Tennessee Theatre

tntheater2On October 1, 1928, a landmark was opened on Gay Street in Knoxville, TN – The Tennessee Theatre.  The first movie they ever played at this grand old theater was The Fleet’s In with Clara Bow.  From that time until today, this theater has been a cornerstone ofthe culture and history of Knoxville and East Tennessee.  Over the years, this venue has brought both the Silver Screen and live shows to the area and to this day is one of the favorite place sin the Smokies to take in a play or a movie.  Tradition and history are the catch words of the day at the Tennessee Theatre.

Knoxville’s Grand Entertainment Palace

From its inception, the Tennessee Theatre dominated the Gay Street area of Knoxville.  On Saturdays kids from around the city flocked to the corner to buy tickets and stand in line to take in the Saturday afternoon serials at the theater.  Throughout the years, movies were opened at the theatre, star studded casts were in attendance at show like Thunder Road – Robert Mitchum was in attendance at this premier.  The theater has been renovated several times over the years.  Each time it has gone through renovations, it has kept that old flare, that fill that it had the day it opened.  Unlike movie theaters of today, the inside of the Tennessee Theatre is a feast for the eyes, a testament to the builders that made this the Grand Palace of Entertainment that it still is.

The Official State Theatre of Tennessee

tntheater1In 1999, the Tennessee Theatre was made the Official Theatre of the State of Tennessee.  This designation, the establishment o the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation and the fact that people were donating money to the theatre meant that another, bigger renovation could occur.  The stage was modified to accommodate larger productions, enhancements to the acoustic nature of the theatre, modernized lighting and rigging and updates to the carpet and other decorations in the theatre.  The whole process of this renovation kept the original nature of the theatre in mind, kept the look and feel while making sure that the Tennessee Theatre was able to stay functional and bring in the best that Broadway and artists might have to offer.

Another aspect of the Tennessee Theatre is the Mighty Wurlitzer.  This pipe organ was installed when the theater opened in 1928.  For silent movies this Wurlitzer Organ provided the music and fell of the movie.  For the ‘talkies’ the Mighty Wurlitzer was the pre-show entertainment.  Nowadays, getting to hear the Mighty Wurlitzer played by a professional organist takes place most Mondays at the Tennessee Theatre.  The pipe organ was completely renovated in 2000 and is now a draw all by itself .  Throughout the year, the concerts that are given with th organ fill this grand olde theatre from top to bottom and side to side.

Check out the Tennessee Theatre the next time you are in the Knoxville area.  Visit their website and see what is playing or what Broadway show is in town.  You might get a chance to see a play or a performance that is not coming to your area but you will get to see a show performed in a one of the best theatrical venues that East Tennessee has to offer.

Tennessee Theatre
604 Gay Street
Knoxville, TN

Scottish Tartan Museum

stm1It was easy for the people from the Highlands of Scotland to find a home in the Smoky Mountains.  They found in the Smokies a place that resembled home, a place that looked like the land they had left.  The Scottish and the Irish that live din other parts of the former British Colonies made the move to the Smokies as well.  As the communities in the Smokies formed, these people shared there past, their heritage and their cultures with others, with their new neighbors.  In Franklin, North Carolina, there is a quaint museum that celebrates the Scottish heritage of the Smokies like no other.  The Scottish Tartan Museum tells the history of a people by telling the history of the Tartan.

Tartan is the fabric that not only is used in the manufacture of the traditional kilt but it is an identifier for the various Scottish Clans that exist.  The museum was formed out of the Scottish Tartan Society which started in Scotland in 1963.  The museum is a tribute to this unique fabric.  From pieces of tartan that are decades old, to representations of the way that kilts are made and worn this is one of the best niche museums that you will ever encounter.  It is well maintained and curated, the pieces have been lovingly collected and there is a story, well told, to go with each piece.

stm2And after you get out of the museum, if you are really feeling the Scottish vibe then you can go through their gift shop and pick up a piece of Scotland to take home.  From bumper stickers with the Scottish fag to your very own kilt this gift shop has everything – everything Scottish.  Music to books, t-shirts to food stuffs, there is a little something for everybody and it is worth the time just to stop by the gift shop if you don’t have time to walk through their museum.

