History of the Smoky Mountains
Today, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains over 521,000 acres covering areas in Tennessee and North Carolina. However, the Park was not created until September 2, 1940 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt held the dedication. The land was originally donated to the Federal Government in 1934 by the people that resided in the states that now house one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country.
The Park movement was born in 1923 when Mrs. Willis P. Davis of Knoxville visited the American West. She soon realized that the mountain area now known as the Smoky Mountains, full of and majestic mountains, wildlife, rivers, and lush valleys also deserved the status of being called a National Park.
Initially, support was minimal and many debated about who should buy the land and whether the land should become a National Park or a National Forest. During the beginning of rising support came a call for an improved roadway between Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina rather than a call for the Park itself. Eventually, through the leadership of Colonel David Chapman, a National Park became a reality.
Winning the local support was just the beginning of the battle. Even though the Smoky Mountain area was the top choice among 60 other potential sites, the Federal Government did not make Federal money available to acquire the land. By 1926, the authorization finally came through from Congress, and the along came the birth of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The initial funds were raised by the Park Commissions to purchase 6,600 tracts of land that would make up the new National Park. This was not where the fund raising ended. School children donated pennies as well as thousands being donated by large benefactors. Through the incredible Park Movement, $2.5 million was raised in pledges as well as another $2.5 million from the two states that would house this National Park.
Pledges became nearly impossible to collect with the onset of the Great Depression. It was quickly realized that more money was needed to make this dream a reality. With a last minute plea to Congress, a miracle happened. The Rockefeller family gave $5 million to have the Park completed. To honor this incredible deed, a memorial was place at Newfound Gap. To complete the purchase of the land, the Federal Government supplied the remaining $1.55 million.
The dedication by President Roosevelt in 1940 came after Congress officially established the Park as The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and care was handed over to the National Park Service. The long and often dismal journey to create a National Park in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee and North Carolina became a reality in 1940, allowing many future generations to enjoy the benefits of such an incredible place of beauty and magnificence.