McCarter's Riding Stables
The Smokies Original Riding Stables
Established 1931
923 Robinson Gap Road - Sevierville, TN 37862

The History Of McCarter's Riding Stables

Curtis McCarter (who will be referred to as Papaw hereafter) was born in 1900, and grew up in the Sugarland area of what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Life was tough for the mountain people and they all learned to be self-sufficient by raising their own food
and livestock, hunting, fishing, building homes and outbuildings, making clothes, shoes, baskets, buckets and just about anything else needed for day to day life.
Everyone learned from the natural world out of
necessity and therefore understood their surroundings.

His upbringing, and love of the woods provided him with invaluable insight into the workings of nature, as well as an incredible ability to navigate these majestic mountain lands.

In November of 1918, Papaw was called to serve his country in World War One. He bade his family goodbye and set out walking to Sevierville, about eighteen miles away, to board the train and head for boot camp. When he arrived in the county seat, all the church bells were ringing, people were hugging and dancing in the streets, train whistles were blowing and all manner of celebration was taking place.

Confused, he asked what all the festivity was about. The war was over! He checked with the military adjutant sent to pick up the troops and was told to return home.

Prior to conducting his horseback guide service, Papaw worked in the lumber camps and lived in Elkmont for two years with his wife, Pearl (hereafter known as Mamaw), daughter Edna and infant son, Elder.

In 1924 he began escorting NPS personnel on horseback throughout the Smokies.  None of the trails were marked, as they are today, and it was imperative to obtain a native guide in order to locate landmarks and map the area so that the park could be created.

Papaw proved to be the best. In February of 1931, the McCarter family had to move out of the Sugarlands (named so because of the profuse amount of sugar maple trees in the area, which were tapped for the sweet sap which was boiled down into maple sugar) to make room for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

By this time, Papaw and Mamaw had four children. They settled beside the Roaring Fork creek, built a house and barn, and began to raise a family which increased to a total of ten children.

All but two reached adulthood, a daughter, Irene, was stillborn and a son, R.L. succumbed to spinal meningitis at the age of three.

In April of the same year Papaw asked Andy Huff, the owner of the Mountain View Hotel, if he could put a hitchrack for his horses on the front lawn and rent them to the visitors. Andy agreed, and declined to charge any rent for the area, but stipulated that the Mountain View guests must have first option to rent the horses.

Papaw agreed and McCarter's Riding Stable had begun. Papaw had four horses at the time and purchased four more after three months. The rate for riding was 25 cents an hour.

Each morning, he would ride one horse and all the others followed him, untethered, and took their place at the hitchrack. At the end of the day he turned all the horses loose, with the exception of the one he rode, and they traveled, still untethered, to their barn on Roaring Fork Road.

Many a child from the Pi Beta Phi settlement school rushed to the Mountain View to get a chance to ride one of the horses back to the barn. Once the horses reached their barn, each stood in front of his stall, patiently waiting to be unsaddled and fed. This practice continues to this day as one of the legacies of the McCarter family.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established as a national park on June 15, 1934. It was later dedicated to the American public at Newfound Gap by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in September of 1941. A monument of native stone and brass plaque mark the spot of the dedication to the left of the Newfound Gap parking lot, beside the trailhead to Charlie's Bunion, Icewater Springs and Mt. LeConte.

Incidentally, it had always been believed that Indian Gap, which was the route the Cherokee took over the mountains for centuries, was the lowest elevation at which to cross the Smokies from North Carolina into Tennessee. It was later discovered by surveyors that a newly found gap to the west of Indian Gap was lower, hence the name Newfound Gap.

In 1954, after returning from military service, one of Curtis's sons, Marvin (known as Paw), purchased several horses and a barn and opened his stable on Airport Road in Gatlinburg, where the Putt-Putt Golf is now located.

Marvin and his son, Pete, planted the large sycamore tree which still stands on the site. That is why the name is plural. McCarter's Stables, Inc. was once two separate barns. Even though Marvin and Curtis escorted their guests from Gatlinburg sites, they always rode into the National Park, having been granted a special use permit from NPS.

What is known today as the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail was once a dirt track which comprised McCarter's Stables, Inc's four-hour horseback tour.

In 1957, at the age of seven, Marvin's son Pete, began to help out around the barn. He groomed and fed the horses, mucked out stalls, learned to ride, hung out at the barn to clean up and rode along with the tours. His greatest memories are of listening to tales of the "old days". In 1962 he became a tour guide.

In 1962 the National Park Service approved four locations within the park to offer horseback rides to the public. They originally offered all four sites (Two-Mile Branch, Dudley Creek and Cades Cove on the Tennessee side of the park, and Smokemont on the North Carolina side) to the McCarters.

Considering that they would be spread over too great an area to provide quality service to their guests, the McCarter's decided to accept the concession contract for the Two-Mile Branch area. This decision was made because both Paw and Papaw had been born not four miles upriver from the Two-Mile Branch, were very familiar with the land and had retained a great deal of sentiment for their old home place. Papaw's springbox and chimney remain standing to this day in the Sugarland Valley.

Papaw moved his horses into the park in the spring and Paw followed to combine the two stables in the fall.

In 1974 Pete became the stable manager and continued to conduct tours. A University of Tennessee graduate in business administration, he also relied heavily on his grandfather's knowledge of the mountains and horses, as well as his father's business acumen and horse sense to conduct the daily affairs of the stable.

The stable is not only his livelihood, but an intrinsic part of his life. No greater education could have been obtained in the field of stable management and horse training.

Papaw never retired from the stable. He rode at least a couple of hours a day well into his seventies. If ever a man looked and felt natural on horseback, it was Curtis McCarter. The total of knowledge about horses, people, and the mountains he imparted to us is immeasurable.

He sold his portion of the stable to his son, and later left us peacefully for his heavenly home in October of 1982.

In 1989, Pete bought his father's portion of the stable and continued to operate in the park until 2002.

McCarter's Riding Stables, Inc. is currently operating at a beautiful new location in Sevierville, Tennessee. We continue to offer the time-honored quality, service and value consistent with the last eight decades.

Many folks have asked us over the years why we do what we do. Why all the long hours and hard work? The answer is, that this business is not only the way we make our living, it is an integral part of our very identities.

Working with horses is part of what defines us as who we are. For instance, each year when a child comes up to Pete and asks to ride a certain horse like Jewel, or Mouse, or Ernie, we are instilled with a certain type of satisfaction unknown by most people in relation to their jobs.

When you can realize that you have made a difference in one child's life - for the better - and that child will have good memories for the rest of his or her life because of one of our horses, it just makes us feel good about ourselves and what we do.

It's not just a job to us. We are pro-horse.  We want everyone to enjoy horseback riding to the extent that they are able.

We are also pro-Smokies. We want everyone to enjoy our majestic homeland.  So, for a true Smokies experience, ride with the professionals at McCarter's Stables offering the finest, most well-kept horses in the area as well as spectacular views of the mountains, wildflowers and wildlife as you travel through lush woods and wide open spaces.

We believe riding with the McCarter family can make your vacation in the Smokies truly memorable. Bring your camera!

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