The Visitor's Center highlights the work the Civilian Conservation Corp ("CCC") did as well as the people who lived in the area before it became a park.
The CCC was a boon for unemployed young men across the nation. (Jim's Dad worked on the Arrowhead Dam in Idaho.) In the Smokies alone the CCC gave jobs to thousands of young men. Most of them were not local, although local men were also hired. The CCC also benefitted the local economy in other ways. CCC enrollees spent money in the towns around the park. The park also brought tourists to the area, even during the Depression. The park and its surroundings might look very different today were it not for the CCC.
The start of WWII brought an end to the CCC. Most of the camps in the park closed in 1942. One camp found a new purpose as a work camp for Conscientious Objectors ("COs") to the war. Most of the COs built trails, made signs, fought fires, and did a lot of other maintenance chores around the park. Their work in the Smokes protected and even enhanced the park during the war.
The CCC was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. It was a way to provide work for unemployed young men. The jobs were designed to conserve or improve natural resources across the country. The CCC enrolled hundreds of thousands of men who planted billions of trees, as well as building fire roads and towers, trails and bridges, park headquarters, and other buildings.
Black enrollees were completely segregated, and none were employed in the Smokes. American Indians were enrolled in a separate division, the Indian Emergency Conservation Work ("IECW"). The IECW hired hundreds of members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to work on projects in tribal lands.
CCC enrollees built the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Overlook, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Elkmont Bridge across Little River was built by the CCC.
The CCC built this fire tower on Mount Cammerer.
The CCC started fish hatcheries to stock the streams with rainbow trout. Once the Park Service realized that the rainbow trout prevented local brook trout from returning, the hatcheries were closed.
The CCC created picnic areas and campgrounds.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 2, 1940. Thousands of people gathered at the Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap for the event. Roosevelt stood with one foot in each state as he spoke about the importance of preserving the mountains. His focus was mostly on the spreading war in Europe.
Many timber companies ran excursion cars on their rail lines. Thousands of people came to the Smokies by train in the 1910s and 1920s.
Local families rented rooms in their homes to tourists. They acted as guides and sold souvenirs. Traditional crafts were a source of income.
Farm families faced many new challenges by the late 1800s. Some of their farming left their soils less fertile. A very high birth rate meant that more people lived in the Smokies; it was harder to find good land to farm. Many people left the area to look for jobs in the textile mills and other industries. The Civil War introduced Northerners. to the rich forests of the Smokies. Soon, some of these Northerners would come back and bring even more changes.
During the years 1919 to 1933, Prohibition was in place. With prohibition, demand for illegal whisky grew. It was easy to hide a still in the mountains and this area of the country became legendary for moonshine.
The W.G.B. Messer family pictured in their Sunday best on the porch of their house in Little Cataloochee, North Carolina.
The Huskey family is shown in both home-made and store bought clothing in this family portrait.
Kate Lawson of Cades Cove, Tennessee wearing homespun garments. Early mountain families had to spin cotton and wool into thread and yarn to weave into cloth for clothing. By the late 1800s, very few families still wove cloth. Instead, most people bought cloth at the store and used it to sew their own clothes. One exception was socks. Families spun wool yarn to knit into socks long after they stopped making their own cloth.
A flax hatchel used to thin out and straighten the fibers of flax plants so the fibers could be spun into linen.
The Cherokee cultivated corn, beans, and squash together (the three sisters). They protected their crops with birdhouses made of gourds. The birds would eat the harmful insects. Cherokee also grew potatoes and fruits, collected wild berries and nuts, and gathered wild herbs for medicines.
Women had a respected role in traditional Cherokee society. Men were responsible for hunting and women were in charge of farming. Cherokee were born into one of seven clans, the clan of their mother. They would be members of that clan their entire lives. Clans today continue to trace their lines through their mothers.
Many families in the Smokies made moonshine. Whisky was an easy way to transport corn for sale or trade. Until the 1870s, making whiskey was legal. The federal government added a tax on whiskey in the late 1870s, but it was hard to enforce it in the Smokies. Without the tax, the moonshine was cheaper to sell. The Smokies became a popular place to make whiskey.
In the early 1900s, logging caused a boom in the moonshine industry. Industrial logging brought thousands of thirsty men to the mountains. The workers had cash to spend. Logging also brought better road systems, so it was even easier to transport moonshine.
Both Cherokee and white settlers traded animal hides. The demand for hides grew during the same time that a greater variety in manufactured goods were made available through trade. To satisfy these two desires, some animals including beaver and deer were overhunted. By the late 1800s, there were fewer animals in the Smokies to hunt because because of their use as trade and food items.
The idea to form a national park in the Smokies began in the late 1890s. It took decades of work to achieve that goal. When the first national parks were created in the west, the land was already owned by the federal government. One of the biggest challenges in the Smokies was to buy the land from the corporations who owned the forests and from the people who called these mountains home.
This is the Plott Balasm Range on one of the eastern slopes Henry Plott, a German immigrant's son, made his home in the early 1800s. In this game-filled frontier hunting dogs were a prized possession. Henry Plott and his descendants developed the famous Plott Bear Hounds, carefully selecting them for the qualities of stamina, courage and alertness the breed possesses today.