A National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains

President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks at the dedication of the Smoky Mountain National Park in September 1940. Image held by the State Archives

On May 22, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The process had been difficult, taking many years and much negotiation before the park became one of the 59 parks in the national system.

The idea to create a park in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee started in the late 1890s.  Initially there was a debate over whether to make the public land preserve in this area a national park or a national forest. The main difference is that in a national forest, timbering of the land is permissible, while in a national park, scenery and resources are protected.

A 1948 souvenir postcard packet Great Smoky Mountains National Park now held by the State ArchivesOnce Coolidge signed the bill establishing the park, supporters had to find the funds to purchase an initial 150,000 acres before the Department of the Interior would assume responsibility. By 1928, $10 million had been raised by individuals, the North Carolina and Tennessee state legislatures, private groups and a campaign by school children. Thousands of small farms and homesteads as well as large timber corporations had to be bought out. The park was dedicated in 1940 and today it is the nation’s most visited park.

You can also check out the 1927 North Carolina law that authorized the purchase of land for the park online in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library.

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