By Mike Steely
Outside of the rush and crowds of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville there’s a small community that is a breath of fresh air. Pittman Center is a surprise and an almost hidden overnight stay for a growing number of overnight renters and campers.
My wife and I discovered the hidden gem while attending the wedding of one of our sons there, along the rolling waters of the Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River. The neat little community borders Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but, unlike the neighboring towns, has not been overtaken by tourist spots and commercial development.
Just about an hour or less from Knoxville, Pittman Center is located just off Highway 321 east of Gatlinburg. If you’d like to bypass the large tourist towns you can take Highway 416 south, just east of Sevierville, or get there off Interstate 40 from Cosby.
The wedding was creekside behind the beautiful Hills Creek Baptist Church and we also attended a wedding rehearsal for another couple in that unique stone church.
Pittman Center has a small population of about 500 souls and, in season, the renters and campers outnumber the town people there. There are cabin, bed and breakfast, and home rentals and lots of nearby things to do. The Emert’s Cove Covered Bridge spans the river and is a favorite of visitors taking photos.
The small town has a city council, mayor and police department. Settlement there began after the Treaty of Dumplin Creek in 1785. Settlers started arriving including Revolutionary War veteran Frederick Emert, the son of German immigrants. Johan Martin Shultz was another early settler and his son married Emert’s daughter. Another early settler was Daniel Wesley Reagan whose grandparents had settled in nearby Gatlinburg. Many current Pittman Center residents are descendants of those early settlers.
One of the earliest schools in Sevier County was established in Pittman Center. A Methodist minister proposed the school and the Methodist Episcopal Church with the help of Rev. Eli Pittman of New York. Fifteen thousand dollars were allocated for the 1920 project and a farm was purchased. It was named Pittman Community Center and at its peak had 15 buildings, a general store, post office and small hospital.
The school was purchased by the county’s board of education and combined with the high school in Gatlinburg. All that remains of the old school is the former home economics building which became the city hall. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pittman Center was incorporated in 1974 and has a police department consisting of a chief and three patrol officers. Today the town has the city hall, maintenance building, an elementary school and the Burnett Memorial Chapel. The town’s revenue comes mostly from tourists staying there and a golf resort owned by the city.
This little town is worth a visit, especially if you’re visiting Gatlinburg and want to take the brief drive east. It is one of the more interesting small cities in our region.