People

Incredibly, people have inhabited the Great Smoky Mountains dating back to prehistoric times. Though, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that mountain settlers actually started hosting activities in the area like nature events.

By the time the first settlers reached the Smoky Mountains in the 1700s, they discovered that they were in the homeland of the Cherokee Indians. One of the most advanced Native American civilizations of their time, the Cherokees were already able to cultivate farmlands, build permanent towns and implement an intelligent political system by the time settlers reached the mountains. In the 1830s, the Cherokee tribe was violently forced out of their home land in what is now referred to as the “trail of tears”. The small number that stayed in the region are the ancestors of the tribesmen that currently live near the National Park today.

As expected, early European settlers lived a very primitive lifestyle and continued to do so until the 1900s. During the 1900s, there was a noticeable change between the people that still lived in the mountains and the people that started moving further away from the park’s location. During the beginning stages, mountain settlers lived by pasteurizing livestock, hunting wildlife, using wood for building structures and fences, cultivating food and living off of the land. As time passed, settlers began clearing out forest areas in order to have larger farmlands as communities started to evolve and attend church and work in the mills.

In the early 1900s, the farming culture started to change in the mountain region. Within two decades, settlers were now depending heavily on food from stores, manufactured goods and money. It was at this time in history that logging towns began to thrive in locations like Tremont, Smokemont, Proctor and Elkmont.

As the logging industry started to increase its demand, loggers began to cut down the Great Smoky Mountains forest at a very fast rate. Because the forest was being cut down so fast, the U.S. government intervened in 1934 and the mountains were classified as a National Park. Although only about 20% of the mountains remained, they were saved and preserved into what is now known as the Great Smoky Mountains.

With no more trees to cut down, an estimated 1,200 mountain residents left their homes and abandoned the surrounding mills, churches, schools and buildings. Throughout the past 70 years, the Great Smoky Mountains have preserved the historic remnants of the past logging civilization.