On June 15, 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established by the National Park Service. The United States National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States with over 11.3 million recreational visitors in 2016. On its route from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park. The park was chartered by the United States Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940.
The park encompasses 522,419 acres (816.28 square miles; 211,415.47 ha; 2,114.15 km²), making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. It was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds.
The Great Smoky Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Appalachian mountain range, yet they are rounder and lower in elevation than younger mountain chains such as the Rocky Mountains. How they came to be this way is a story that began almost one billion years ago.
An ancient sea flooded what is now the eastern United States, submerging the remnants of an old mountain range. The sea slowly deposited layers and layers of sediment onto the ocean floor. The intense pressure of thousands of feet of sediment compressed these layers into metamorphic rock. Almost 300 million years ago, the sea added yet another layer of limestone sediment that was composed of fossilized marine animals and shells. The stage was set for the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.
As a result of the eons-old shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates (large sections of the earth’s crust), Africa and North America collided about 250 million years ago. This caused the older, underlying layer of metamorphic rock to tilt upward and slide over the younger limestone rock, slowly creating a towering mountain range, the Appalachians. The older rocks, known as the Ocoee Series, now compose most of the Great Smoky Mountains. Charlies Bunion, Sawteeth and Chimney Tops are dramatic examples of how the rock layers tilted and buckled to form steep cliffs and pinnacles. In Cades Cove, erosion of the overlying metamorphic rock reveals the limestone layer beneath.
During the ice ages, massive boulders were created by alternating freezing and thawing of the rock. You can see boulder fields on the Cove Hardwood, Noah “Bud” Ogle and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trails.
The Smokies originally looked more like the Himalayas than the rounded mountains we see today. The relentless erosive force of water has sculpted their present-day appearance. Water runoff has also helped to carve the alternating pattern of V-shaped valleys and steep ridges. Landslides caused by a torrential downpour in 1951 created the large V-slash on Mount LeConte, and rock slides in 1984 briefly closed Newfound Gap Road.
Evidence of human habitation here goes back at least 11,000 years. They were believed to have been a breakaway group of Iroquois, later to be called Cherokee, who had moved south from Iroquoian lands in New England. The Cherokee Nation stretched from the Ohio River into South Carolina and consisted of seven clans. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee lived (and continue to live) in this sacred ancestral home of the Cherokee Nation.
The Cherokee enjoyed a settled, sophisticated agriculture-based life. Their towns of up to 50 log-and-mud huts were grouped around the town square and the Council House, a large, seven-sided (for the seven clans), dome-shaped building. Public meetings and religious ceremonies were held here. They first encountered Europeans in 1540, when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led an expedition through Cherokee territory.
In the late 18th century, Scotch-Irish, German, English and other settlers arrived in significant numbers. The Cherokee were friendly at first, but fought with settlers when provoked. They battled Carolina settlers in the 1760s but eventually withdrew to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To come to terms with the powerful newcomers, the Cherokee Nation attempted to make treaties and to adapt to European customs. They adopted a written legal code in 1808 and instituted a supreme court two years later. Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith, created an alphabet for the Cherokee language and in the space of two years, nearly all of his people could read and write the language. Theirs was a losing cause, however. The discovery of gold in northern Georgia in 1828 sounded the death knell for the Cherokee Nation.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, calling for the relocation of all native peoples east of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The Cherokee appealed their case to the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Marshall ruled in their favor. President Jackson, however, disregarded the Supreme Court decree in the one instance in American history when a U.S. president overtly ignored a Supreme Court decision.
In 1838, the U.S. government forced some 13,000 Cherokee to march to Oklahoma along what has become known as the Trail of Tears. About one-third of the Cherokee died en route of malnutrition and disease. Altogether, about 100,000 natives, including Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw survived the journey.
A handful of Cherokee disobeyed the government edict, however. Hiding out in the hills between Clingmans Dome and Mount Guyot, they managed to survive. In 1889, the 56,000-acre Qualla Indian Reservation was chartered with a population of about 1,000 people. Approximately 10,500 of their descendants now live on the reservation, which is located along the park’s southern boundary.
Like the Cherokee, pioneers who settled in the Smokies in the 18th and 19th centuries coveted the fertile valleys. Land soon became scarce. Later arrivals made their homesteads along steep slopes.
Logging began slowly, but by the time it ran its course, it had radically changed the land and the life of the people. Timber, of course, was vital to the early pioneers. They used it for homes, furniture, fences and fuel. They only began cutting it for cash in the mid-19th century. This had little noticeable effect on the forest, however, because men and animals could only carry so much.
Not so by the turn of the century. Technological advances and the eastern United States’ need for lumber nearly eliminated all the southern Appalachian forests. Railroads were the key to the companies’ large-scale logging operations. Railroad tracks reaching deep into the mountains made the timber readily available. Steam-powered equipment such as skidders and log loaders also contributed to cost-effective tree removal.
Some 15 company towns were constructed in what is now the park, along with a like number of sawmills. Mountain people who had once plowed fields and slopped hogs began to cut trees and saw logs for a living, abandoning their farms. They were attracted to logging by the promise of security and the stability of a steady paycheck.
