Gatlinburg was settled in the early 1800s, however at that time it was called White Oak Flats (a cemetary still bearing the name White Oak Flats is located in downtown Gatlinburg, more on that in another post) for the abundant native white oak trees covering the landscape. It is believed that a middle-aged widow, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, was the first official settler here. She came with her family to start a new life in what her late husband described as a “Land of Paradise” in East Tennessee. Soon after, the familiar family names McCarter, Reagan, Whaley, and Trentham took up residence along local streams and hollows.
There are many stories as to how Gatlinburg got its name, all involving a controversial figure who settled here in 1854. Radford C. Gatlin opened the town’s second general store, in direct competion with the first store opened 4 years earlier and owned by Noah Ogle. Gatlin took the initiative to secure a post office and when the town’s new post office was established in 1856, Gatlin named the destination Gatlinburg. By all accounts, Mr. Gatlin was a flamboyant preacher, establishing his own “Gatlinite” Baptist Church. He was a democrat in a republican community, and for reasons which remain unclear, he was eventually banished from the area. But he had the last laugh: the city still bears his name.
The other major Sevier County tourist town got its name from the first business established in the area, an iron forge built around 1820 by Isaac Love on the bank of the Little Pigeon River near what is now The Old Mill. Of course, that still begs the question: ‘How did the Little Pigeon River get its name?’Just as you might guess, the river’s name comes from the fact that great flocks of pigeons once filled the skies and trees in the area — Passenger Pigeons, to be specific. The town fared better than the particular breed of pigeon for which it was named. Passenger Pigeons, once among the most numerous birds in the world, were hunted into extinction by the early 20th century.
Sevierville (Severe ville) is named for John Sevier, one of the leading figures in the history of Tennessee. Sevier was a frontiersman, soldier, war hero and politician who served under George Washington in the American Revolution and distinguished himself at the battle of King’s Mountain.
In 1784, he became the first governor of the State of Franklin (set to become the 14th state) a new state that had been carved out of the land around Watauga. Later, Franklin became part of North Carolina and John Sevier was accused of treason for resisting the annexation.
When the State of Tennessee was formed in 1796, Sevier became its first governor, serving from 1796 until 1801 and again from 1803 until 1809. Sevier later served as a state senator from 1809 until 1811 and was a member of the US House of Representatives in 1811.