Gatlinburg is located at 35°43′19″N 83°29′58″W (35.721925, -83.499334). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 10.1 square miles (26 km2), all land.
Gatlinburg is hemmed in on all sides by high ridges, with the Le Conte and Sugarland Mountain massifs rising to the south, Cove Mountain to the west, Big Ridge to the northeast, and Grapeyard Ridge to the east. The main watershed is the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River, which flows from its source on the slopes of Mount Collins to its junction with the Little Pigeon at Sevierville.
U.S. Route 441 is the main traffic artery in Gatlinburg, running through the center of town from north to south. Along 441, Pigeon Forge is approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) to the north, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (viz, the Sugarlands) is approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) to the south. TN-73 (Little River Road) forks off from 441 in the Sugarlands and heads west for roughly 25 miles (40 km), connecting the Gatlinburg area with Townsend and Blount County. U.S. Route 321 enters Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge and Wears Valley to the north before turning east, connecting Gatlinburg with Newport and Cosby.
For centuries, Cherokee hunters (and Native American hunters pre-dating the Cherokee) used a footpath known as the Indian Gap Trail to access the abundant game in the forests and coves of the Smokies. This trail connected the Great Indian Warpath with the Rutherford Indian Trace, following the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River from modern-day Sevierville through modern-day Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Sugarlands, crossing the crest of the Smokies along the slopes of Mount Collins, and descending into North Carolina along the banks of the Oconaluftee. US-441 largely follows this same route today, although it crests at Newfound Gap rather than Indian Gap.
While various 18th century European and early American hunters and fur trappers probably traversed or camped in the flats where Gatlinburg is now situated, it was Edgefield, South Carolina, native William Ogle (1751–1803) who first decided to permanently settle in the area. With the help of the Cherokee, Ogle cut, hewed, and notched logs in the flats, planning to erect a cabin the following year. He returned home to Edgefield to retrieve his family and grow one final crop for supplies. Shortly after his arrival in Edgefield, however, a malaria epidemic swept the low country, and Ogle succumbed in 1803. His widow, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle (1756–1827), moved the family to Virginia, where she had relatives. Sometime around 1806, Martha Huskey Ogle and her brother, Peter Huskey, along with her daughter Rebecca and her husband James McCarter, made the journey over the Indian Gap Trail to what is now Gatlinburg, where William's notched logs awaited them. Shortly after their arrival, they erected a cabin near the confluence of Baskins Creek and the West Fork of the Little Pigeon. The cabin still stands today near the heart of Gatlinburg. James and Rebecca McCarter settled in the Cartertown district of Gatlinburg.
In the decade following the arrival of the Ogles, McCarters, and Huskeys in what came to be known as White Oak Flats, a steady stream of settlers moved into the area. Most of these settlers were veterans of the American Revolution or War of 1812 who had converted into deeds the 50-acre (200,000 m2) tracts they had received for service in war. Among these early settlers were Timothy Reagan (c. 1750–1830), John Ownby, Jr. (1791–1857), and Henry Bohanon (1760–1842). Their descendants still live in the area today.
In 1856, a post office was established in the general store of Radford Gatlin (c. 1798–1880), giving the town the name "Gatlinburg". Despite the town bearing his name, Gatlin, who had only arrived in the flats around 1854, constantly bickered with his neighbors. By 1857, a full-blown feud had erupted between the Gatlins and the Ogles, probably over Gatlin's attempts to divert the town's main road. The eve of the U.S. Civil War found Gatlin, who would become a Confederate sympathizer, at odds with the residents of the flats, who were mostly pro-Union, and he was forced out in 1859.
Despite its anti-slavery sentiments, Gatlinburg, like most Smoky Mountain communities, tried to remain neutral during the war. This changed when a company of Confederate Colonel William Holland Thomas's Legion occupied the town to protect the salt peter mines at Alum Cave, near the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Federal forces marched south from Knoxville and Sevierville to drive out Thomas' men, who had built a small fort on Burg Hill. Lucinda Oakley Ogle, whose grandfather witnessed the ensuing skirmish, later recounted her grandfather's recollections:
... he told me about when he was a sixteen year old boy during the Civil War and would hide under a big cliff on Turkey Nest Ridge and watch the Blue Coats ride their horses around the graveyard hill, shooting their cannon toward Burg Hill where the Grey Coats had a fort and would ride their horses around the Burg Hill ...
As the Union forces converged on the town, the outnumbered Confederates were forced to retreat across the Smokies to North Carolina. Confederate forces would not return, although sporadic small raids continued until the war's end.
