin in 1807. For the next 100 years, William’s descendants would reside in Ogle’s cabin. Later used as a hospital, a museum, and a church, the first cabin, while not in its original location, can still be visited today at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center.
1818 | Gatlinburg’s Famous Son
Not long after the Ogles settled, more settlers moved to the area, including Timothy and Elizabeth Reagan. On October 8, 1818, John Henninger Reagan, their beloved son, was born. Now known as Gatlinburg’s famous son, John H. Reagan eventually moved to Texas and went on to become a surveyor, farmer, private tutor, lawyer, judge, and postmaster general of the Confederacy. Reagan even helped establish the Interstate Commerce Commission as a U.S. senator.
1835 | White Oaks Flats Baptist
The town’s first building, built in 1835, was a church, which was also used as a school. Originally named White Oaks Flats Baptist, the church was renamed to Gatlinburg Baptist Church in 1932 and is now called First Baptist Church of Gatlinburg. After moving locations several times, the church finally found its home in 1991 on Highway 321, east of downtown.
1850 | The Ogle Store
As the earliest recorded merchant in Gatlinburg, Noah Ogle opened the first official store in town. Passing on his legacy to his son, grandson, and great grandson, Noah’s shop gradually expanded over time, changing locations in 1910 as well as becoming a general store that sold almost anything. Unfortunately, the original structure of the general store is no longer available to view as it was torn down in the mid-1970s to build the Gatlinburg Mountain Mall. However, you can visit the mall, which is owned and managed by the Ogle family, to see pictures of the Ogle’s General Store.
1856 | The Name that Stuck
Opening the second store in Gatlinburg in 1855, Radford C. Gatlin was an eccentric man who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even when his opinions differed from most of the townspeople. Let’s not forget that he was also a unique preacher who established his own “Gatlinite” Baptist Church. With his ideals being so controversial, he was ultimately banished from the area in 1860. However, he had allowed Richard Reagan, the influential postmaster, to use some of his shop’s space as an office, which Reagan dubbed Gatlinburg. Thus, as the name spread, the entire town eventually became known as Gatlinburg.
1863 | The Civil War
While most people in Gatlinburg tried to stay out of the Civil War, the town ultimately became involved when Confederate forces began patrolling the areas around Mt. LeConte in 1863. A fort was built to protect the Confederates from the Union at what is now traffic light 3, and other groups camped at the Little Pigeon River just outside the city. When the Union (with whom Gatlinburg eventually sided) ran the Confederates out of town, everything — most burned to the ground by federal troops — was left behind.
1940 | The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
In the early 1920s, the timber industry took off, and the Gatlinburg townsfolk (along with other local towns) began to worry for their beloved woodlands. As a result, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill in 1926 to allow the development of a national park in the Smokies. Requiring 150,000 acres to succeed, money was a huge obstacle. After years of fundraising and a hefty donation from John D. Rockefeller, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park finally began with double the original plan at 300,000 acres and was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in September of 1940. Today, the park consists of more than 520,000 acres with over 80 historic buildings throughout, and receives upwards of 10 million visitors each year — more than any other national park! It’s an important part of the history of Gatlinburg – and of course, its future!
From a humble mountain village to a thriving city in the Smokies, Gatlinburg has come a long way over the years. Harboring such a rich history, the area is pleasantly filled with traditional crafts, historic sites, and — of course — a beautiful landscape. To satisfy your creative genes, travel around the Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail, featuring the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, a skilled group of more than 120 artisans of all kinds, and the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, a national art and craft education center. Watch a master painter create a new world, study the movements of a professional basket weaver, chat with a seasoned craftsman about their time-honored techniques, admire woodcarvings of local wildlife, feel the comfort of a handmade quilt, purchase a one-of-a-kind souvenir, or take a weekend class to learn a new craft.
Resting on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is also known as the “Gateway to the Smoky Mountains.” With close proximity to the national park, it is no surprise that Gatlinburg is overflowing with activities centered around nature. From going on a whitewater rafting adventure at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (America’s largest rafting company) and relaxing on a ride through the forest via the Rowdy Bear Coaster to observing the surrounding mountains at the Gatlinburg Space Needle (free view finders available) and horseback riding in the national park with Smoky Mountain Stables, unforgettable experiences and incredible views await!
Modern Gatlinburg Attractions
While revealing your artsy side and encountering nature are always a joy, modern-style attractions can be just as fun, if not more so. Most of the city’s excitement can be found along or via the main Parkway (Hwy 441) or the East Parkway (Hwy 321), which run through the heart of downtown Gatlinburg. Take the whole family to Ober Gatlinburg, an amusement park and ski area, for a day of indoor ice skating, carousel riding, mini golfing, skiing, shopping, and more! Challenge Gatlin’s Escape Gamesto put your puzzle-solving and teamwork skills to the test, and celebrate your victory by splashing around indoors at Wild Bear Falls Water Park (open year-round).
At the end of the day, it’s Ripley’s for the win with 7 Gatlinburg attractions scattered throughout the area — believe it or not! Gaze at colorful sea life beneath you from a glass-bottom boat at the Aquarium of the Smokies, let your little ones win a round at Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, give your senses a thrill at the 5D Moving Theater, scream your head off at the Haunted Adventure, choose the right path in the Marvelous Mirror Maze, let the oddities at the Odditorium blow your mind, and try your hand at breaking a world record at the Guinness World Records Adventure.
Shopping & Dining
In between all the fun-filled activities, take some time to explore Gatlinburg’s fine array of unique shops and restaurants. With hundreds of stores to choose from, you’ll have quite the haul when you return home. Find a special keepsake at The Village Shops, a thoughtful gift for your bestie at The Honey Pot, scrumptious presents for your nieces and nephews at Glades Homemade Candy, a sweet memento at Celtic Heritage, and a memorable souvenir at The Maple’s Tree.
Refueling throughout the day is a must! Enjoy a camper’s breakfast — Davy Crockett style — at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp or a pancake feast at the Log Cabin Pancake House. Stop for some mouth-watering meats (beef brisket, tender ribs, pulled pork, etc.) at Hungry Bear BBQ and a homemade dessert at the Morning Mist Café & Desserts. Break for free wine tasting at Sugarland Cellars and try seasonal moonshine at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Finally, end the day at Crystelle Creek Restaurant and Grill for delicious seafood or Cherokee Grill for a tasty New York strip!
A Home in the Mountains
Cabins are also an important part of the history of Gatlinburg, becoming increasingly popular – and necessary – as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park gained fame over the years. Cabins are a great way to break free from the typical hotel stay, and our Gatlinburg cabins and Pigeon Forge cabins at Cabins for YOU boast amenities to make you feel at home and pampered while you’re away. From private indoor pools, movie theaters, and rec rooms with game tables to fully equipped kitchens, master suites with fireplaces and jetted tubs, and luxurious Smoky Mountain views, we have it all! Plus, you can choose from intimate 1-2 bedroom cabins, comfortable 3-5 bedroom retreats for family vacations, pet-friendly and budget-friendly cabins, luxury getaways, and large group lodges that boast space for 50+!