Gatlinburg was destined for greatness. Sure, it has natural beauty, but that’s not all. There’s Dolly Parton, too. Of course, as a child, I single-handedly attributed the area’s tourism completely to Dolly. There’s surely no doubt that she fulfilled her dreams of both giving job opportunities to locals and offering tourists more reasons to visit the Great Smoky Mountains with her namesake theme park. But before Dolly, and even before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, people were simply drawn to the mountains.
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Why is Gatlinburg famous?
National interest increased in the area when authors wrote about the landscape’s beauty and the “wild people” who lived there. As early as the 1890s, the idea was born for a national park in southern Appalachia. However, according to the National Park Service (NPS), creation of the national park was not that simple for the Smokies. Other national parks, such as Yellowstone, were created from land that the government already owned. But Smokies land was owned by several different individuals, including farmers, timber companies and paper companies. After lots of money, land acquisitions, and in some instances, pushing folks out of their homes, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formed in the 1930s.
In 1931 the park saw 154,000 annual visitors. Today, it receives more than 12 million visitors. Much like the national park, the nearby mountain town of Gatlinburg has also seen a lot of growth over the years. With this in mind, we decided to look back and reminisce about a few things that have changed about our beloved tourist town. And also compare Gatlinburg to its previous self, then and now style.
Some things never change (like good pancakes)
While many things have changed about the area, some have not. The Pancake Pantry opened in Gatlinburg in 1960, just a few short decades after the national park was formed. At the time, it was Tennessee’s first and only pancake house. Today, while there are many other pancake houses in the Smokies, the Pancake Pantry remains one of the most popular establishments. And also offers some of the best pancakes. The restaurant’s iconic look, including its roof, gables and large windows, was constructed in 1975 under the owner’s vision and direction. As you can see today, it retains much of that same architecture.
Fannie Farkle’s in Gatlinburg
Speaking of things that don’t change (much), Fannie Farkle’s has also been a staple in the Gatlinburg area. For over 40 years, Fannie’s has been offering “Ogle Dogs” and arcade games to its beloved guests. In the photo above, you can see that the sign has been slightly updated. But it still stays true to its classic look.
Gatlinburg businesses that no longer exist
While many popular attractions have managed to stay in business through a tried and true business model, others have faded into the sands of time. CJ’s Playhouse was an arcade in downtown Gatlinburg in the back of Dogwood Plaza at Lineberger’s. Does the location look familiar in the above photo? It may be because it is now home to one of Ole Smoky’s moonshine distilleries, “The Holler”. Ole Smoky is currently the world’s most visited distillery.
Another business that is no longer around today is Mill Creek Village. It appears that currently, Calhoun’s Gatlinburg location is in its place.
Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg, then and now
In the 80s, Motion Master Theater came to town as one of the first attractions of its kind. Today, Ripley’s Moving Theater resides there instead, with a much more vibrant look than its previous counterpart. Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium (pictured above) has also had a home in Gatlinburg for many years. However, it’s received quite a facelift since its inception.
In the ’90s, you could mini golf with live animals
To conclude this walk down memory lane, we wanted to pay homage to one of the more oddly-themed mini golf establishments in Gatlinburg, Bunny Golf. It was located near Ober Mountain downtown. The usage of living, breathing obstacles doesn’t leave us wondering why this attraction no longer exists. Let’s just say some things change for good reason. Luckily Gatlinburg is now home to much better mini golf establishments. We can stick to the animatronics.
We would like to thank OldGatlinburg.net for permission to use these great photos of old Gatlinburg. For even more photos, be sure to visit them online.
Do you remember “Old Gatlinburg”? What are some attractions that you miss? Let us know in the comments.