Next time you visit the North Carolina side of the Smokies, stop by Franklin.  Head to downtown Franklin, literally, their original downtown.  Their downtown is very much like the downtown that you might have encountered in the 50s.  Small shops and cafes on the street, you park right in front of them and walk inside.  The Scottish Tartan Museum is no different.  It is located right at the dge of downtown.  Park in front and go right in.  The museum is located downstairs on the left as you go in, but when you walk through the doors you are in the middle of their gift shop.

Take the family into the Scottish Tartan Museum, and learn a lot more about the people that founded most of the towns around the Smokies.  Learn about the Scottish people that moved into the area through the vehicle of the fabric they used to make a very unique piece of clothing called the kilt.  Walk through a museum dedicated to a fabric, a people and a lifestyle.  Visit Franklin, and step into the Highlands.  Who knows maybe you will leave with a kilt around your waist and smile on your face.

Scottish Tartan Museum
86 E Main St
Franklin, NC

History of Franklin, NC

Long before the first European settlers arrived to the mountains of Southwestern North Carolina, they were home to the Cherokee Indian Nation. In a valley surrounded by some of the oldest mountains on earth, the Cherokee called the area that is now Franklin, NC, “Nikwasi” or “center of activity”. Nikwasi was an ancient and important Cherokee town. The remains of Nikwasi Mound are still visible in downtown Franklin on East Main Street.

Franklin is the seat of Macon County, NC which was formed in 1828. The land was part of lands acquired from the Cherokee in the Treaty of 1819. The county is named for Nathaniel Macon, a politician from Warrenton, NC who served in the American Revolution and the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. The Town of Franklin was officially incorporated in 1855.

Today, Franklin remains true to its past while embracing the future. The Franklin, NC area is experiencing a rate of population growth that is 12% higher than the national average and one might say it is all about location. Franklin is situated one hour from Asheville, NC and two hours from Atlanta, Georgia, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Greenville, South Carolina.

Due to its proximity to these urban areas, Franklin is fast becoming a location of choice for those seeking a respit from the hustle and bustle of city living be it for a weekend getaway or longer vacation. Once visiting the area many take their Franklin experience to the next level seeking permanent, retirement or second homes.

The Franklin, North Carolina appeal is multi-faceted. For vacationers, the area offers a multitude of recreational opportunities for weekend warriors and a slow pace of life for those just looking to relax. The authenticity of its people and southern hospitality are exhibited daily.

Being in the “center of it all” makes Franklin a great home base to discover all the many adventures of the mountains of Western North Carolina offers. We invite you to discover us and let your true mountain experience begin.

History of Dillsboro, NC

Dillsboro was originally known as New Webster to distinguish it from the older Jackson County seat town just 3 miles to the East. In 1889, the state legislature approved the change of name to Dillsboro to honor William Allen Dills who had selected the site, locating it on his farm.

The Dills house, which was the first house in Dillsboro, is still standing and is now occupied by Riverwood Shops, located on a hill overlooking Scott’s Creek and the Tuckaseigee River. Mr. Dills operated the town’s first post office from his home.

The town had started to come into its own in 1883 due to the new railroad and the advent of tourism in the area. Just before the turn of the century, Dillsboro was the largest non-county seat town west of Asheville with about 750 residents.

Dillsboro grew up around the railroad, providing goods and services for those who used the Southern Railway and became an important transportation center for local industry. Two passenger trains and two freight trains operated daily between Asheville to the East and Murphy to the West. The freight for Franklin was hauled in covered wagons, which camped twice a week on Depot Square.

The railroad was built by convict labor furnished by the state and they were housed behind stockades near the 836-foot Cowee Tunnel. It required eighteen months to cut through almost solid rock to complete the project.

There was no river crossing at Dillsboro until after the turn of the century, but there was a ferry at Webster and a bridge further West at Barker’s Creek. It was a full days trip to Franklin by stagecoach with a lunch stop on Cowee Mountain.

