Pigeon Forge Extinct Attractions: What They are Today

How long has your family been visiting the Great Smoky Mountains for vacation? The vast majority of visitors here are returning guests, who have enjoyed spending time together as their relatives grow and change. Though Gatlinburg had developed a burgeoning tourist business by the mid-1960’s, it is obvious from the aerial picture below that Pigeon Forge was still in its infancy as a vacation destination. More than likely, the secluded Pigeon Forge rental cabin which you have chosen as your place to relax was built within the last 25 years (most likely the last 15), which is the time window when most of these accommodations became more numerous here. With so many changes, I wanted to remember a few earlier attractions that some members of your family may enjoy recalling from a simpler era. 



Rebel Railroad was a fort-like attraction that featured a steam engine train ride through the mountain countryside, with a Confederate-themed flavor. I chose this photo of its advertising billboard on the Parkway, because this train is still sitting in its same location at the corner of Parkway and Dollywood Lane. This marked the original turn for the entrance to the theme park, which now has been moved to Upper Middle Creek Road. Rebel Railroad operated from 1961 through 1970, became Goldrush Junction from 1970 to 1976, Goldrush from ’76 to ’77, then expanded broadly as Silver Dollar City from 1977 to 1986, when Dolly Parton and the Herschend organization recreated the park as Dollywood. This brought a major economic boost locally and lengthened the tourist in-season here through the Christmas holidays. Of course, the train still runs daily at Dollywood, and the same loop through the countryside can still be enjoyed, with a tremendously altered scenery. The train is no longer stopped and robbed by “armed gunmen” as it was in the past, with less dramatic flair than in past years!


If the original Water Boggan was a wet ride that you enjoyed in the 70’s and 80’s, you know that you would not want to lose your foam rubber mat on your ride down the hill! The textured, painted concrete troughs made for a bit of a roughed up bottom, unlike the smooth fiberglass runs of today’s parks. Other water attractions of that era included Mountain Ocean, the town’s original wave pool, and Ogle’s Water Park, the first and largest complex of water slides and pools at that time. The pictured Water Boggan, hillside at the far north end of Pigeon Forge is now dotted with camping rental cabins. Mountain Ocean has long been paved over as the upper parking lot of (originally named) Factory Merchants Outlet Mall (red roof mall stores) in the early 80’s. Ogle’s Water Park was sold, dismantled, and redeveloped as Walden’s Landing in 2003, at the corner of Parkway and Wears Valley Road .


Ah, the water-skiing stunt show that was Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus! This ski, sky, and stage show opened in 1977, and was billed as “the greatest show on H2O”. The show’s run in the area was splashy (ok, that was a really bad pun), but relatively short, ending in the early 80’s. The grandstand canopy is still rusting in place on Sugar Hollow Road just off the Parkway across from the recently closed ZORB attraction. It was redeveloped by a church organization with buildings added roadside, and then again changed hands later. 


If you ever visited Porpoise Island, you caught a taste of Hawaii in the Smoky Mountains. Surely an unexpected combination of Polynesian and East Tennessee cultures, but “the porpoises are calling you!” (declared their commercials). The attraction featured a seal and porpoise water show, trained parrots, and a Hula dancer music luau show, among others. Students from Hawaii were flown in each season, along with almost all the animals. It was a fun and interesting place to visit. In doing some research for this blog, I noticed on Facebook that the Porpoise Island cast recently held a reunion in 2012, expressing fond memories of Tennessee, just as we have fond memories of their time here in the 1970’s and 80’s. The same property in the middle of the Pigeon River is now The Island, which is a rapidly growing development with new attractions and restaurants. Just look for the large observation Wheel, and you’ll be standing on what was once “native Hawaiian” stomping grounds.


Magic World grew and changed over the years with this park map representing its offerings in 1991. This was an amusement park from a simpler era, prior to all of the special effects and over-the-top rides and coasters that are major draws today. This park featured a small train, dinosaur statues, amphitheater musical shows, stunt shows with bikes, skateboards, and high divers, and a magic show. Early animatronics were used in the Haunted Castle and the Magic Carpet rides, and also the Confederate Critters show. A Martian Flying Saucer was actually a small theater with pre-IMAX type screens and imaging, supposedly taking you on a ride from the theme park over the Smoky Mountains (until you noticed the helicopter shadow in the flyover footage). The Kid’s Kingdom area in the park replaced the saucer later on (as in this map) with carnival type rides like the Spinning Spider, along with the Dragon Coaster and a rope net climbing course. Magic World’s entertainment mishmash closed in the mid-1990’s, when the property owner decided to subdivide the land, instead of renewing the park’s lease. Today, the remains of the volcano mountain and its waterfall, along with the schooner ship at the entrance are incorporated into Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf.
Attractions certainly evolve and change in our area, sometimes more quickly than expected, surprising even us locals. As mentioned above, ZORB has closed just this season. Their reason for closing is unknown, as it was quite popular. You can be sure there will always be something new to try here in the Smokies. But all the better to get those vacation photos while you can, since sometimes those special locations become just a memory too soon. I hope you enjoyed this little summary of the past. We look forward to your upcoming stay with us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals soon! Book your next memory making trip with us today.

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