History of Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge was originally a hunting ground for the Cherokee. The Cherokee used a footpath known as the “Indian Gap Trail” which allowed the Cherokee to cross the Smoky Mountains from North Carolina to the Great Indian Warpath, now modern day Sevierville.
The Indian Gap Trail brought Europeans to Pigeon Forge. It was used by hunters and trappers from North Carolina, as well as traders from Virginia.
In the 1740s, Colonel Samuel Wear became one of the first permanent Euro-American settlers in the area. He built a fort in the Walden Creek and Little Pigeon River area off what is now Wear’s Valley. The fort, more of a stockade, allowed early pioneers a safe stopping point while passing through the Sevier County area.
The Cherokee signed the Treaty of Dumplin Creek in 1785, ceding the majority of Sevier County to the United States. Once this treaty was signed, Robert Shields, whom had received a tract of land from the Watauga Land Office, built a small fort along Middle Creek. This area is now near Dollywood.
The first “tourists” to the Pigeon Forge area came for the extended revivals held in the Middle Creek area where the current Middle Creek Methodist Church sits. These revivals began in the early 19th century and could last for weeks at a time.
In 1810, the Revolutionary War brought Mordecai Lewis to the area after he obtained a 151 acre land grant along the Little Pigeon River. In 1817, Isaac Love, Lewis’s son-in-law, established an iron forge on the banks of the Little Pigeon River. The town of Pigeon Forge received its name from this forge and the mass amounts of passenger pigeons that flocked to the banks of the Little Pigeon River. In 1830, Love built the Pigeon Forge Mill. In 1841, Love’s son William built the post office and gave the town the name of Pigeon Forge.
Pigeon Forge was home to a health resort in the 1870’s at Henderson Springs. Residents of large urban areas would travel to the area to take in the mountain springs which were thought to have health restoring qualities.
As of the 20th century, the city of Pigeon Forge was fairly isolated. Having no major roads and the closest railroad station being in Sevierville, there was limited access to the area. The big change that brought life to the small community arose with the announcement of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which opened in 1934. In the 1950’s, improvements had been made to US-441 and led to the establishment of a few campgrounds and lodges. The city officially incorporated in 1961.
Shortly after the city was officially incorporated, the Rebel Railroad was opened in the Middle Creek area. The attraction gave visitors the chance see what it was like to ride a Confederate steam train that was under attack by Union soldiers during the Civil War. In 1964, the brothers renamed the attraction to Goldrush Junction. The attraction was given a Wild West theme similar to the brother’s theme park in North Carolina called Tweetsie Railroad. The brothers later added a log flume ride to Goldrush Junction, which became the most popular ride at the park. The park was sold to the Herschends from Branson, Missouri in 1969 and was renamed to Silver Dollar City.
Pigeon Forge created an aggressive economic plan that focused on tourism in 1982, which included outlet malls, theme parks and live music.
In 1985, famous Sevier County resident Dolly Parton joined with the Herschends to become a partner in Silver Dollar City and the name of the park was changed to Dollywood.