Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were staying in room 388 at the historic Gatlinburg Inn one evening in 1967 when the idea of writing a song about the mountains struck them. “Rocky Top,” an official Tennessee State Song, was born and became a big hit by Lynn Anderson in 1970.
The song describes a place called Rocky Top, Tennessee, which is one of the three peaks of Thunderhead Mountain located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hikers on the Appalachian Trail cross directly over Rocky Top.
Such is the lore one hears discussed in the lobby of the Gatlinburg Inn, constructed between 1937 and 1940 by R.L. (Rellie) Maples, Sr., and his wife, Wilma. Wilma Maples, now in her late 80s, loves to sit in her favorite chair in the lobby of the Gatlinburg Inn and reminisce with guests while crocheting and watching the Fox New Channel. She banters with the best of them, discussing today’s political landscape. But her favorite pastime is chatting with the guests who stayed at the inn with their parents in the 1940s and 50s.
The old hotel boasts many “firsts.” It was the first location of Gatlinburg’s city offices; the city’s First National Bank was organized there; and even the first dentist, Dr. Meaker, had an office at the inn.
Celebrity guests through the years have included: “Lady Bird” Johnson, Liberace, Dinah Shore, J.C. Penney, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. The inn even appeared in the movie A Walk in the Spring Rain, staring Ingrid Bergman.
Today, the inn’s landscape is carefully manicured, and inside it retains its early 20th century charm. A large porch with comfortable rocking chairs was added in more recent years.
Today’s guests, as they walk through the halls, might easily imagine hearing fiddle and lyrics coming from behind the door of room 388. But they would have to listen fast. The composers took just 10 minutes to write “Rocky Top.”
For more about Wilma, check out our profile on her.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now