The Little-Known History Behind the Name ‘Pigeon Forge’ in TN

compilation of pigeon forge with sign and pigeon

The history of the name Pigeon Forge comes from two parts, the river and the first forge in the community. Today, Pigeon Forge TN receives millions of visitors. Pictured at the left is The Island in Pigeon Forge (photo compilation from stock/

Local shares the surprising reason the town was named Pigeon Forge

It’s not uncommon to wonder what Pigeon Forge was before it became the tourist town it is today. It’s possible, I think, if you get into remote and old enough parts of the forest, to visualize what the first settlers saw in the deep woods. But, so much has changed I don’t think we can really properly understand that world.

The first half of the name “Pigeon Forge” comes from passenger pigeons, which once were plentiful around the area’s river. The second half of the name came from an iron forge, which was founded by the kin of one of the area’s first settlers.

Half of its name comes from The Pigeon River

The town of Pigeon Forge gets the first part of its name from the Pigeon River. The Pigeon River was named for passenger pigeons, which are now extinct. Passenger pigeons were so plentiful that their flocks could darken the sky when they took wing. The beech trees along the river’s banks, once filled with beechnuts, were stripped of their limbs, unable to support the weight of the now-extinct passenger pigeons.

sign to pigeon forge
The sign entering Pigeon Forge from Gatlinburg (photo by Alaina O’Neal/

How Pigeon Forge got the rest of its name

One of the early settlers of Pigeon Forge’s children built an iron forge on the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River that would inspire the second half of the town’s name on land near the mill in the early 1800s. A forge, for the uninitiated, is a type of hearth used for heating metals. The furnace was fueled by wood from the forests. A dam operated the bellows. Still, iron ore isn’t exactly plentiful in East Tennessee, and smelting the ore into pig iron requires immense heat.

The iron forge from which the city took its name was shut down prior to 1884. Some believe it was taken to Kentucky. According to the city of Pigeon Forge website, the 500-pound hammer used in the forge was preserved. “After the original forge was removed, the hammer was displayed, first, at Butler’s Home Market, then, Henry and Fannie Butler’s Forge Hammer Grill and later at Apple Tree Inn,” the website says. “The forge’s hammer continued to remain on display at the Apple Tree Inn for many years.”

umbrella sky at dollywood theme park
Today, attractions like Dollywood (pictured during the spring festival) help make Pigeon Forge a major tourist destination (photo by Morgan Overholt/

When did Pigeon Forge become a tourist town?

With no major roads or rail, Pigeon Forge developed slowly. By 1950, with improvements to U.S. 441, residents ran a handful of lodges and campsites, but nothing significant. However, limited space in Gatlinburg forced entrepreneurs to look to Pigeon Forge. The town was officially incorporated in 1961, shortly before Rebel Railroad opened – the park that would eventually become Dollywood. In the early 80s, city leaders hoped to capitalize on the World’s Fair coming to Knoxville. They passed legislation offering incentives and support to theme parks, outlet malls and live venues. Then Dolly Parton came back to the Smokies and the rest, as they say, is history.

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8 thoughts on “The Little-Known History Behind the Name ‘Pigeon Forge’ in TN”

  1. You need more pet friendly places to stay cheap if I can’t bring my dog I won’t come to pigeon forge

  2. This history made my heart melt. Love pigeon forge. But the end when it says then Dolly came back home, the rest is history . Almost made me cry with happiness. Thank for this wonderful history.

  3. Love it in Pigeon Forge, would move there in a heart beat if wife would.Great place to get away for 2 or 3 days or a week. Started going there in the early 80s

  4. If you were a child coming here for vacation when it was just a small town you could find things being made and sold on the streets and that’s what I always liked when we came here and even rebel railroad I moved here in 2006 and it’s grown so much us local can’t even enjoy our area


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