Isaac Love and the Old Mill
Pigeon Forge TN is best known today as one of the most popular vacation destinations in America. The name Pigeon Forge comes from an iron forge built around 1820 by local business man Isaac Love, who named it after the Little Pigeon River where it was located on (which was itself named after the passenger pigeons that frequented its banks). The forge was part of a small industrial complex ran by Isaac which also included the historic Pigeon Forge Mill, commonly called the Old Mill today. The mill was initially used to grind grain (mostly corn, wheat and oats) for the local farmers and was later used to power several looms to produced cloth for the military during the Civil War. In 1934 the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established and soon after Pigeon Forge TN became the booming tourist town it is today. Likewise, the Old Mill has become a popular attraction among traveling tourists and is the only structure in the city listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The First Amusement Park in Pigeon Forge TN
As mentioned previously, Pigeon Forge TN didn’t become much of a place for tourists until after 1934 when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was official established. Later in 1961, after improvements to US-441 improved access to the area and more lodging was established, Grover and Harry Robbins, two brothers from North Carolina, opened the first “theme park” in Pigeon Forge: Rebel Railroad. Built in the Middle Creek area of the town, the attraction simulated a ride on a Confederate steam train that would come under attack by Union soldiers. After the soldiers were warded off, the railroad would stop at a mock-frontier mountain town where people could visit a blacksmith shop, general store and saloon. Just a few years later in 1964 the Robbins brothers renamed the Goldrush Junction and reworked the attraction to have a “Wild West” theme since the Civil War Centennial was dying down. This proved much more successful than their previous model, which prompted them to buy a log flume ride to add to the attraction in 1967.
Silver Dollar City and Dollywood
When in 1969 Pigeon Forge officially issued the zoning plan to assign the entire strip along what is known today as the Pigeon Forge Parkway for tourism use, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell purchased Goldrush Junction and later sold it in 1976 to the Herschend Brothers from Branson, Missouri. They renamed it after their already successful theme park in Branson, Silver Dollar City, and would go on to establish a lasting landmark for Pigeon Forge TN. In 1985, the Herschends drafted a proposal for a partnership with Dolly Parton to help promote and operate their theme park. Eventually she agreed to the deal and renamed it Dollywood and began a major marketing campaign which proved successful as today the park is still one of the most widely visited attractions in the nation.