Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains, History, Parks

Logging and the Smokies

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 pushed deeper into the mountain areas of the Appalachian highlands. The first decades of the 20th century were dominated by the timber industry as the logging trade increased their harvests from the forests around Gatlinburg, and new sawmills sprang up along the many available sources of running water to power the operations.

Visitors can take a trip through this industrial history thanks to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a five-mile, one-way loop that begins and ends near downtown Gatlinburg. From the comfort of your car or after short easy walks, you can observe gorgeous waterfalls, one of the Ogle family’s original farmsteads, and Ely’s Mill, an authentic re-creation of an early 20th-century mill operation.

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.

Andrew Jackson Huff (1878–1949), originally of Greene County, was a pivotal figure in Gatlinburg at this time. 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.

As the lumber industry continued to grow, calls rang out to protect the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains, and tourists began to visit the area drawn to the Smokies by the writings of authors such as Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart, who wrote extensively about the region’s natural wonders. In 1924, the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club was formed to draw further attention to the area as a natural wonder worthy of preservation.

Congress passed the Weeks Act to allow for the purchase of land for national forests. Authors such as Horace Kephart and Knoxville-area businesses began advocating for the creation of a national park in the Smokies that would be similar to Yellowstone or Yosemite in the Western United States. With the purchase of 76,000 acres (310 km2) in the Little River Lumber Company tract in 1926, the movement quickly became a reality.

Andrew Huff spearheaded the movement in the Gatlinburg area, and he opened the first hotel in Gatlinburg – the Mountain View Hotel – in 1916.[33] His son, Jack, established LeConte Lodge atop Mount Le Conte in 1926.[34] In spite of resistance from lumberers at Elkmont and difficulties with the Tennessee legislature,[32] Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened in 1934.

Some of the first major hotel and resort developments in Gatlinburg in the 1930s were The Greystone Hotel, Riverside Hotel, and The Historic Gatlinburg Inn. In fact, you can still stay in room 388 of The Gatlinburg Inn, the exact spot where, in 1967, a married couple of songwriters named Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were inspired by the lovely mountain surroundings to pen their most iconic tune, “Rocky Top.”

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