Travel, tourism, and the hospitality industries combined now represent the largest industry on the planet. But, as the saying goes, “The only real change occurs in the village.”

And the village — and its surrounding natural setting — is what has given birth to Pigeon Forge, itself a case study in how travel and tourism can become the economic base of a community.

Developing A Tourism Base

A strong tourism base began 25 years ago, but before that, Pigeon Forge thrived as a farming community. In the late 1700s, settlers traveled along the Pigeon River and formed a community.

In 1820, pioneer Isaac Love established an iron forge as the town’s first business. His son, William, built a tub mill 10 years later. The Old Mill, now a National Historic Site, remains in operation, still producing flour and cornmeal products. Until 1935, the grist mill provided the town’s electricity. Next door is the not-to-be-missed Old Mill Restaurant, which dishes out Southern favorites such as biscuits and gravy, grits and fried chicken.

By the way, here’s how the community’s name evolved. Pigeon comes from the large number of passenger pigeons that fed on the nuts of the beech trees that lined the riverbanks. And Forge refers to Love’s iron works, which was built on the east bank of the river.

Supporting, Sustaining the Local Tourism Industry ... and “Giving Back”

Largely what put the stamp of approval on Pigeon Forge is legendary entertainer Dolly Parton. Hello, Dolly! You’ll find Dolly’s creative imprint throughout the themed attraction of Dollywood and the dinner show Dixie Stampede. Dolly hails from Sevier County, and she’s proud of her humble roots. Visitors are privy to Dolly’s infectious laugh and down-home personality whenever she comes to town. Each April, Dolly makes a grand entrance in the Annual Dolly Parade.

Encompassing 125 acres, Dollywood ( is open from the first of April through the end of December. The park offers 30 rides and attractions, festivals, special events, live entertainment, elaborate shows, wallet-friendly eateries and shops. There’s even a Dolly Parton Museum with the singer/songwriter/actress/author’s memorabilia and colorful costumes.

Musical entertainment runs the gamut from country and bluegrass to mountain and gospel. If you wonder how they did it in yesteryear, watch master craftsmen demonstrate centuries-old crafts such as leather-making, blacksmithing, wood carving and glass blowing. No high-tech here, just well-honed skills.

Local Talent

For the “screamers” in the group, hitch a ride on the wooden roller coaster Thunderhead. This spring a new $17.5 million steel roller coaster, Mystery Mine, is sure to elicit shrieks. Would those be shrieks of joy or sheer terror?

Shows include Dreamland Drive-In, which takes you back to the do-wop music of the ‘50s and ‘60s. If you’re around toward the end of the year, don’t miss Babes in Toyland, an intricate production that was years in the making. The show made its debut last holiday season. One of those show-stopping moments comes during the March of the Giant Toy Soldiers led by their general, a 10-foot tall full animated character. You can hear the audience with hushed gasps and plenty of “wows.”

Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show takes place in an enclosed arena. You’ll soon find yourself stomping and clapping as you watch the show of 32 horses, trick riders, musical entertainers and special effects. For a bit of homespun humor, they throw in ostrich races and racing pigs.

The meal is different, too. You won’t have any utensils. Instead you eat with your hands—hence the encouragement of foot stomping your pleasure. You sip the soup out of a cup, and grab onto rotisserie chicken, barbecue pork loin, corn on the cob, biscuits and an apple pastry. Yee-haw!

The Culture of Community

Of course, there’s more to Pigeon Forge. And it’s easy to navigate the town. The main Parkway is only five miles long, and traffic lights are your markers from Light #1 to #10.

Pigeon Forge boasts some 16 special events each year, many of which are award-winning such as Winterfest, Saddle Up, Quilt Fest and the Storytelling Festival. You won’t find jacked up prices here. In fact, most everything fits a moderate budget. On the other hand, if you are looking for a Ritz experience, this is not the place for you.

Wholesome fun does not mean mediocre. Sure, there’s some cornpone thrown into the mix, but you’ll also discover talented folks and well-done activities. The Comedy Barn, for example, is a family variety show that features magicians, G-rated comedians, jugglers, ventriloquists and music. The American Juke Box Theater showcases rock ‘n roll music from the ‘50s. In the 1950s, Elvis was well on his way to being the king of rock ‘n roll, so there’s also an Elvis Museum.

Along the Parkway, you may opt for miniature golf, go-carting, indoor skydiving or try your luck in the video arcade.

For your shopping pleasure, stroll through the six outlet malls, or browse the craft shops and art galleries.

Expanding the Travel-oriented Economic Base

Three new ventures came to the fold this past year. WonderWorks ( combines science with entertainment. It touts itself as “an amusement park for the mind.”

Within WonderWorks, the new Hoot N’ Holler Dinner Show embraces the entire family. Instead of the “standard” fare of barbeque ribs or chicken, you’ll feast on Italian specialties such as lasagna and stuffed shells. You’ll see a clever, funny and fast-paced show. And, who knows, you might be roped onto the stage to help out the performers.

Just a few months ago, Halson’s Helicopter Museum ( opened its doors. Through exhibits, interactive displays, videos, recordings and real helicopters, explore the history of helicopter aviation. You’ll learn about the role that the helicopter played from world wars to Hollywood. For the adventurous, consider taking a scenic helicopter tour ( over the valleys and foothills.

Remember, within 10 minutes from Pigeon Forge, you’re smack dab in the natural wonders of the Smokies — so named for the smoke-like blue mist that surrounds the mountains. Here, you can hike, camp out, rent a canoe or just sit on a bench and listen to the trickling mountain stream.

Natural marvels or man-made — you’ll find your fair share in Pigeon Forge.

A Portrait of a Popular Travel and Tourism Destination

As the name suggests, Pigeon Forge began to develop as an industry-based town when a furnace and iron forge became its industrial core. This catalytic industry “event” gave the town a strong economic base from which it could expand following the Revolutionary War until 1796 when Tennessee became a state.

For centuries before the arrival of Europeans on the continent what today is Pigeon Forge was also a productive hunting grounds and transit point for Native-Americans, in particular the Cherokee. But it wasn't until the signing of a peace treaty with the Cherokee (The Treaty of Dumplin Creek) that this beautiful and fertile valley was opened up to settlement.

With the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1935, the travel and tourism industry in Pigeon Forge was given a new and significant impetus; and in the early 1980s the city government created a Department of Tourism in order to develop the growing travel and tourism industry in the area.

And it was the foresight and commitment to the local “country ” culture and region that nourished her, that motivated Dolly Parton to bestow on Pigeon Forge what was perhaps the most significant economic impetus it had seen throughout its history.

Wholesome Fun in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
by Kay Harwell Fernandez

If you remember “I’m a little bit country. I’m a little bit rock ‘n roll,” from the days of Donnie and Marie Osmond, then you’ll have a sense of what awaits you in Pigeon Forge.

Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains, the small East Tennessee town of Pigeon Forge is the epitome of Southern Hospitality. Here, the friendly folks dole out wholesome fun for all age groups.

Photographs courtesy of

For More Information:

My Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge

The Smoky Mountains Story Telling Festival

A Google satellite image of Pigeon Forge