Creating a national park in the Smoky Mountains had been an idea talked about since the late 1800s. It was also certainly a hope for many who were involved in staging the National Conservation Exposition held in Knoxville at Chilhowee Park in 1913. But it wasn’t until 1923 when Knoxvillians Willis and Annie Davis returned from a trip out west, awestruck and inspired by the grandeur of Yosemite National Park and others did the idea gain real momentum.
Mrs. Davis declared to her husband, “Why can’t we have a national park in the Great Smokies?”
Mr. Davis, head of Knoxville Iron Works, inspired by his wife began declaring to friends and colleagues alike about the “wonderful national park they were going to get in the Great Smokies.” The idea seemed so simple.
Yet, how this national park came to be was no simple process. In fact it took on epic proportions, involving many dedicated individuals, over many years. The story is told best by one of its most ardent supporters, Carlos C. Campbell, in his book The Birth of a National Park (UT Press, 1960).
The first of two national parks to be created in the east (the other being Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park established in 1935), the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (formally established in 1934 but not dedicated until 1940), was only possible by purchasing thousands of private lots. This being in stark contrast to the first national parks in the West, created using federally-owned lands.
Many mountain folk, whose families had lived in the mountains for generations, were forced to sell or have their properties condemned. Many were bitter and heartbroken. Yet the great collective sacrifice helped create the most visited national park in the nation. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park routinely sees in excess of 11 million visitors per year.
The City of Knoxville played a pivotal role in leading the movement, hosting many meetings in town. School children here donated pennies and dimes. Colonel David Chapman, head of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association led major efforts, rallying local, state, and national support, procuring thousands of land purchases, and ultimately securing a $5 million gift from John D. Rockefeller. Although sometimes a combative fellow, Chapman is rightly regarded as the “father” of the Smokies. Mt. Chapman in the park is named for him and the road from Knoxville into the mountains, Chapman Highway, also bares his name.
Numerous Knoxvillians not only helped with the movement, but also blazed trails, up steep slopes and through hazardous briar patches often in in brutal weather conditions. Several of those early Smoky Mountain pioneers wrote about their experiences and took stunning photographs before, during, and after it became a National Park.
Here are a few of those Knoxville-based explorers (with links to further content).
PAUL J. ADAMS (1901-1985)
Born the son of a Presbyterian minister, Paul J. Adams was raised in Illinois before moving to North Carolina at a young age. Inspired by his father’s weekend family nature walks, Paul began writing nature journals when he was six years old and continued his entire life. Family camping trips to the Smoky Mountains fueled his fascination with the natural world and he began assembling an impressive collection of butterflies and moths and later put together one of the largest collections of Mollusca then in existence. He donated a part of that collection to the University of Tennessee which now forms part of the McClung Museum Mollusca collection.
After moving to Knoxville, as a young man, Paul Adams became a prolific hiker and later a paid trail guide in the Great Smoky Mountains. Adams worked for Brockway Crouch at Flower Craft in downtown Knoxville for a while during the mid-1920s. The store was a frequent meeting place for hikers and Adams’ knowledge of the Smokies came to the notice of Col. David Chapman, leader of the Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. After a tip from Harry Ijams, Adams was awarded the job of creating and managing the first campsite on Mt. LeConte during the summer of 1925. Adams continued to develop the site throughout the remainder of the year before Jack Huff took over and built the first cabins there. The trail from the current lodge to Clifftop where hikers hope to enjoy a beautiful sunset was blazed by Adams during that first summer.
Paul Adams’ German Shepherd, Cumberland Jack, his faithful companion during his stint on Mt. LeConte is probably more famous than his owner. The story of his time on the peak with his temporarily renamed dog, Smoky Jack, was published by UT Press.
Learn more about Paul Adams at UT Library:
BROCKWAY CROUCH (1896-1971)
Hiker, explorer, ornithologist, nature lover, dog breeder, professional florist, inventor, and devoted family man; Brockway Crouch was all of these things. Through an enduring interest in nature, wildlife and people, Crouch left behind a distinctive yet largely overlooked impression on Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains throughout the twentieth century.
In the 1920s, Brockway was an avid explorer of the Smokies and co-founded the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club with a group of like-minded outdoorsmen who were drawn to the majestic mountain range just beyond Knoxville. Crouch’s friends and colleagues read like a legendary list of early hikers and photographers of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that was soon to follow, including James E. Thompson, Carlos C. Campbell, Harvey Broome, Albert “Dutch” Roth, and many more.
Sharing a common bond with the father of regional birding, Harry Ijams, Crouch co-founded the East Tennessee Ornithological Society, and through his passion for dog-breeding, also co-founded the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club.
Carlos C. Campbell (1892-1978)
During the 1920s, Campbell was manager of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. Initially skeptical of the region’s inherent potential, Carlos became enchanted with the Smokies after a reluctant hike up to the peak of Mount Le Conte. That fateful trip led to a lifelong dedication with the promotion of the proposed park, and its continuing development, particularly the Appalachian Trail and Little River Gorge.
Carlos Campbell was a founding member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and a charter member of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association; the latter he served as Secretary from 1940 until his death in 1978. During that time, he wrote numerous articles in Nature Magazine and American Forests extolling the virtues of the Smokies. After hiking thousands of miles through the mountain range, often through unchartered regions where trails barely existed, if at all, Campbell was highly qualified to author a definitive account of the national park.