Their security was short-lived, however. By the 1930s, the lumber companies had logged all but the most inaccessible areas and were casting their sights to richer pickings out West. Some of the mountain people returned to farming while others left to seek jobs in mines, textile mills and automobile factories.
In 1904, a librarian from St. Louis named Horace Kephart came to the Smokies for a respite to restore his health. Kephart found that large-scale logging was decimating the land and disrupting the lives of the people. As the years progressed, he promoted preserving the Smokies as a national park. In the 1920s, prominent Knoxville residents took up the cause and formed a citizens’ organization
The National Park Service was looking for park sites in the East after having established parks in the West. Founded in 1916, the young agency hoped to generate further public support for national parks with a park closer to the majority of the nation’s population. Along with private efforts, the NPS promoted the idea of a national park in the Smokies.
The states of Tennessee and North Carolina, and countless citizens responded by giving millions of dollars to purchase parkland. The federal government was reluctant to buy land for parks; national parks in the West had been formed from land it had already owned. Eventually, it did contribute $2 million. Coupled with John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s donation of $5 million, the NPS reached its goal.
Lumber companies were bought out in agreements that phased out operations over several years and some people living within the proposed park boundaries were allowed lifetime residency rights. Most people moved, and consequently were paid more for their land. On June 15, 1934, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established, preserving the land for generations to come.
Not long before the first stamps were due to be released, a ten-stamp set honoring the National Parks was announced on May 10, 1934. One of the stamps was to pay tribute to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the announcement coming just over a month before its official establishment. A second press release on June 29, 1934, listed the colors planned for the various stamps with the 10-cent Smoky Mountains stamp listed as yellow.
On September 25, 1934, the following press release was made by Third Assistant Postmaster General C.B. Eilenberger:
“Postmasters and employees of the Postal Service are hereby notified that the 7-cent Acadia and 10-cent Smoky Mountain stamps of the National parks series are about ready for distribution and placing on sale in post offices. With the issuance of these denominations, the special series of National Parks stamps will be completed.
“Both stamps conform in size to the denominations previously announced, and each is enclosed in a narrow double-line border….
“The 10-cent stamp is arranged vertically, and has for the central subject a view of Mount Le Conte, one of the outstanding points of interest in Smoky Mountain National Park. In a narrow panel across the top of the stamp, in dark ground, are the words GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS in white roman. In a similar panel at the base of the stamp are the words UNITED STATES POSTAGE, in white roman. Resting on the base is a curved ribbon panel, in the central fold of which, on a light ground, is the word CENTS in dark roman. Immediately above in a rectangular panel with dark ground, is the large numeral 10 in white roman. The stamp is printed in yellow ink.
“The new 7-cent stamp will be first placed on sale October 2, 1934, at the post offices in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Washington, D.C. The 10-cent stamp will be first placed on sale October 8, 1934, at the post offices in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. Distribution of these stamps will be made to other post offices as promptly after the above dates as stocks thereof and be printed….“
On September 28, the Post Office Department announced that with the approval of Postmaster General James A. Farley, the color of the ten-cent Smoky Mountains National Park stamp had been changed from yellow to slate grey. It was reported by the POD at this color change would give this stamp a more distinct tint and one that is more in artistic conformance with the stamp’s central subject view of Mt. Leconte, the outstanding peak in the Park.
The initial printing of the Park stamps had been accompanied by an elaborate ceremony in which sheets of the one-cent Park stamps were presented to various officials. When it was decided in February 1935 to make available for collectors duplicates of the presentation sheets, all of the park stamps as well as the souvenir panes were included in the list of twenty issues. These were placed on sale at the Philatelic Agency, Post Office Department, Washington, D.C., on March 15, 1935, and remained on sale until June 15.
The regular panes were printed from 200 subject plates divided by horizontal and vertical gutters. For issuance to post offices, the sheets were cut along these guide lines into panes of 50 There were four plate numbers on a sheet, one to each pane. On the horizontal designs, the plate numbers were above or below the third vertical row. On the vertical designs, the plate number was above or below the fifth vertical row of stamps on the left panes and above the sixth row on the right panes.
The duplicates of the presentation sheets made available for collectors were issued in sheets of 200 subjects and in blocks of 4. All of these were ungummed. The full sheets made available complete arrow and center line blocks as well as blocks showing horizontal and vertical guide lines between.
Scott #749, the 10-cent gray Great Smoky Mountains stamp — was issued on October 8, 1934, no watermark and perforated 11. This stamp was the highest value of the National Park stamps as well as being the last one placed on sale. Numerous designs were prepared for this stamp, five were prepared by the regular Bureau artists, one by A.R. Meissner and four by Victor S. McCloskey, Jr., and in addition, one design prepared by Miss Esther Richards, an artist temporarily employed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. These were submitted to the Post Office Department on August 30, and on September 8, 1934, Postmaster General Farley approved Miss Richards’ design.
