This December marks the 100th anniversary of the moment when an “idea” for a new national park in the eastern United States changed into a “movement.” A group of business and community leaders in Knoxville, Tennessee, sat around a table and established the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association –and charged themselves with making the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that we know and cherish today a distinct reality.
A new article in the Fall 2023 issue of Smokies Life, written by Albert Bedinger, Paul James, and Ken Wise, details and celebrates our centennial and highlights key visionaries and leaders, such as Willis and Annie Davis, who along with Col. David Chapman and others, led early but pivotal efforts to rally and galvanize support in Knoxville, and Washington D.C.
“On October 22, 1923, (Willis) Davis called a meeting of the Knoxville Automobile Association, of which he was a member, during which he floated the idea for a campaign for the establishment of a national park in the Smokies. A committee of three, Davis, Dan Chambliss, and Frank Flenniken, were appointed to confer with the Knoxville Board of Commerce and assess their interest in the park idea. By November 5, Davis had met with Congressman J. Will Taylor and secured his support in moving forward with the park proposal.
Only after these meetings did Davis call together a group that would form the nucleus of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. In addition to Davis, the group included Judge H. B. Lindsay, Forrest Andrews, Judge D. C. Webb, David C. Chapman, Cowan Rodgers, James B. Wright, and J. W. Brownlee. Meeting in Judge Lindsay’s chambers on December 21, 1923, the group resolved to organize “for the purpose of advocating, fostering and furthering the establishment of a national park in the Smoky Mountain region of the states of Tennessee and North Carolina.”