In the 1880s, the invention of the band saw and the logging railroad led to a boom in the lumber industry. As forests throughout the Southeastern United States were harvested, lumber companies were forced to push deeper into the mountain areas of the Appalachian highlands. In 1901, Colonel W.B. Townsend established the Little River Lumber Company in Tuckaleechee Cove to the west, and lumber interests began buying up logging rights to vast tracts of forest in the Smokies.
A pivotal figure in Gatlinburg at this time was Andrew Jackson Huff (1878–1949), originally of Greene County. Huff erected a sawmill in Gatlinburg in 1900, and local residents began supplementing their income by providing lodging to loggers and other lumber company officials. Tourists also began to trickle into the area, drawn to the Smokies by the writings of authors such as Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart, who wrote extensively of the region's natural wonders.
In 1912, the Pi Beta Phi women's fraternity established a settlement school (now the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts) in Gatlinburg after a survey of the region found the town to be most in need of educational facilities. While skeptical locals were initially worried that the Pi Phis might be religious propagandists or opportunists, the school's enrollment grew from 33 to 134 in its first year of operation. Along with providing basic education to children in the area, the school's staff managed to create a small market for local crafts.
The journals and letters of the Pi Beta Phi settlement school's staff are a valuable source of information regarding daily life in Gatlinburg in the early 1900s. Phyllis Higinbotham, a nurse from Toronto who worked at the school for six years, wrote of the mountain peoples' confusion over the role of a nurse, their penchant for calling on her over minute issues, and her difficulties with Appalachian customs:
I soon found that people weren't used to hurrying, and that it takes a long time of patient waiting and general conversation to find out what they have really come for, or to get a history of the cases when making a visit. I have had to get used to getting most of a woman's symptoms from her husband, and not having heart failure when a messenger comes with the news that so and so is "bad off", "about to die", or "got the fever."
Higinbotham complained that there was an unhealthy "lack of variety" in the mountain peoples' diet and that they weren't open to new suggestions. Food was often "too starchy," "not well cooked", and supplemented with certain excesses:
One of the doctors was called to several cases of honey poisoning. The men had robbed some bee gums, eaten a pound or two of each and been knocked unconscious where they stood.
Evelyn Bishop, a Pi Phi who arrived at the school in 1913, reported that the mountain peoples' relative isolation from American society allowed them to retain a folklore that reflected their English and Scots-Irish ancestries, such as Elizabethan Era ballads:
Many times it is the ballad that the child learns first, no Mother Goose melodies are as familiar, and it is strange indeed to listen to a little tot singing of the courtly days of old, the knights and 'ladyes' and probably the tragic death of the lover.
Such isolation would draw folklorists such as Cecil Sharp of London to the area in the years following World War I. Sharp's collection of Appalachian ballads was published in 1932.
Extensive logging in the early 1900s led to increased calls by conservationists for federal action, and in 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act to allow for the purchase of land for national forests. Authors such as Horace Kephart and Knoxville-area business interests began advocating the creation of a national park in the Smokies, similar to Yellowstone or Yosemite in the Western United States. With the purchase of 76,000 acres (310 km2) of the Little River Lumber Company tract in 1926, the movement quickly became a reality.
Andrew Huff would spearhead the movement in the Gatlinburg area. He opened the first hotel in Gatlinburg—the Mountain View Hotel—in 1916. His son, Jack, would establish LeConte Lodge atop Mount Le Conte in 1926. In spite of resistance from lumberers at Elkmont and difficulties with the Tennessee legislature, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was opened in 1934.
The park radically changed Gatlinburg. When the Pi Phis arrived in 1912, Gatlinburg was a small hamlet with six houses, a blacksmith shop, a general store, a Baptist church, and a greater community of 600 individuals, most of whom lived in log cabins. In 1934, the first year of the park, an estimated 40,000 visitors passed through the city. Within a year, this number had increased exponentially to 500,000. From 1940 to 1950, the cost of land in Gatlinburg increased from $50 to $8000 per acre.
While the park's arrival benefited Gatlinburg and made many of the town's residents wealthy, the tourism explosion led to problems with air quality and urban sprawl. The town's infrastructure is often pushed to the limit on peak vacation days, and must consistently re-adapt to accommodate the growing number of tourists.
