How Pigeon Forge Got Its Name
This Tennessee town is home to Dollywood– and to some interesting history.
When you were planning your trip to Dollywood and putting together an Excel spreadsheet of water park vs thrill park rides to take, foods to eat, and shows to see (isn’t this how everyone does Dollywood?) did you ever stop to wonder about its location?
Dollywood is one of the main attractions in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a small town in the eastern part of the state, approximately 35 miles from Knoxville. And it’s Pigeon Forge that we’re thinking about—how did it get its quirky name? While it’s nice think of some stalwart pigeons bravely fording a stream like George Washington crossing the Delaware, the name has slightly less whimsical roots.
Back in 1820, Isaac Love built an iron forge on the banks of the Little Pigeon River. It was his forge that lent its name to the town. Soon after the forge was built, the Pigeon Forge Mill came along, now more commonly known as the Old Mill, which still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The forge wasn’t so lucky, though, and was dismantled sometime before 1884, according to the official town website, the name—and a 500-pound hammer used in the forge—live on.
WATCH: The Definitive Dolly Parton Movie List
As for the pigeon part, the Little Pigeon River took its name from the local residents—the flocks of passenger pigeons that lived in the area well before people settled in the region. According to the City of Pigeon Forge, there were a lot of pigeons. There were so many birds in the area that they “darkened the sky as they flew into the valley and the beech trees along the river were stripped of limbs by the weight of their great number.” Clearly they were a memorable sight, because while the native passenger pigeon population has sadly gone extinct, their memory lives on in the river and the town that bears its name.
Fun fact: if you’re a Tarheel and a fan of Pigeon Forge, you should know that the area used to be a part of North Carolina. According to PigeonForge.com, the first settlers staked their claims along the river in 1788, when the area was still governed by North Carolina.