the Park History
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In 1923 when Mrs. Willis P. Davis of Knoxville visited the American West, she fell in love America's National Parks. Mrs. Davis felt the Smoky Mountains were worthy of such status. It is with this thought the Park Movement was born.

Park support came slowly. Debates raged over who would buy the land and whether the Smokies should become a National Forest or National Park. Many local politicians in both North Carolina and Tennessee supported the Park because they never thought it could happen. Much of the support surrounded the construction of an improved road between Knoxville and Asheville, not the Park itself. After a long and difficult struggle, the concept of a park in the Smoky Mountains became a reality. Colonel David Chapman was the leading figure supporting the future National Park.

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photographic image by
Lensay Mills

National politics were as difficult as local resistance. The Smokies beat out more than 60 other proposed sites. The Federal government provided no money for land acquisition. It was not until 1926 that Congress authorized a Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Park Commissions then raised the funds needed to buy the 6,600 tracts of land that would compose the new National Park. It was the commission that added the word Great to the Smoky Mountains. Through donations ranging from pennies from school children to thousands of dollars from large benefactors, the park movement raised almost $2.5 million in pledges. Another $2.5 million came directly from North Carolina and Tennessee.

With the Great Depression, land values soared and pledges became difficult to collect. More money was needed. Desperate, the Park Commission almost appealed to Congress for additional funds. Relief came as the Rockefeller family donated $5million to complete the Park. The memorial at Newfound Gap stands in honor of this great act. In 1933 the US Government supplied another $1.55 million to complete land purchases.

Land was difficult to buy despite the park movement. Greed, private property rights, and personal glory often clashed with government condemnation and the park movement. After buying about half the land, it was deeded to the Federal Government. Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on 6/15/34, and turned its stewardship to the National Park Service. Land acquisition continued and on September 2, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the park.

  Email Steve Speer at: steve@blountweb.com