Smoky Mountain National Park - History

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A Little History: Or How the Smoky Mountains
Became a National Park

Photographs courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service

Time and Money

As mentioned previously, the original idea for a Smokies national park came in 1923. Actual fund-raising began in 1925. A bill to authorize and protect the area as a park was passed in 1926, but came with strict stipulations that a minimum of 300,000 acres be acquired and minimum commitments in funds be obtained. North Carolina supporters, who had held out for a national park strictly in North Carolina, finally came around for a shared border to a park and their legislature appropriated $2 million in 1927--but only if Tennessee matched it. Not to be outdone, Tennessee's legislature appropriated $2 million the same year.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.When it became clear that the funds appropriated and subscribed to that point was not nearly enough, Arno Cammerer of the National Park Service and Colonel David C. Chapman of Knoxville, convinced John D. Rockefeller Jr. (picture, left) to make a gift to ensure the success of the effort. The philanthropic Rockefeller family was known to be sympathetic to national park causes (having contributed to the success of others) made a gift of $5 million to the effort, but only on the stipulation that it would be matching funds. To get the full $5 million, the states and park commission would have to come up with $5 million of their own.

With funds committed, 1929 was spent trying to get landowners to sell. This was a daunting task, because even though timber companies were the largest landowners, there were many other owners with very small tracts to obtain-over 6,000 in all. Many were descendants of original settlers, some simply loved their homes and didn't want to move under any circumstances, and a few were big business interests such as the Little River Lumber Company and the Champion Fiber Company (the single largest owner) who held out for as much as they could. So in 1930, condemnation suits began. States had the right to "condemn" property for higher use. It wasn't until 1931 that the Champion suit was settled. The Little River Lumber Company would settle too, but continued cutting timber for 7 more years. In June 1931 the Park's first superintendent (Major J. Ross Eakin) and rangers reported for duty. The purchase of smaller tracts of land continued through 1932 (and would not be completed until 1939). In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt allotted more than $1.5 more based on new estimates of funds required to purchase lands. In 1936, the minimum number of acres was acquired to officially qualify for park development. Finally, 17 years after the initial idea, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was dedicated at Newfound Gap, which sits on the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. Half on each state's boundary, a plaque memorializing the Rockefeller Foundation gift was placed-a memorial to the single most important financial accomplishment in developing the Park.

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