Asheville Archives: Real estate interests raise funds to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1926

COMMUNITY BUY-IN: In 1926, Buncombe County was responsible for raising $250,000 as part of a federal prerequisite for the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville

On Dec. 3, 1925, The Asheville Citizen featured an announcement from the Asheville Real Estate Board, declaring its support for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the time, 17 national parks existed in the United States, but only one — Acadia on the coast of Maine — stood east of the Mississippi River.

The Asheville Real Estate Board’s decision to back the movement had little to do with conservation. “Real Estate values in Western North Carolina are directly dependent on the increase of population, and the coming of tourists to this section,” the board’s statement read. “This question of real estate values is of vital concern to every property owner, and every resident, not only of Asheville and Buncombe County, but all the mountain section of the state.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the board continued, “would attract millions of tourists to Western North Carolina[.]”

Unlike the existing national parks, which were carved out of federal land, Great Smoky Mountains National Park required the purchasing of more than 6,600 privately owned properties. In order for the plans to move forward, Tennessee and North Carolina were tasked with raising the project’s first $1 million ($14.6 million in today’s dollar) by April 5, 1926.

In North Carolina, Buncombe County shouldered the greatest burden, responsible for raising $250,000 of the $500,000 minimum requirement (with $600,000 being the overall goal for each state).

No potential donor was overlooked. “School children in all sections of Buncombe County responded to the call of last week for contributions to the fund for the purchase of the Great Smoky Mountains,” The Sunday Citizen wrote on Jan. 17, 1926. According to the article, the seven participating schools raised $77.30. “The donations came in pennies, nickels, dimes, and in some cases pupils gave as much as a dollar, and thereby became donors to the national park fund and received certificates to that effect.”

In the following week’s edition, The Sunday Citizen reported that Buncombe County had already secured $202,500. Unfortunately, surrounding counties showed far less enthusiasm. As a result, North Carolina fell $65,000 short upon the April 5 deadline.

“Inquiries have been sent to officials in Washington and to park authorities in Asheville as to why several counties in Western North Carolina have oversubscribed and others have not subscribed at all to the movement,” The Asheville Citizen informed readers on April 8, 1926. “Burke and McDowell counties have been singled out as examples of this delinquency.”

Despite these failures, the article continued, counties were granted a few additional days to raise required funds.

By April 10, The Asheville Citizen reported that the Hendersonville Real Estate Board “voted unanimous approval of the park and raised the Hendersonville quota from $25,000 to $40,000.” Meanwhile, Franklin County — one of the few eastern counties to participate in the effort — announced its $10,000 quota would be met within three days.

While the future looked promising, the same article reported how state Sen. Mark Squires, chairman of the North Carolina commission, expressed that “he was exceedingly embarrassed at the delinquency of North Carolina in the raising of the fund[.]”

Five days later, with the state’s quota met, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. A month later, on May 22, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the formation and administration of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

However, according to the 2006 Encyclopedia of North Carolina, published by the University of North Carolina Press, Coolidge’s signature was merely the start of another long process. The official establishment and administration of the park would not begin until Tennessee and North Carolina purchased and signed over 150,000 acres to the federal government. On top of that, an additional 150,000 acres would be required before any development of the park commenced.

The two states did not meet these stipulations until 1934. An additional six years would pass before President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s dedication of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Sept. 2, 1940.

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. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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