The Impact of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Gatlinburg: Page 2


Not surprisingly, given its location adjacent to the National Park and abundance of hotels and restaurants, Gatlinburg soon developed a bustling convention business. During the 1951-1952 fiscal year, Gatlinburg played host to the National Governors’ Convention, the Wilson Club of America Convention, the District Rotary Convention, and a Marble Industry Convention. Two years later, the Tennessee Bar Association, Tennessee Jaycees, and Southeast Arts Association staged their annual conventions in the city, as did the Council of Southern Mountain Workers and the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. As it did with the growing arts and handicrafts market, the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School took full advantage of Gatlinburg’s reputation as a tourist hub to accumulate funds and develop new educational programs. Beginning in 1959, the school rented out its newly-renovated “Red Barn” to church groups, Pi Beta Phi chapters, and others who wished to stage meetings in the shadow of the Smokies. The fraternity’s popular Summer Workshop in Crafts and Community Recreation (and later, Arrowmont) benefited from the presence of the National Park as well; for although students and teachers were busy with arts and crafts projects, they were nevertheless eager to hike, swim, and enjoy numerous other Park-related recreational activities.

There were, of course, a number of problems that accompanied Gatlinburg’s meteoric, Park-related growth -- that is, in addition to the aforementioned problem of unsightly sprawl. First and foremost, the sheer number of people visiting the Park -- and hence, spending a portion of their time in Gatlinburg -- far exceeded the city’s ability to generate electricity, provide clean drinking water, and dispose of waste. Some worried aloud that the city might experience an epidemic of water-borne disease -- a very real threat indeed and one that, if realized, might well have had disastrous effects on the local economy. Second, Gatlinburg lacked sufficient police power to cope with the steadily increasing tourist and resident populations, and so was unable to combat a corresponding rise in the local crime rate. Vandals were a constant nuisance, and the city’s largely unregulated dance halls and bars earned a rather unsavory reputation. They were so notorious, in fact, that musician Johnny Cash saw fit to immortalize Gatlinburg in his well-known comedic song about a drunken brawl, “A Boy Named Sue.”

The sanitation, water, power, and crime problems were easy enough to resolve, for they required only that the city develop and carry out public works projects and increase its police force. The aesthetic questions were, however, more difficult to resolve. In fact, contemporary Gatlinburg continues to struggle with this issue. In recent years, an organization known as the Gatlinburg Gateway Foundation has taken steps to raise awareness of and address these problems, primarily by staging public seminars and by backing projects such as the burial of utility lines. The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts has been heavily involved in this effort as well, for the sprawl has a direct (and often negative) effect on the school’s ability to recruit arts and crafts faculty and students.

 

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Southern Highlands Craftsmans Fair, circa 1965

Postcard view of New Found Gap Highway, circa 1950

President Roosevelt at the opening of the New Found Gap Highway

 
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