During these years, the streets of Dillsboro were lighted with Cape Cod lamps. Oil-burning lamps lighted the homes, hotels and boarding houses and the businesses. Dillsboro had the first telephone system installed in Jackson County; it connected the New Webster (Dillsboro) depot with the county seat and was used only for relaying telegrams.

Dillsboro has been a tourist town since 1886 when visitors began to arrive by train and spend several weeks. Word spread about the cool summers and beautiful mountain scenery. It is often stated that the first summer visitors were the Misses Nellie and Hattie Norfleet of Edenton, North Carolina, and perhaps were the first women cigarette smokers the locals had ever seen.

History of Pigeon Forge

With such an original name, it’s no wonder that people often ask how the town of Pigeon Forge got its name. For some, the abundance of pigeons in the area at the time and a popular local iron forge will suffice. Still, for those wanting to know more about the history of Pigeon Forge, TN, we’ve dug a bit deeper, forged a few more irons, and tried to spot some pigeons.

It’s appropriate that one of the first businesses in this East Tennessee town was a furnace and iron forge, or bloomery forge, that once operated at the site of the Old Mill. Appropriate due to the burning quest of hardworking mountain settlers who forged a town out of the Smoky Mountain wilderness. Standing back and taking a good look at Pigeon Forge today, one notices the highly successful business community that sprung out of gravity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Pigeon Forge was once an area of fertile hunting grounds tracked by the Cherokee and other eastern American Indian tribes. The Treaty of Dumplin Creek, signed in the late 1700s, opened the fertile valley for settlement.

In the 1700s and early 1800s the Little Pigeon River’s banks were lined with beech trees. Beechnuts were a mainstay in the diet of Passenger Pigeons, which made the river a natural stopping point for huge flocks of the now-extinct species. Naturally, the name “Pigeon” was used as common theme that settlers of the area could identify with.

Still, Pigeon Forge wasn’t the burgeoning metropolis you might think. At the turn of the 20th century, population records show Pigeon Forge with a mere 154 residents. The year 1934 would bring about change with the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which proved to be the natural Pied Piper for tourism for towns like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

After the founding of the national park, out-of-towners became a staple in the area if not solely for the park, but also for the numerous specialty stores popping up. Hotels replaced private homes where vacationers had previously stayed. Farming still remained the area’s primary business, but that also would soon take a backseat to the tourism trade.

The sale of the first parcel of property smaller than a farm was negotiated in 1946, paving the way for the lucrative property sell-off that would come to mark the region in the decades to come. It was during that time that Pigeon Forge’s thoroughfare, the Parkway, was beginning to become populated and featured two general stores and two churches.

Pigeon Forge finally became incorporated in 1961 as the visitors came in and concrete continued to be poured. With a firmly established city government and a new Department of Tourism established in the early 80s, Pigeon Forge was turning into a vacationers dream.

New businesses, primarily tourism-related, were being recruited to the area. With all the new jobs, the population started to spike as well. As of the mid-90s, statistics indicated that Pigeon Forge had 3,975 permanent residents within the city limits. The small, peaceful community where cornfields once stood had been transformed into a bustling, two-lane city whose main thoroughfare is now six lanes wide and known as the Parkway.

But don’t let anyone fool you, the Parkway’s overhaul was nothing compared to the impact one of the county’s own had on tourism. In 1986, Sevier-native and country superstar Dolly Parton, established Dollywood as a major theme park on the site of the former Silver Dollar City. Its only competition was three hours away in Nashville and was an immediate hit with visitors. To this day it has continued to expand with 2012 bringing the new high-flying Wild Eagle roller coaster.

As far as places to stay go, if you haven’t been down here in a while you might not recognize the place. The primitive rows of stone cabins along the riverbanks have been replaced by homes and businesses. Hotel and motel rooms numbered nearly 7,750 by the late 90s and cabins, condos and villas dot the mountains surrounding town. Numerous campgrounds can be found outside town and most are equipped with features such as laundry rooms, swimming pools, picnic tables and electrical hook-ups.