Carlos Campbell was also an avid photographer and captured hundreds of majestic views and visuals of mountain life, particularly during the 1930s. Carlos took special pride in his photographs that appeared in the prestigious National Geographic Magazine.
He authored two classic texts in the 1960s, Birth of a National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains (1960), followed by Great Smoky Mountain Wildflowers: When and Where to Find Them, which he co-authored in 1962. However, his memoirs (written in 1967) detailing his extensive hiking experiences failed to find an audience for nearly 30 years. Published in 1995, Memories of Old Smoky was finally made available to the public and revealed a touching reflection of one man’s fascination with the Smokies over more than 50 years including riveting accounts of those early hikers and trail pioneers criss-crossing the mountain peaks, creeks, briars, and balds.
HARRY IJAMS (1876-1954)
A talented commercial artist by trade, Harry Ijams, somewhat older than his contemporaries here, was looked up to as a revered explorer, someone who began exploring the Smokies as early as 1903, and who, as a unofficial regional naturalist, shared his passions and expertise with many Knoxvillians and hikers throughout the region.
Ijams began studying birds in the Smokies in the early 1920s and likely before then. He was pivotal to Paul Adams being hired as the manager for the camp on Mt Le Conte in 1925, but it was his artistry as an illustrator of Smoky Mountain-related maps and postcards, which helped promote the growing appreciation for the wonders and benefits of the proposed national park.
Before the national park hired a full-time naturalist in the 1930s (Arthur Stupka), Harry Ijams unofficially assumed that role. Paul Adams wrote about some of their shared expeditions in his 1966 short memoir entitled Mt. Le Conte, including a 1925 expedition searching for birds and specimens on that mountain peak along with Nashville-based seasoned naturalist, Albert Ganier.
Harry Ijams’ own bird sanctuary became a city park in the 1960s and his educational and conservation legacy lives on at IJAMS NATURE CENTER.
Over in the archives of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Ijams’ beloved passenger pigeon specimen – a species, once more numerous than any other bird in the world, which became extinct in 1914.
ALBERT “DUTCH “ROTH (1890-1974)
“We wanted to see what was in those mountains and why. So on December 11, 1924, eight of us went on our first hike as a club. We drove to Gatlinburg where we spent the night at Mountain View Hotel. The next day we got up early and hiked to the top of Mt. LeConte. It poured rain all day.” Albert “Dutch” Roth.
A core group of Knoxville hikers, Jim Thompson, Carlos Campbell, Brockway Couch and Dutch Roth began hiking together in the early 1920s and co-founded the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club. The friendships formed on the hikes forged a camaraderie that persisted through their lives.
Although he himself didn’t drive, Roth would meet other members of the hiking club at Brockway’s Florist Shop on Church Street and form a caravan to the Smokies with their Model-T Fords for a weekend hike. Like Carlos Campbell, Roth hiked thousands of miles through the Smokies and completed more than a hundred treks up Mount LeConte during his lifetime.
Wherever Dutch went he carried his camera, a Kodak 122, and captured majestic landscapes through his lens in all types of weather. Every Monday, following a weekend hike, he would leave his job as a pipe fitter at the Coster Shop, a train maintenance plant in Knoxville, and stroll down to Jim Thompson’s store to have his photographs developed.
Roth wrote an unpublished manuscript, Tales from Woods, which documented his many hikes and adventures, not only in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Cumberland Mountains, but also throughout Kentucky and Virginia.
Hiking Journal – “Tales from the Woods”
Dutch Roth Photo Collection:
James E. Thompson (1880-1976)
Jim Thompson’s name stands alone in the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although there were other talented photographers, no-one else’s images of the Smokies have endured as much as Jim Thompson’s.
Jim took up photography at an early age, although initially he was a draftsman by trade. A spell with a manufacturing optician enhanced his technical skills, and coupled with a creative eye and an abundance of patience, Jim developed into a gifted photographer. These skills served him well on many Smoky Mountain expeditions, which over time yielded an unprecedented collection of images taken throughout the region.
Most importantly, Thompson played the role of official photographer for the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association in 1924; his impressive photographs inspired the site committee responsible for determining a location for a new national park in the southeast. Upon seeing Jim’s stunning photographs, the committee agreed to visit the region.
Jim’s photographs have inspired millions of people over the years. Along with his brother, Robin, Jim extensively documented the visual history of Knoxville, and subsequently left a timeless legacy through the donation of extensive photographs to the McClung Historical Collection, part of the Knox County Public Library.
Herbert M. Webster, at the age of just 16, with just a small camera, began photographing the Smokies in 1925. His first hike up Mt. Le Conte in 1925 provided the opportunity to capture the majestic views which increased his passion for photography.
According to the UT Library, “Webster graduated from Knoxville’s Central High School and later completed accounting courses at Knoxville Business College and UT. He began working for the House-Hasson Hardware Company about 1926 and served as treasurer, director, and credit manager before retiring in 1976.” (UT Library, Digital Collection)
POSTCARDS FROM THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
SMOKY MOUNTAIN HIKING CLUB HANDBOOKS
The University of Tennessee Library, Special Collections, includes a collection of the handbooks produced, beginning in the mid-1920’s, by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. The handbooks contains descriptions of proposed hikes, and in the earlier issues provide a unique and interesting look at how these early hikers and explorers experienced the Great Smoky Mountains and helped conserve them.