History of Pigeon Forge Tennessee
The name Pigeon Forge is derived from an iron forge built around 1820 by Isaac Love. The name referred to its location along the Little Pigeon River.
The Cherokee used the valley of Pigeon Forge as a hunting ground for centuries. The Cherokee footpath known as the Indian Gap Trail crossed through Pigeon Forge valley. The Indian Gap Trail brought the first Europeans to Pigeon Forge in the early 18th century, along with hunters and trappers from North Carolina. Colonel Samuel Wear became the first permanent Euro-American settler in the Pigeon Forge area sometime around 1784. Here, he erected a small fort near the confluence of Walden Creek and the Little Pigeon River. The small fort straddled the Indian Gap Trail, making it a popular target for small bands of Cherokee warriors to assault. The Cherokee attacked the fort in 1793; afterwards Wear led a band of 60 frontiersmen across the Smokies into the Overhill Cherokee region. The men attacked Tallassee, destroying the town and killing at least fifteen Cherokees.
Religion played a huge role in the early beginnings of Pigeon Forge. During the early 19th century, circuit riders began preaching in the valley, creating a large Methodist following. Many people began traveling to the area for extended revivals that were held in the town.
Mordecai Lewis, a Revolutionary War veteran, obtained a 151-acre land grant along the Little Pigeon River in 1810. Lewis’s son-in-law established the iron forge that the city was named after. In 1830, Love began the Pigeon Forge Mill and later established a post office. John Trotter, a local businessman, purchased the mill and made numerous modifications. The “Old Mill” still stands today, and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A health resort was built in Pigeon Forge in the 1870s. This drew tourists to the area who wanted to experience the health-restoring qualities of the mountain springs.
Pigeon Forge was an isolated mountain town with no major roads well into the early 20th century. Upon the opening of the Great Smoky National Park in 1934, the town began to establish itself as a tourist area. By the 1950s, a few campgrounds and lodges were built in the area, but little revenue was generated from them.
In 1961, two North Carolina brothers Grover and Harry Robbins opened Rebel Railroad, shortly after the town was incorporated. The railroad simulated a ride on a Confederate steam train that was under attack by Union soldiers. Later, the men decided to rename the Rebel Railroad Goldrush Junction. A “Wild West” theme replaced the Civil War theme, similar to the men’s other tourist train ride, Tweetsie Railroad. Due to the success of Goldrush Junction, they decided to purchase a log amusement ride and continued expanding on the company.
In 1969, Pigeon Forge issued a zoning plan assigning the entire strip along US-441 for tourism use. Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, purchased Goldrush Junction, then sold it to the Herschend Brothers. The Brothers renamed the park Silver Dollar City and the park’s attendance began to climb.
The early 80s brought about an aggressive economic plan that revolved around theme parks, outlet malls, and live music. The first outlet mall, Factory Merchants, opened in 1982. By the early 1990s, outlet malls provided 44% of the towns total revenue.
Competition was brought to Silver Dollar City by other tourist attractions, especially it’s leading competitor, Magic World. In 1985, Dolly Parton (who was born in nearby Sevierville) was approached by the Herschends for a partnership in the promotion and operation of Silver Dollar City. After lengthy negotiations, Parton became a partner in the enterprise and Silver Dollar City was renamed Dollyworld. The marketing move worked and Dollyworld continues to attract tourists from all over.