The mix of restaurants in Pigeon Forge has grown from locally-owned to fast food to fine dining written about in magazines like Southern Living and featured on the Food Network. Over a dozen theaters offer a variety of performances, all delivering family-style entertainment from the oh-so-popular Dixie Stampede dinner theater to the brand new Lumberjack Feud.

Complementing the entertainment of the theaters and the array of dining establishments are more than 50 family attractions, more than 200 stores in six outlet malls and an additional local 140 craft, gift and specialty stores.

While the town continues to address issues regarding traffic congestion, which should make it a lot easier to get to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and around Pigeon Forge it’s clear there is one continual goal –  building on the city’s rich history, literally, but it also looks toward a bright future at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains.

History of Cherokee, NC

Cherokee, North Carolina is synonymous with such word s as casinos, gambling, and resort town, but it wasn’t always like that. The now sprawling vacation spot was once as heavily forested as other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and once consisted of about 135,000 square miles of land owned by the Cherokee Indian Nation spread out over eight southern states.

The Cherokee Indian Reservation, also known as the Qualla Boundary, now only encompasses 56,000 of those acres. It’s also classified as sovereign land held in trust specifically for the Cherokee Indian tribe by the United States Government. The land was purchased by Will Thomas, who is not of Indian descent, in the late 1800s and was presented as a gift to the Cherokee people.

Over the past 100 years, thousands of non-Indians have moved into the area and developed the region, though it’s still home to the Cherokee. The tourism industry makes up about 75 percent of the tribe’s revenues – the mainstay of their economy. Cherokee businesses hold “trader’s licenses” and collect a six percent tribal levy on sales.

The Indians that currently live in Cherokee are a part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They are descendants of the Cherokee Indians who hid in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid forced removal to Oklahoma on the infamous “Trail of Tears” during the late 1830s.

Cherokee’s tourism boom, as previously mentioned, exploded in the late 1940s, around the same time the Great Smoky Mountains were designated as a national park. The Blue Ridge Parkway was also in the early stages of development. As the park opened and construction on the parkway got underway, two highways were bringing out-of-towners into Cherokee – US 441 and US 19, and assistance to support the influx of visitors was imperative.

The businesses and services that developed out of the construction of these roads played a large part in Cherokee’s formation as an incorporated town. Today, the assumption that the Qualla Boundary and its businesses are Indian-owned is for the most part still true but, by the authority of the Tribal Council; Indians are allowed to lease their businesses or buildings to non-Indians. The Cherokee people rightfully can continue to claim the status of “original inhabitants” of the vast and beautiful Smoky Mountains, even as the Reservation continues to grow and develop.

Still, whenever Cherokee is brought up, people have a tendency to delve into the history of the Cherokee Indians and the way they have been treated over the years, especially by the U.S. government. You can speak with a number of people with a slew of different titles that say the Cherokee removal might have been avoided, if the U.S. government had played a different role in the beginning, and if English settlers had tried a more peaceable approach to living with the Cherokee.

The Cherokee enjoyed a pretty high quality of life up to the early 1800s. They basically governed themselves and their many communities through their own form of government. Sequoyah, one of the Cherokee’s most prominent leaders, spent 12 years developing the Cherokee Alphabet and he was never able to read or write another language – he is the only known person to be able to carry out such a feat.

Generations of Cherokees have been told the story of how their ancestors were removed from their homelands. Numerous books have been penned and films made about the subject. Two outdoor dramas have been made as well – “Unto These Hills,” which has played to four decades of audiences in Cherokee, N.C. and “Trail of Tears,” which is performed annually in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There is no doubt that the designation of the Trail of Tears as a national landmark has enhanced awareness of the tragedy. The designation of the trail as a national landmark was the culmination of four years of planning on the part of the Eastern and Western Cherokee Tribes, the National Park Service and several states “to protect and identify the historic route, artifacts and remnants for enjoyment and public use.” A comprehensive management plan was developed by a 35-member advisory council. From Cherokee, NC, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a trail logo was adopted and placed along the extending land and water route. Interpretive centers have been planned for each state the trail passes through – North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, and Oklahoma – with state, local, and federal governments participating.

