3 Hidden Pieces of History in Sevierville You Never Knew Existed

courthouse downtown sevierville tennessee

Downtown Sevierville is full of hidden, historic gems (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Local names top hidden gems in Dolly Parton’s hometown in the Smoky Mountains

As someone who, for three decades, used Sevierville as a place to go through on my way to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg or the mountains, I know a lot more today about the historic city. Founded in 1795, when George Washington still had two years left in his second term, Sevierville is one of the oldest cities in Tennessee. And of course, over nearly 230 years, it’s seen a lot of history. Some of that history, like Dolly Parton’s story, is well remembered. But some of it you’ll have to dig a little deeper to find

As a historic part of Tennessee’s history, Sevierville doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Often thought of as a third or fourth wheel in the Sevier County hierarchy, there’s a lot of history in Sevierville to explore, and some of it hidden from view. 

Downtown Sevierville Jail Bars and a Plaque
The Sevierville jail bars and a historical marker (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

1. Jail bars in downtown Sevierville

Near The Appalachian restaurant downtown is a plaque commemorating a terrible tragedy. It started with a bad cook and ended in horror. In March of 1856, Sheriff Lemuel Duggan lost track of a meal he was preparing. That meal started a fire that took his house, the courthouse, 41 houses, several businesses and also valuable county records.

But worse than that, it took down the jail which at the time housed a 13-year-old boy. The teen had been imprisoned after breaking a woman’s jaw. Horrifically, the child burned and all the townspeople could do was listen to his screams.

After the fire, the town was rebuilt and useable materials were salvaged, including the jail bars. Some of them were cut up and used to make grates to cover storm drains. One of those drains is near the marker at 133 Bruce Street.

Historic Buckingham House in the Early 1900s Sevierville
Buckingham House (Sevier County, Tennessee) (from the Historic American Buildings Survey)

2. The Buckingham House

Since the last entry was a sad story, let’s pick things up and celebrate a brick house that remains “mighty, mighty” 230 years after its construction. Sevierville was founded in 1795 and a home built in that year, or a year earlier, depending on who you ask, still stands on Boyds Creek Highway, nearly 230 years later.

Included in the National Register of Historic Places, Buckingham House overlooks the valleys of the French Broad River. It was built in 1795 by Thomas and Ephriam Buckingham. For reference, it would be another 23 years before settlers reached Cades Cove. Buckingham was a sheriff of Jefferson and Sevier counties. He served as a delegate at the state Constitutional Convention and was elected to the State House of Representatives. He owned what was then known as Big Island on the French Broad River. But it is now named in his honor. Buckingham House is one of the few remaining examples in Tennessee of the federal architecture style that was prominent at the time.

magnolia tree downdown sevierville
This magnolia tree has an incredible lineage (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

3. The magnolia tree

You don’t have to go far for another bit of forgotten history. There’s a magnolia tree in Gazebo Park on Bruce Street with a very special lineage that goes back to the 1830s. The tree is a great-grandchild of that beloved tree that still stands on the White House lawn. It grew from a sapling of a tree President Andrew Jackson brought with him to the White House in 1829. He had cut it from his late wife Rachel’s Garden at the Hermitage at their home near Nashville. The tree was a gift to the City of Sevierville from Judges Rex Henry Ogle and Norma McGee Ogle in 2013.

Sevierville is more than a forgotten little brother. Even before its recent renaissance, it has been a place of deep and interesting history that tells the story of East Tennessee from its earliest days. When you come to town to explore the pancake houses and go-kart tracks, maybe take a little time to learn some of the hidden, secret history of one of Tennessee’s most visited towns.

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