On September 25, the Post Office Department announced this ten-cent stamp would appear in yellow ink. On September 28, the die proof was approved by Harlee Branch, Acting Postmaster General. This approval included only approval of the engraving as the color was not found satisfactory and the POD announced that the color of this stamp was to be changed from yellow to grey, as it was felt that this latter color would give the stamp a more distinct tint and more in artistic conformance with the stamp’s central subject, a view of Mt. Le Conte, the outstanding peak in the Park. On October 1, Postmaster General Farley approved the die proof and the correct color. The issued stamp was designed by Miss Richards after a photograph taken by the Thompson Company for the National Park Service. L.S. Schofield engraved the vignette and E.H. Helmuth engraved the numerals and letters. This was the first U.S. stamp designed by a woman. It is rather similar in design to the one prepared by Victor S. McCloskey Jr.
Although the model was not approved until September 8, the Bureau received instructions to print the ten-cent Smoky Mountain stamps on September 7. Printing began on October 2 and on October 5, the first delivery was made to the Post Office. The stamps were placed on sale on October 8 at Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and at Washington, D.C. There was some criticism about the designation of Gatlinburg as the first day office for these stamps. It was claimed by the citizens of North Carolina that Gatlinburg was not within the National Park boundaries and that the name carried no suggestion of a connection with the Park. These loyal North Carolinians would have preferred to have the first day sales at Smoke Mount, North Carolina, which was named for the mountains and which is said to be in the heart of the Park area. There is little doubt, however, that the Post Office Department had a valid and logical reason for selecting Gatlinburg.
At the time, Great Smoky Mountain National Park was not, strictly speaking, a National Park but was to be designated as such as soon as Tennessee and North Carolina had added six thousand acres to the section then used as State Parks by each of the two states. This region lies in almost the exact center of the area of the United States east of the Mississippi, halfway between the river and the Atlantic coast as well as halfway between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.
There were four plates used in printing the regular stamps: 21337, 21339, 21340, and 21352. There was but little variation in the color and that which exists seems to be mainly a question of intensity of ink. A study of this stamp clearly indicates the good judgement of the Post Office Department in changing the coloring from yellow to gray. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed a total quantity of 18,874,300 copies of the regular perforated stamp.
Scott #765, the imperforate reissue of the 10-cent gray Smoky Mountains stamp was issued on March 15, 1935. These were issued in blocks of 4 as well as in sheets of 200 subjects. On March 15, they were on sale at the Benjamin Franklin Post Office and at the Philatelic Agency. Thereafter, until the stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 15, they were only available at the Philatelic Agency. the Bureau of Engraving and Printing delivered 9,900 ungummed sheets of 200 stamps to the Philatelic Agency of which only 6,958 were sold, the balance being returned for conversion into ordinary stamps, which were later returned to the Agency’s stock in gummed and perforated condition in panes of 50 stamps each. The Bureau also delivered 251,400 blocks of four of the stamp of which only 63,325 were sold. The remainders of these were returned to the BEP for redemption and destruction. The same plates were used to print the special stamps as were to print the regular issues.
In the Spring of 1937, it was reported in the philatelic press that the Post Office Department had contemplated approving the request of the Society of Philatelic Americans (SPA) for a souvenir sheet issued in conjunction with their convention to be held late that summer. On July 13, the Information Service of the Post Office Department issued the following announcement:
“Postmaster General James A. Farley announced today that the ten-cent Smoky Mountain postage stamp of the National Parks Series has been selected as the central design for the souvenir sheet which is to be issued in conjunction with the 43rd Annual Convention of the Society of Philatelic Americans at Asheville, North Carolina, August 26-28, 1937.
“The size of this Convention Souvenir sheet will be 27/10 inches by 31/10 inches, arranged vertically.
“Across the top of the sheet will be the inscription UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF JAMES A. FARLEY, POSTMASTER GENERAL, while at the bottom will be the wording, ASHEVILLE, N.C., AUGUST 26-28, 1937, PLATE NUMBER 21695. At the left margin will be the inscription PRINTED BY THE TREASURY DEPARTMENT, BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING, and in a corresponding position at the right will be the wording IN COMPLIMENT TO THE 43RD ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE SOCIETY OF PHILATELIC AMERICANS.
“The stamps and lettering on the new sheet will be printed in green ink.
“Further details as to date and place of first-day sale, together with cover arrangements, etc., will be announced later by the Post Office Department.”
Printing was started on July 26 with an initial order of two million copies. On August 20, the Post Office Department announced that the order had been increased to five million sheets. The first day sale of these souvenir sheets at the Convention of the SPA at Asheville, North Carolina, on August 26, 1937, and at the Philatelic Agency in Washington, D.C., on August 27, amounted to 2,290,954 stamps, more than ten percent in excess of the original order for this sheet. They were printed from plates containing 36 subjects each. Two plates were used (21695 and 21696) with a total of 5,390,000 ultimately issued.
Scott #797 is identical to the ten-cent Great Smoky Mountains National Park stamps issued in 1934 and 1935. Only one stamp to a pane in a green color seems to show this design at its best, and the Post Office Department was universally complimented for its good judgment in selecting this stamp which was extremely appropriate to the site of the SPA convention.