Haunts and Haints at Marble Springs

Two days before Halloween, the former home of Tennessee’s first Governor, John Sevier put on a new face and had some Halloween fun.  Marble Springs was the home of John Sevier from 1745-1815.  It has been kept as a historic landmark of the history of Tennessee.  Throughout the year, living history and educational tours happen daily.  Along with the living history they have many special events.  One of the events this year was their Halloween Haunts and Haints.  The event included decorations, a costume contest for the kids and storytelling around a bonfire.

Haunts and Haints at Marble SpringsMarble Springs is a beautiful location.  Set in the woods right off Governor John Sevier Highway in South Knoxville, it is idyllic.  Add to that setting, lots of pumpkins, the gorgeous colors of an East Tennessee fall and you have a painted landscape that is the perfect backdrop for Halloween fun in the Smokies.  Luminaries lit the path down to the historic buildings and pumpkins were placed at the door of each log structure.  Trying to replicate the late 18th century means that electric lights are few and far between so the light of a bonfire provided the majority of the lighting in the area after the sun went down.

Before the sun sunk below the horizon, the kids and adults went house to house to learn about the history of the site.  Most of the kids came in costume and participated in the Halloween costume contest.  Pirates, princesses, superheroes, ghost and ghouls roamed around the site and the winners were chosen.  Candy was handed out and as the day grew older, the light got dimmer and the bonfire began to rage, everyone settled in around the bonfire or in the tavern to listen to ghost stories.

The Smoky Mountain Storytellers Association provided their voices for the ghost stories. As promised they had not so scary stories around the bonfire for the young and timid at heart and seriously scary stories in the tavern for those that were feeling more adventurous.  The atmosphere around the bonfire was warm and inviting.  With a bit of a nip in the air, everyone gathered around the bonfire for fellowship and warmth.  The stories began and everyone from the youngest to the oldest person listened with rapt attention as the stories unfurled around them.  The stories at the bonfire were new telling’s of fairy tales and fables, tales that everyone had heard but were fascinated to hear again in this wonderful environment and unique setting.

The stories in the tavern were of a different nature.  None were gruesome or graphic but they were not for the faint of heart.  With just enough edge to set your hair on end, you experienced the feeling of sitting around a campfire swapping stories with you friends.  The listeners in the cabin sat facing the fireplace and the storyteller.  The fire gave off more than enough warmth to keep everyone toasty but the sound of the wind whistling across the top of the chimney certainly added to the tales being told.

Speaking to some of the guest that attended, parent and child alike had a great time.  One family said that they would like to make this one of their fall traditions.  Another group said they were looking forward to telling their friends how much fun they had so that they could bring them back in 2012.  All in all, this is one of those events that will stick with the attendees for years to come.  They will look forward to the net trip to Marble Springs, especially the next trip at Halloween, to revisit the Haunts and Haints at Halloween.

History of Gatlinburg

Despite how they may appear, the Great Smoky Mountains weren’t built around Gatlinburg, Tn. Still, when you come through town, it might seem as if the mountains were strategically placed on the outskirts of downtown, surrounding it like a fortress.

The beginnings of Gatlinburg are two-fold – the actual first settlers of the area, and the first business that brought about the booming tourist town that many have come to know and love. The first settlers that are said to have laid claim in the area were Martha Jane Huskey Ogle and her family (five sons and two daughters, her brother, Peter Huskey, and his family) in 1807 when they settled what is now Gatlinburg to honor her recently deceased husband William.

In 1802, William Ogle had selected a piece of property to build a home for his family, telling them that he had found “The Land of Paradise” in the mountains of East Tennessee. While preparing to bring his family here, he fell ill, most suspect malaria, and died in 1803.

Over a century later in 1916, Andy Huff built the Mountain View Hotel in Gatlinburg, Tn to house timber customers. Upon completion of the hotel, Gatlinburg was unofficially incorporated. Huff later expanded the hotel to provide food and lodging for tourists coming in to vacation among the Smokies. From there, it’s all been written about as stores sprung up along the parkway like wildflowers and tourists came in droves.

