Photographs courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park Service
its inception in 1923, the idea for creating a national park of the
Smoky Mountains area was fraught with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Financial, cultural and political issues were overcome to create what
is today the most visited national park in our American Park system.
The following is a brief synopsis of how the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park came about and who the dedicated and visionary individuals
were that stuck with the effort for 17 years until the Park's dedication
original idea for a Smokies national park came from a wealthy and
influential family in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mr. and Mrs. Willis P.
Davis (left and below) , after returning from a visit to western national
parks, began asking, "why can't we have a national park in the
Smokies?" From this beginning, other influential citizens of
Knoxville began to echo the sentiment. Politicians, businessmen, naturalists,
and others began to join the movement for their own personal reasons.
Sometimes a movement gains momentum due to its
own sheer power-it's simply a good idea. Other movements
succeed because of strong-willed, influential, wealthy individuals
with a vision. The movement to create a national park in the Smoky
Mountains was fortunate to have both elements. But this was not to
say that things went quickly or easily-quite the contrary.
There existed natural foes to developing a national
park. These foes consisted of financial interests to businessmen,
political foes that had their own ulterior motives, and cultural foes
that wanted the Smokies to remain as they were. Some businessmen were
primarily interested in developing a road between Tennessee and North
Carolina to make their business easier. To them the Smokies were the
place where they got away to hunt and fish. Other business owners
were more interested in developing the Smokies as a national forest
rather than a national park-the distinction being that national-forest
status would still allow the area's resources to be exploited; whereas
national-park status would protect, for all time, the area just as
it was (no timber -cutting, hunting, or fishing). Chief
among the business interests were the timber and pulp companies, which
owned most of the wilderness areas and virgin forests. In addition,
cultural interests included the families who already lived in the
mountains, both descendants of the original settlers in the area and
people who had purchased land for vacations or retreats.
Then, of course, there was the obstacle of acquiring
the funds necessary to purchase all the land required to create the
Park. Promises and contributions actually made up a small portion
of the total funds required. Both the Tennessee and North Carolina
legislatures, Congress, and
the Rockefeller family would all come to the rescue.
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.
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
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.
memorials were created for those tireless and dedicated individuals
who gave freely of
their time and efforts to create the Park. Some of the highest peaks
in the Park are named for these individuals. For the pioneers of the
idea, Mt. Davis and Davis Ridge were named for Mr. and Mrs. Willis
P. Davis. For Colonel David C. Chapman (photo, right) ,-who accepted
the idea from the Davis' and helped get financial support from the
Rockefellers, we now have Mt. Chapman. Mt. Kephart is named for Horace
Kephart, who quit as a librarian and lived for years among the Smoky
Mountains people (and wrote about them in Our Southern Highlanders).
Mt. Cammerer was named for Arno B. Cammerer, a
director of the National Park Service.
Maloney Point and the Morton and Webb Overlooks
were also named for individuals who accomplished much in the success
of making the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
All told, the acquisition of lands needed for
the Park totaled over $12 million. By today's standards, the market
value is immeasurable. However, the value then or today can't be compared
to what has been created and preserved in the form of the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park. The diversity plants (more than 1,500 species),
wildlife, recreation opportunities (800 miles of hiking and horse
trails), trout streams, the blend of beautiful valleys such as Cades
Cove and high peaks such as Mt. LeConte. If you have seen the Smokies
in Autumn's splendor, or Spring's renewal, or even the breathtaking
mountain vistas of winter, you know there is no way we can place a
monetary value on the Park's lands. In hindsight, business interests
have to be pleased. The area gets 10 million visitors annually and
revenues are such that Tennessee doesn't have an income tax, due in
large part to the popularity of the Smokies area.
How did the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
get its name? The Smokies are named for the blue mist that always
hover around the peaks and valleys. The Cherokee called them shaconage,
(shah-con-ah-jey) or "place of the blue smoke"..
As for the spelling, just as many folks call them
"smokey" as do those who call them "smoky". The
dictionary says both are acceptable. Whether you say Smokies, Smokeys,
or Smokys doesn't really matter. They all conjure up the same vision
that millions of visitors each year take with them after visiting
the Park. As for the "Great" in Great Smokey Mountains,
you will have to visit the Smokies to fully understand that part of
The first full year the Park was open, more than
one million people visited. Visitation-has grown steadily (except
for the war years of the forties) until nearly ten million visitors
annually enjoy the benefits of the National Park. Not all is well,
however. The numbers are so great that the environment is adversely
affected. The Smokies are even smokier than ever before. Pollution
is beginning have a permanent effect on the beautiful mountain views.
Development around the Park has created unbelievable traffic jams
at certain times of the tourist season, particularly on weekends.
Officials are exploring ways to solve these problems. It won't be
easy, because one huge promise was made in the original charter was
that there would never be an admission charge and that the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park would always be protected for the enjoyment
of all the people for generations to come.
So the Park is still being "made". We
must do our part to enjoy the Park, but also help protect it for our
future generations. Observe the beneficial restrictions that are placed
on the visitor, and we can all enjoy the Park for generations to come.
We have tried here to summarize 17 years of effort
and detail about how the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created.
A lot of detail is missing and perhaps some deserving individuals
have gone unmentioned. If you want to learn more about the Park, its
early inhabitants, and individuals responsible for creating the Park,
obtain copies of the following books:
Our Southern Highlanders, Horace Kephart,
1961, University of Tennessee Press
The Making of A National Park, Carlos C. Campbell, 1964, University
of Tennessee Press
More bibliographical info can be found on the
Park Info page.