Monday, December 13, 2021

Preserving the Majestic Mountains: The History and Legacy of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

By Dr. Kevin Cason

The Library & Archives collections contain images of many beautiful places in Tennessee, but the Great Smoky Mountains are the subject of more photographs and postcards than almost any other subject. The Great Smoky Mountains are part of a larger mountain chain known as the Appalachian Mountains. While many people enjoy the picturesque scenery of the park today, the area that became the national park took many years to complete. 


Sugarland Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Postcard, Tennessee Postcard Collection, Tennessee State Library & Archives


For many years, visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains were impressed by the natural beauty and argued for the region to be protected as a national park. By the 1920s, Knoxville civic leaders and others began serious efforts to create a national park. During the late 1920s, the Tennessee and North Carolina Legislatures appropriated $2 million each for land purchases. Individuals and private groups also raised money for the effort. 

In addition to raising money, acquiring land in the Great Smoky Mountains was a difficult process. One of the challenges park supporters faced was the resistance by long-time residents of the area who did not want to leave. Despite their opposition, families who had lived in the region for decades were eventually forced to leave their homes, businesses, schools, churches and cemeteries behind. In addition to the resistance of long-time residents, timber companies were often reluctant to relinquish their land for the park. 

Despite the opposition, the movement for conserving and preserving the mountains continued. By 1934, Tennessee and North Carolina transferred deeds for 300,000 acres of land to the federal government. Eventually, Congress authorized the development of public facilities on the land. During this time, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an agency created during the Great Depression to provide work and wages for unemployed young men, constructed new facilities, trails and bridges on the landscape. 


Newfound Gap Road’s famous Loop Bridge was one of the projects the CCC completed. Record Group 82: Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library & Archives


After several years of the CCC working on the facilities and trails, the park had an official dedication ceremony in September 1940. As part of the ceremony, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an address to a crowd of people at Newfound Gap at the main crest of the mountains. This area serves as a natural boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina.


President Roosevelt speaking at the dedication ceremony, Record Group 82: Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library & Archives


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park became a popular tourist attraction as time moved along. Postcards were created for visitors to commemorate their experience at the park. Some people bought postcards as souvenirs, while others sent them to loved ones in the mail. Some postcards showed specific landmarks at the park, such as the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap, while other postcards depicted more picturesque scenery such as Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the state of Tennessee.


Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap, Tennessee Postcard Collection, Tennessee State Library & Archives


Clingman’s Dome Postcard, Tennessee Postcard Collection, Tennessee State Library & Archives


Today, the Great Smoky Mountains park continues to attract visitors who want to view the natural beauty and landscape of the mountains. According to the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.


For more related to this topic see: 

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park Postcards.” Tennessee Postcard Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives. 


GP 40: Governor Austin Peay Papers, 1923-1927. Tennessee State Library and Archives. 

GP 44: Governor Prentice Cooper Papers, 1939-1945. Tennessee State Library and Archives.


The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

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