GATLINBURG: History and Culture

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Visit Gatlinburg and Experience the History!

Perhaps no other state proudly showcases its unique culture and history the way Tennessee does, and there’s no better display of that Great Smoky Mountain history and culture than in Gatlinburg.

In 1807, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, her children and other family arrived in a remote locale of Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee to honor the wish of her deceased husband, William, to settle in the “land of paradise” he had found.

Today, that remote locale is known as Gatlinburg.  Here are some great historic and cultural facts about Gatlinburg:

Thanks to for the pic!

Picture from

1. Gatlinburg was first named White Oak Flats for the abundant native white oak trees that still cover the landscape to this very day. It is believed a middle-aged widow, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, was the first official settler here after her husband died before being able to return himself.  Soon after, such now very familiar family names as McCarter, Reagan, Whaley, and Trentham took up residence along local streams and hollows.

Thanks to the Radford Gatlin MySpace page for the pic!

Thanks to the Radford Gatlin MySpace page for the pic!

2. Gatlinburg is named for Radford C. Gatlin.  In 1854, Radford C. Gatlin arrived in White Oak Flats and opened the village’s second general store. Controversy soon surrounded him.  He was flamboyant and, as a preacher, established his own “Gatlinite” Baptist Church. He was a democrat in a republican community, and was eventually banished from the area. However, the city of Gatlinburg still bears his name.

Picture from

Picture from

3.  Elijah Lawson Reagan is an important Gatlinburg historic figure.  He established a woodworking business here in 1910. It is believed to be the oldest, continuously operated business of its kind in the Great Smoky Mountain history. For over a decade, he practiced his craft with simple hand tools, but in the 1920s, he harnessed the power of the Roaring Fork to operate his new electric power tools. He built a water-wheel and installed a turbine and generator which furnished power to his shop. Today, one of his sons-in-law, Lester Flynn, runs the shop still making fine furniture in the Reagan tradition.

Pi Beta Phi Campus Picture from UT Libraries.

Pi Beta Phi Campus Picture from the Libraries of UT.

4. 1910 the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, a national women’s organization, established the first public school system in Gatlinburg. The provision for basic education was later expanded to include vocational and home economics for the community’s adults. Many area residents were educated at Pi Beta Phi, and the school’s focus on promoting local craft skills helped establish Gatlinburg as a prominent arts and crafts center. Many of its original buildings and are still used today.  Today it is known as the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

Historic Ogle Cabin

Historic Ogle Cabin

5.  Although this area was settled by Presbyterians, their first church was Baptist. History records that the White Oak Flats “arm” of the Sevierville Baptist Church convened in the early 1800s on Baskins Creek, probably at the present location of the Ogle cabin (pictured right). A second church was later built on River Road near the mouth of Mill (now Le Conte) Creek, and in 1837, they formed a new church and called it White Oak Flats Baptist. The congregation met in a log cabin on Baskins Creek, which also served as a school. The congregation changed its name to Gatlinburg Baptist Church in 1932.  In 1951, they constructed a landmark stone church. As businesses crowded around them, First Baptist moved to its present location on Highway 321, east of downtown, in 1991.

Winfield Heights is just 3/4 of a mile from the main Gatlinburg Parkway!To be sure, Tennessee’s history is rich and diverse.  And to showcase that rich history, the Tennessee Heritage Trail has been recently developed by the State in order to highlight that cultural heritage. In order to maximize your time on the Heritage Trail, it is divided into 3 distinct pathways featuring local heritage through art, history and music of the region:

  1. The Arts & Crafts Trail pathway will show you folk art, trolls, candles of all descriptions, hand-made pottery, oak and willow baskets, watercolors, sculpture and lithographs.
  2. This post leads you down the Gatlinburg, TN History Trail that is meant to help you discover the people and events that made Tennessee what it is today.
  3. And finally, the Music Trail pathway will find you tapping your toes to styles evolving from 3 cultural traditions. Most notably, East Tennessee’s Appalachian region is known for folk songs and bluegrass, which evolved from the immigrant influences of the 1700’s.

Visit Gatlinburg and experience the historical sites and stories!

ERA In The SmokiesThis blog is sponsored in part by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg, TN. For more information on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.


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