Gatlinburg Then and Now: How It’s Changed Over the Years (With Photos)

Ripley's, then and now

Ripley's Believe it or Not! has had a home in Gatlinburg since the 70s, but the look has changed a lot over the years (left photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net, right photo and compilation by TheSmokies.com)

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.

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.

Pancake Pantry
The Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg in the 80s vs today (left photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net; right photo and compilation by TheSmokies.com)

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
Fannie Farkle’s has been a Gatlinburg staple for more than 40 years (left photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net; right photo and compilation by TheSmokies.com)

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.

The Holler in Gatlinburg
The Holler location of Ole Smoky opened in 2010, where CJ’s Playhouse used to be (left photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net; right photo and compilation by TheSmokies.com)

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.

Mill Creek Village
The date of the left photo is unknown, but it appears to be the former location of what is now Calhoun’s in Gatlinburg (left photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net; right photo and compilation by TheSmokies.com)

Another business that is no longer around today is Mill Creek Village. It appears that currently, Calhoun’s Gatlinburg location is in its place.

Moving Theater Gatlinburg, then and now
Ripley’s Moving Theater used to be Motion Master Theater (left photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net; right photo and compilation by TheSmokies.com)

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.

Bunny Golf in Gatlinburg
At Bunny Golf, the bunnies along the course were the main attraction (photo shared with permission from OldGatlinburg.net)

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.

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Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

11 thoughts on “Gatlinburg Then and Now: How It’s Changed Over the Years (With Photos)”

  1. I’ve been going since I was 8 years old. I remember going to homespun valley and signers coming by advertising their shows at the restaurants.

    Reply
  2. I miss the more family feel…now seems more drinking and alcohol…missed the Bible bookstores, Midtown Lodge…just walking the streets. Still stop in for the candy and aquarium, but stay in Seiverville when we come.

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  3. I miss the old Gatlinburg the last 6 or more times we haven’t even went downtown, it’s been taken over with the distilleries and to us the odor is awful. I’ve been going since I was a child and most years we go at least 4 times and sometimes many more and we now stay in Pigeon Forge, and the beautiful mountains, but we do miss walking down the streets and visiting the other shops.

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  4. I miss being able to walk up and down the street and not get nauseous from the smell of all the moonshine. Sad to see parents with small kids with them taste testing.

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  5. Im going to be the odd one and not complain..i like Gatlinburgrg. I have been there at least a dozen times. I tune out the smells except fot the sweet smell of food cooking
    Popcorn. Funnel cakes..i love the tourist excitement. I wish i could live there. I will be back. .

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  6. Have been visiting Gatlinburg since the 60’s. My dad traced some of our family back to the area. Spent my honeymoon there in the 70’s. It’s my happy place!

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  7. I will never forget the first time visiting at the age of nine in 1977 with my six cousins. The only ride my Mama would allow me to experience was the bumper cars; I believe located at the space needle. Being a child from West Virginia, never getting to adventure too much, It was so exciting! In the 80s We took our honeymoon. My mother and father in law would take my husband in the 60s where he would feed bears chocolate pop. Things over decades have changed. We have been able to experience those changes, some good, some not. ( a fire that destroyed a complete block.) Gatlinburg holds many wonderful memories, from family gatherings, haunted houses, staying at Midtown Lodge, getting away from the hustle at night in the Village, walking the streets and smelling the fudge and Carmel popcorn, a tradition that started with my in-laws where now my grand kids get to enjoy, Four generations have experienced great memories, a gift that keeps giving.

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  8. Been going to the area since the late’60’s and still love the area. The stores, foods and scenic areas. Never hear of crime. Love the log cabin pancake house in Gatlinburg, and the apple barn. The grist mill has wonderful food. All the area is family friendly.

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  9. So many things I remember about Gatlinburg in the 70’s and 80’s as a kid. We always stayed at Smokyland (which has been torn down) and we ate breakfast at the old Shoneys location which is also gone. I spent many days in The Village where as a little girl I watch the flame over the fountain and always went to visit Otto the troll that stood near the front of one of the shops to the left. I remember when there was an old wax museum where Cooters used to be and there was a swinging man in the window. I was terrified to walk by world of the unexplained because you could see the life sized Big Foot that stood right in the door. We often at lunch at Lum’s that was near the Space Needle. My favorite store was a toy store on parkway that had a jungle scene upstairs made of stuffed animals. It was and is still my happy place.

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  10. Jolly Golf (where Davy Crockett golf is now), Mystery Hill (right next door), Howard’s Steakhouse (when they were right in the middle of town), The Brass Lantern (an Italian restaurant now), Cooper’s Court (now Reagan Terrace Mall), the Open Hearth restaurant just before entering the park, the Burning Bush restaurant, just to name a few.

    Reply
  11. I have been working in the ‘Burg since the mid-90s, but I think what I miss the most is the old-fashioned Vaudeville Theatre that used to be near light #3.
    Many good memories from “Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre”, sad to see it gone.

    Reply

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