When Huskey Ogle’s family settled the area, it was known as White Oak Flats. This is largely due to the numerous white oak trees native to the region. Her late-husband described it as a “Land of Paradise”. Soon after, families with familiar last names like McCarter, Reagan, Whaley, and Trentham began settling the area as well and many of their descendants make the Gatlinburg area their home today.

Gatlinburg itself derived its name from Radford C. Gatlin – owner of White Oak Flats’ second general store. Despite the name recognition, the flamboyant Gatlin was eventually banished from White Oak Flats in 1854 for his Democratic Party affiliation.

Over the next century very little changed in Gatlinburg, even with the onset of the Civil War. The first public school didn’t form until 1912 and it wasn’t until the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that the area started to feel some of those much-needed tourism dollars. A number of mountain-dwelling families began moving closer to town to take advantage of jobs in new hotels and restaurants brought about by the burgeoning tourism industry. Though World War II brought a bit of an economic slowdown, by war’s end the tourists had returned and Gatlinburg had to grow or get run over, literally.

Following the town’s incorporation in 1945, Pi Beta Phi, in conjunction with the University of Tennessee, established a program for emerging Tennessee artists during the summer. What came out of it was the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Arrowmont is now nationally regarded and offers year-round classes and workshops for college credit. Areas of study include: ceramics, fibers, metals/jewelry, painting, drawing, photography, warm glass, woodturning, woodworking, sculpture, and book and paper arts. The public is welcome year-round to visit the school’s five galleries, resource center and book and supply store.

Elijah Lawson Reagan established a woodworking business in Gatlinburg in the early 20th Century. It’s pertinent because it’s believed to be the oldest working business of its kind in the history of the Smokies. Up until the 1920s he worked with simple hand tools before harnessing the power of the Roaring Fork to operate with electric power. Of the instruments he used, a water-wheel was built and he installed a turbine and generator which powered his operation. He also furnished electricity to his neighbors until the Tennessee Valley Authority supplied the valley with electricity. The shop is still making fine furniture in the Reagan tradition today.

Religion also played a large part in early Gatlinburg, Tn beginnings and was important to its settlers. Most settlers attended services outdoors or in neighbors’ homes. Although this area was settled by Presbyterians, their first church was Baptist. The Sevierville Baptist Church reached all the way to White Oak Flats at the time convening in the early part of the 19th century at Baskins Creek. Many assume that this is the present day location of the Ogle cabin. A second church was built on River Road under the direction of Reverend Richard Evans, near the mouth of Mill (now Le Conte) Creek.

In 1837, a new church was formed and named White Oak Flats Baptist. The congregation met in a log cabin on Baskins Creek. The cabin also served as a school. The congregation later changed its name to the Gatlinburg Baptist Church in 1932 before constructing a stone church at the same location in 1951. As the town grew, Gatlinburg First Baptist decided to move in 1991 to its present location on Highway 321.

One other notable businessman was Noah Ogle. By most accounts Ogle was Gatlinburg’s first merchant when he established a business in 1850. The site is now home to the Riverside Hotel. Ogle later moved the store to the intersection of River Road and the Elkmont Highway in 1910 before his son took it over in 1916. Officially, the E. E. Ogle and Company store housed the Gatlinburg Post Office until 1925. Grandson, Charlie A. Ogle, and great grandson, Charles Earl Ogle, took over operations respectively, expanding the business through any means necessary downtown. It was said that if you needed anything, Ogles’ was the place to get it. Today, Gatlinburg’s Mountain Mall now stands where the general store once did, and still offering most anything tourists could want.

To get to Gatlinburg coming from Interstate 40 (Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville), take exit 407 toward Winfield Dunn Parkway for 8.5 miles. Continue to US 441 and follow it 13.2 miles to Gatlinburg.

Coming from the south (Cherokee, NC), head west on US-19, turn right onto US-441 N/Tsali Boulevard and continue to follow it 34.8 miles to Gatlinburg, Tn.