Hit Song Born at an Inn: “Rocky Top”

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.

GatlinBurg Inn

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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.

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  1. My daughter and I stayed at the Gatlinburg Inn for her 18th birthday. We had such a great time. When I was younger my family and I went several times a year.

  2. Excellent article, Bob. While Ann and I lived in Gatlinburg, we visited that room one day and were thrilled to see where that stirring song was written. We’ve heard it hundereds of times since then and we still get chills. I don’t think there is a song, which is the fight song of the Tennessee Vols, and is played and sung by every small groups of singers who consider themselves “Country” groups, that can stir the fans of their beloved Vols and their love for the Smokies like that tune can. Thank you for sharing your great story on that history. Another song we learned to love is Smoky Mountain Rain, sung by Ronnie Milsap. We used to go to Dollywood to see him perform once a year there and when the intro to that song started, you could feel the excitement building in the crowd and then, when the verse came where Ronnie was riding with the truck driver, they made a run into Gatlinburg, it really got emotional with everyone in attendance.

  3. I’m sure Wilma Maples’ first name had something to do with her sharp mind and willingness to share. God bless her dear heart.

  4. Well written and interesting article. Having spent about twenty one-week visits in Gatlinburg through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I do not remember having seen the Gatlinburg Inn. The 16 couples in our group always stayed in a remote-like area of Gatlinburg. Both you and Mrs. Maples have a very nice picture and congratulations on having your picture hanging on the wall at the INN. I played the banjo some back in the 80’s and my brother came to visit us and he asked me to play “Rocky Top”. I had heard the song but was unable to play it.


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