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.
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
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.
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 (www.dollywood.com)
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.
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
For your shopping pleasure, stroll through
the six outlet malls, or browse the craft shops and art galleries.
Expanding the Travel-oriented
Three new ventures came to the fold this
past year. WonderWorks (www.wonderworks.com)
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
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 (www.flyscenic.com) over the valleys
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
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
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
For More Information:
Smoky Mountains Story Telling Festival
Google satellite image of Pigeon Forge