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The Historic Beginnings of Pigeon Forge

by Joe Sharp

The name "Pigeon" came from the river and the river's name from the countless millions of wild Carrier Pigeons, now extinct, that chose this valley as a favorite stopping place on their migratory flights southward, Pioneer settlers reported that these beautifully colored birds were so numerous that they darkened the sky as they flew into the valley and that the trees of the forests, their roosting places, were stripped of limbs by the weight of their great numbers.

The name "Forge" came from the early iron works located here. As early as 1820 Isaac Love had a forge, but it is probable that the iron works started even earlier. By 1836 Isaac Love and three sons, William K. Love, James L. Love and Preston A. Love, had obtained about 70000 [sic] acres of land, lying generally between Pigeon Forge and the Little East Fork of Little Pigeon. These lands included the iron ore banks in the Middle Crook and Little East Fork sections, three or four miles east of Pigeon Forge, and were obtained by the Loves under acts of the Tennessee legislature which permitted tax-free entries of land declared "unfit for cultivation" for the establishment of iron works. Iron was a scarce commodity on the Tennessee frontier.

The same lands also included the "Short Mountain Furnace," near the ore banks on Little East Fork in the Richardson's Cove section. Charcoal made from the wood of the forests furnished fuel and heat for the furnace; a dam across the small stream operated the bellows for the air blast. Crude ore dug from the nearby ore banks was smelted into pig iron, which was hauled, by wagons and ox-carts to the forges at Pigeon Forge. Three forges were located there along the east bank of the river above the present Old Mill.

Old citizens used to tell of standing on the nearby hills at night and watching the beautiful lights from these forges and thinking that the fires of Hell could burn no brighter or hotter. Pig iron brought to an intense heat by burning charcoal in deep pits in the ground was beaten into commercial bar iron by the huge trip hammers operating on forge plates by water power from the nearby dam, probably located at or near the site of the present Old Mill dam. Henry Butler has preserved one of these old hammers, believed to have been molded from Sevier County iron, and has it on display at Butler's Farm Restaurant.

The iron works received a boost, also a death knell, in 1836, when Micajah C. Rogers, prominent Sevierville merchant, bought the Short Mountain Furnace and ore lands from the Loves,, and entered into a partnership with the Bright Hope Furnace in Greene County. The Loves kept their forges at Pigeon Forge and Rogers agreed to supply them with an ample quantity of pig iron.

Experienced iron makers from Greene County rebuilt the Short Mountain Furnace, which they considered inadequate, and "Cage" Rogers changed its name to the "Sweden Furnaces," after boasting that the Little East Fork ore was equal to the finest "Swedish Iron." That this was an exaggeration was soon proven by two "blasts" at the Sweden Furnace, as a result of which the ore was found deficient both in quality and quantity, and operations were discontinued in 1838. Little is known of subsequent operations of either the furnace or forges, but it is said that irregular operations continued until the Civil War.

It is believed that if Colonel Samuel Wear, Sevier County's most prominent early settler, had his way Sevierville, the county seat, might have been located in the Pigeon Forge vicinity. Colonel Wear came from Augusta County, Virginia, about 1783, and settled on the West Fork near the mouth of Walden's Creek, and later received a Tennessee grant for almost 500 acres of land, extending up the West Fork including the present Lafollette land. When the county seat was being located in 1795, Colonel Wear is said to have offered a site, but was over ruled by settlers in the Forks of Little Pigeon where it was decided to locate the county seat.

Located on a branch of the Great Indian War and Trading Path from Virginia to the Cherokee towns on the Little Tennessee River, the Pigeon Forge country was doubtless known by white traders from Virginia before 1750. No white settlements, however, were made in this area before the period, 1783-1790. Colonel Wear way have been the first and Wear's Fort at the mouth of Walden's Creek furnished a refuge place for settlement on the West Fork during the last Indian raids of the 1790's.

It was from this fort that Colonel Wear, in 1793, led sixty angry Sevier County frontiersmen against the Cherokee town of Tallassee on the Little Tennessee, and his expedition followed the War Path by the way of the present Pigeon Forge and across Pine Mountain, through Wear's Cove, Tuckaleechee Cove and Cades Cove to Tallassee. Here they killed fifteen Indiana who jumped into the Little Tennessee when attacked by Wear's men. Four squaws were captured and held an prisoners. All this was in retaliation for a major Indian raid on Wear's Fort on June 19, 1793, when in the night the Indian came, and quoting the old Knoxville Gazette, "cut down much corn, stole ten horses, and killed another, killed two cows and three hogs, which they skinned for provisions, took seven bags of meal out of Wear's Mill and broke sundry parts of it."

