The Gatlinburg that almost never was

Gatlinburg is headquarters for the park and a huge attraction for hordes of visitors. Courtesy National Park Service

Originally, Gatlinburg was to be cleared, cut and mined.

Hindsight’s 20/20, and humans have never been able to predict the future.

Today we associate Gatlinburg with hotel rooms, kid-friendly museums, rides, tourist traps, mountain scenery and hiking. A century ago, practically no one foresaw this. Gatlinburg and the forests and mountains surrounding it were just another place for heavy industry.

You see, long before there was a paved road to Gatlinburg, there was the Knoxville, Sevierville and Eastern Railroad. The KS&E connected Knoxville to Sevierville by 1909. Seven years later it announced that it would be extended to Gatlinburg.

“A Knoxville to Gatlinburg railroad?” you may wonder. “Wouldn’t that have been great for tourism?”

Not exactly. This was long before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Space Needle. If you read newspapers of that era, you will find that the railroad had a different purpose altogether: