Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library has completed digitization of its archive of Great Smoky Mountains National Park materials and has made it accessible to the public.
“Great Smoky Mountains: A Park for America” is focused on the national park movement and the early history of the park. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934 and formally dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The 520,000-acre park is located in Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, receiving as many as 10 million visitors annually.
This year is the centennial for the National Park Service.
For the past four years, library staff worked with the Smokies and the state’s Western Regional Archives to select archival material to scan, describe and upload for easy access. The collection is extensive, with almost 10,000 pages and images, including photographs, historic documents, government reports, maps, surveys of land, letters, journals, booklets, artifacts and administrative records.
“A lot of this material is fragile and otherwise inaccessible,” said Anna Fariello, curator and project director. “Having it online definitely increases accessibility to the material and fulfills the preservation aspect that is incredibly important.”
One of the more interesting documents that can be read online, she said, is a 14-page flyer titled “Legislation Secured by the Appalachian National Park Association.” The flyer outlines the early efforts and successes of the Appalachian National Park Association, based in Asheville, which worked aggressively for six years before disbanding in 1905. Before its demise, the association firmly established the idea of a national park in the minds of the public and, more importantly, in the minds of Congress and several state legislatures. It shows the origins and level of involvement beginning with North Carolinians, she said.
Another interesting grouping of documents are the nomenclature notes made to standardize the spellings and names of various places in the Smokies. Like many rural areas, places were sometimes known by different names. In the 1930s, the National Park Service appointed a Nomenclature Committee to decide upon “official” names for peaks, creeks and roads. Photographer George Masa was one of three individuals to serve on this committee. Both Masa and his friend and colleague Horace Kephart, an outdoors writer and park proponent, took notes on various spellings of different natural features. One document details the multiple spellings of Tuckaseigee.
The online collection also helps highlight the contributions of otherwise “unsung heroes” in the formation and early days of the park, Fariello said. “Hiram Wilburn is one such example, who was very important but not widely remembered today. A South Carolina native, he lived his later life in Waynesville and is credited as the ‘unofficial’ first park historian, because he wasn’t hired as a historian but did so much work when it came to documenting materials, identifying structures and relating the cultural and human elements of the park.”
Also prominently featured is the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era public works relief program whose young men constructed hiking trails, campgrounds and other amenities within the park, and memorabilia from the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club.
The National Park Service turns 100 this year on Aug. 25, the date when President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 signed the act creating a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior to maintain parks and monuments. To view WCU’s “Great Smoky Mountains: A Park for America” collection, go to digitalcollections.wcu.edu.