The names of the first settlers in the Pigeon Forge area may be obtained from the first Tennessee grants,, known as "Right of Occupancy" grants, which were surveyed in 1807 and issued in 1808 and 1810. Most of these names are no longer familiar names in Pigeon Forge, but descendants of some still live in Sevier County and descendants of others could be found as far west as the Pacific.

We have good proof that Barefoot Runyan, Revolutionary soldier from Shenandoah County,, Virginia, and his wife Margaret Rambo, and several children settled here about 1790. "Barefoot" was not a nickname as was shown by his signature to the will of Marshall Lovelady, his neighbor; the will was made April 10, 1792, and is on record in the Jefferson County court house at Dandridge, Sevier County then bein a part of Jefferson County. Also, in 1808, an occupancy grant for 198 acres was issued to "Barefoot" Runyan. And the map of this tract shows that it extended from the west side of the West Fork across the present four-lane road and across Mill Creek, the heart of present Pigeon Forge.

This Runyan land was located between lands belonging to John Moore on the north and John Fryer on the south  both Moore and Fryer has similar early grants.

Perhaps the last of the many Indian murders in Sevier County occurred at Pigeon Forge in 1800. Sometimes that year a young Runyan boy, probably an Indian or Indians killed son of Barefoot and Margaret. Governor John Sevier made a report of this murder to the legislature and Sevier's successor, Governor Archibald Roane found it necessary to make a special trip to Sevier County to quieten the settlers, who were again ready to take the War Path against the Indians. The late R. M. (Bob) Runyan of Sevierville, great grandson of Barefoot, remembered the family story that the boy was killed while standing on a stump searching for the family's horse.

Marshall Lovelady, whose will was signed by Barefoot Runyan in 1792, did not live long enough to receive a land grant in 1808. However, one son, Obed Lovelady, obtained grants, surveyed in 1807, for land near the mouth of Walden's Creek, and Amon Lovelady, another sons was still living here in 1850 -- probably on the land where his father, Marshall, settled in the 1780's. Joseph Lovelady, another signer of Marshall's will, did live in the Pigeon Forge neighborhood and received a 99 acres grant there in 1810. He may have been a brother of Marshall Hugh Allen, of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, is an authority on the Sevier County Loveladys and has traced them as far west as Texas. The name has disappeared in Sevier County, but descendants still live here.

Another early Pigeon Forge settler was Mordecai Lewis who obtained an occupancy grant for 151 acres; his land joined the land of Isaac Runyan, son of Barefoot, and the land of Richard Fanshier.

 Lewis' Mill was doubtless the first mill in Pigeon Forge and since Isaac Love married a Lewis daughter this writer believes that the Pigeon forges started at the Lewis Mills, which was obtained by Love after the death of Lewis. Mordecai Lewis was first clerk of the Board of Commissioners for the town of Sevierville when it was formed in 1795.

That the Fanshier family, (spelled variously as Franshire, Fancher, Fransher), was another first family at Pigeon Forge is indicated by first Tennessee grants. In fact old grant maps in the Sevierville area label the road up the West Fork with arrows pointing toward "Fanshiers" which leads the writer to believe that the settlement at the present Pigeon Forge may have first been called "Fanliters." In 1808 Richard Fanshier obtained a grant for 97 acres; his land joined the lands of John Fryer, Mordecai Lewis, and Joseph Lovelady and extended from the river to Mill Creek. David Fanshier and Joel Fanshier obtained early grants in this same Pigeon Forge area and both were still living there in 1830.

The Baptist Church at Pigeon Forge probably had its beginning in Novembers 18329 when the Forks of Little Pigeon (Sevierville) Church held a meeting, as the old record states, "near the Iron Works," for the reception of members. A similar meeting was held in January, 1833, but it is not known when the Pigeon Forge Church was separated from the parent Sevierville church.

No attempt has been made in this historic sketch to bring Pigeon Forge's history up to date -- only its beginning.

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