Asheville Archives: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt extols WNC

WELCOME: An estimated 47,000 people welcomed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his drive from Knoxville, Tenn., to Asheville in September 1936. Photo courtesy of A326-8, Buncombe County Special Collections, Asheville

In the early morning hours of Sept. 9, 1936, reporters from The Asheville Citizen and other newspapers arrived to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where highway workers feverishly inspected the roadways for loose stones and cleared the shoulders of trash. Though still under construction, the park was set to host a special guest that day — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — who planned to tour the area before heading east to Asheville.

A detailed account of the president’s journey lined the front page in the following day’s edition of The Asheville Citizen. Sporting a gray suit, panama hat and dark sunglasses, Roosevelt smiled and waved to thousands of eager onlookers as he took in the mountains. “Such exclamations as ‘Fine!’ and ‘Grand!’ were uttered frequently by the Chief Executive as he made his way through the rugged beauty,” the paper wrote.

Accompanied by an estimated 100 guests, the president lunched atop Clingman’s Dome. Served fried chicken, sandwiches, boiled eggs, potato salad, olives, coffee and beer, the large group enjoyed the fare until an afternoon shower cut the meal short.

On his way to Asheville, Roosevelt greeted thousands more in Cherokee, Waynesville, Canton and Candler. “Entering Canton the whistles of the Champion Fibre company, some deep, others shrill, and fire department sirens added to the din but did not drown out the cheers of a crowd of an estimated 5,000,” the paper reported.

Once in town, the president’s convoy of cars paraded down Haywood Road in West Asheville where an additional 5,000 residents lined the sidewalks. By the time the entourage passed through downtown en route to the Grove Park Inn, 20,000 onlookers had gathered in waiting.

The next morning, Roosevelt spoke at McCormick Field to a similar size crowd. His address, printed in the Sept. 11, 1936 edition of The Asheville Citizen, waxed lyrical about the region’s natural beauty and appeal. “I am quite sure that millions of other Americans are going to come down here … and spend more time,” the president predicted, before bidding the audience and city adieu.

Not surprisingly, officials from the Chamber of Commerce delighted in Roosevelt’s words, which were broadcast across several states.

On Sept. 12, 1936, the chamber produced a list of reasons why “the President’s timely visit to Western North Carolina” would benefit the region. Above all, the chamber asserted a likely spike in tourism.

“The President came during the Western North Carolina fall advertising campaign in several large northern and eastern daily newspapers,” the organization noted in that day’s issue of The Asheville Citizen. “The attendant news stories written for many of these papers by special correspondents with the President’s party, are of inestimable value.”

Later in the same article, the chamber boasted, “The speech that President Roosevelt made at McCormick field Thursday morning was one of the finest pieces of travel appeal this section could hope for.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. 


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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