On the night of July 14, 1992, Gatlinburg gained national attention when an entire city block burned to the ground, due to faulty wiring in a light fixture. The Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum was consumed by the fire, along with an arcade, haunted house, and souvenir shop. The blaze was stopped before it could consume the adjacent 32-story Gatlinburg Space Needle. The block, known to locals as "Rebel Corner", was completely rebuilt and reopened to visitors in 1995. Few artifacts from the Ripley's Museum were salvaged. Those that were salvaged are clearly marked with that designation in the new museum. The fire prompted new downtown building codes and a new downtown fire station. Ripley's has caught fire twice since its reopening, once in 2000, and again in 2003. Both of those fires, coincidentally, were caused by faulty light fixtures. The 2000 fire caused no damage. The 2003 fire was contained to the building's exterior and the museum suffered minimal damage, primarily cosmetic.
Starting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Chimney Tops, very strong winds, with gusts recorded up to 87 miles per hour, compounded the extremely dry conditions due to drought and spread what had been a moderately contained wildfire down into Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Pittman Center, and other nearby areas. It forced mass evacuations. Governor Bill Haslam ordered the National Guard to the area. The center of Gatlinburg's tourist district escaped heavy damage, but the surrounding wooded region was called "the apocalypse" by a fire department lieutenant. Approximately 14,000 people were evacuated that evening, more than 2,400 structures were damaged or destroyed, and damages totaled more than $500 million. Fourteen lives were lost in the fires, some local citizens and others visiting tourists. Following the fires, the town of Gatlinburg was shut down and considered a crime scene. The city reopened to residents only after a few days but held a strict curfew for more than a week and was reopened to the public once the curfew was lifted. Two juveniles, a 17 year old and a 15 year old, were later arrested for starting the initial fire at the Chimney Tops that would later sweep through the city of Gatlinburg.
As of the 2000 census, there were 3,382 people, 1,541 households, and 990 families residing in the city. The population density was 333.4 people per square mile (128.8/km²). There were 3,993 housing units at an average density of 393.7 per square mile (152.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.71 percent White, 0.15 percent African American, 0.56 percent Native American, 1.71 percent Asian, 0.03 percent Pacific Islander, 0.86 percent from other races, and 0.98 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.95 percent of the population.
There were 1,541 households out of which 17.8 percent had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.5 percent were married couples living together, 9.0 percent had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.7 percent were non-families. 29.7 percent of all households were made up of individuals and 12.1 percent had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.16 and the average family size was 2.64.
In the city, the population was spread out with 14.9 percent under the age of 18, 6.6 percent from 18 to 24, 25.5 percent from 25 to 44, 32.8 percent from 45 to 64, and 20.3 percent who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 47 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $37,606, and the median income for a family was $40,813. Males had a median income of $24,283 versus $19,250 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,678. 7.1 percent of the population and 5.8 percent of families were below the poverty line. 13.4 percent of those under the age of 18 and 6.7 percent of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
Gatlinburg is an important tourism destination in Tennessee, with many man-made attractions, and it borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ober Gatlinburg is the only ski resort in Tennessee. It has eight ski trails, three chair lifts, a wildlife encounter area, and is accessible via roads and a gondola from the city strip. The Gatlinburg Trolley, a privately funded public transit system, caters to area tourists.
Another popular attraction is Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies which also features special exhibits covering subjects such as the Titanic, pirates and more recently the planet Mars. It opened to the public in 1997. Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country, which are both named for Dolly Parton, are amusement parks located in nearby Pigeon Forge.
Hollywood Star Cars Museum, which opened in 1996, features Mayberry's Squad Car, The Beverly Hillbillies jalopy, DRAG-U-LA from The Munsters, Batmobile, Camaro from Charlie's Angels, General Lee, and Herbie the Love Bug which were designed by George Barris.
A few music and family-oriented theaters make their homes in Gatlinburg as well, including the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, which hosts a musical comedy. In recent years, the number of musical shows in Gatlinburg has dwindled, with several shows having gone to Pigeon Forge and its many venues.
Gatlinburg also has numbered intersections in the core of the town. The numbers hang from traffic lights or are on signs, and are written on official tourist maps. A similar idea was tried in Niagara Falls, New York, after the then-mayor of Niagara Falls visited Gatlinburg and brought the idea back to Niagara Falls, although the idea was short-lived in New York and was scrapped due to budget issues.
During the Christmas season, the entire downtown area is decorated with lights for the Winterfest Celebration. This celebration takes place from November thru February. Visitors during the Winterfest Celebration can also take a Trolly Ride of the Lights from Nov 12, 2014, to Jan 25, 2015, for only $5.00 Visitors also benefit from a free shuttle bus that traverses the city every half-hour.
Because of the ease of obtaining a marriage license in Tennessee, Gatlinburg is a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons, with over twenty wedding chapels in the town and surrounding areas.John Henninger Reagan, (1818–1905), politician who was on the Cabinet of Jefferson Davis and was a United States Senator from Texas.