Elgin P. Kintner, Blount County pathologist and dedicated hiker of the Great Smoky Mountains, had a passion for the rewards available to the most committed of mountain trekkers, the panoramic views afforded by the mountaintops and fire towers in the Smokies. In the 1960s and 1970s, his camera always with him, Kintner hiked the many trails in the Smokies and recorded the ever-changing vistas by taking a series of overlapping photographs. Once the photographs were developed, he pasted them together, carefully matching them to create panoramic displays. But the result never equaled the vision until, with modern technology, the images were transformed by the University of Tennessee Libraries into an online digital collection titled “The Panoramic Images of Elgin P. Kintner, M.D.“
The collection is the result of a collaboration between the Libraries and Kintner’s daughter, Beccie King. Recognizing the value of her father’s images and wishing to see them recreated as her father envisioned them, King had the negatives scanned and stitched to form seamless panoramas. She then donated the finished panoramas along with a large collection of her father’s stand-alone photographs to the University of Tennessee Libraries with the intention that the originals would be preserved and that the digital images would be made available for the enjoyment of all. The resulting collection is viewable online at digital.lib.utk.edu/kintner.
As King sorted through her father’s photographs, they stirred up many memories. Kintner told his daughter that, “he saw those mountains every day on his way to and from the hospital and thought how beautiful they are. But he realized you can’t get to ‘know’ the mountains unless you get into the mountains. With that realization he started hiking. He set a goal for himself of hiking all the maintained trails in the park, then all the unmaintained trails. He accomplished that goal and more.”
In fact, he crisscrossed all the trails in the Smokies many times, always with a camera in his custom-made leather frontpack. “He especially cherished being able to take panoramic photos of unobstructed views from the fire towers. He planned hikes when the leaves were off the trees and there was a skiff of snow which showed the definition of the ridges and hiking trails,” according to King.
Many of the fire towers that served as Kintner’s favored vantage point for panoramas no longer exist. “The fire towers on Blanket Mountain, Bunker Hill, High Rocks, Rich Mountain, and Spruce Mountain — those historic structures are gone. That makes Dr. Kintner’s panoramic views an even more treasured collection,” notes Ken Wise, a UT librarian and the author of several hiking guides to the Smokies.
Kintner’s obituary describes him as a “legendary” hiker. And even that may be an understatement. “Perhaps his greatest hiking feat was hiking both sections of the Appalachian Trail within the National Park in two one-day hikes. Even the rangers didn’t believe he did it,” said King. “I believe one section is 32 miles and the other 43.” On the longer hike, Kintner’s daughter drove him to Clingmans Dome and dropped him off at 4:30 a.m., in pitch dark — his only companions: his backpack and a flashlight. Kintner hiked eastward along Clingmans Dome Road to Newfound Gap where he met Margaret Stevenson, his two grandsons, and a few other hikers. He then turned around and hiked the Appalachian Trail back to Clingmans Dome and then on to Fontana Dam where many hours later his daughter Beccie picked him up. The precise length of that fabled hike from Clingmans Dome to Fontana Dam could be disputed, but journalist/conservationist Carson Brewer, in a 2001 Knoxville News Sentinel column, stated his belief that the hike was “still the record for one-day walking in the Smokies.”
Another of Kintner’s hiking partners was Lorene Smith, the Blount County historian who wrote the “Digging for Ancestors” column for Maryville’s Daily Times. Kintner and Lorene Smith co-authored the book, Blount County Remembered: The 1890s Photography of W.O. Garner. Together they located the sites pictured in the old photographs and provided historical notes. On one of their hikes, King remembers, “Lorene Smith fell and broke a leg. Elgin made a loop with his belt to support the broken leg, while Lorene ‘walked’ out on one leg and two hands, bottom to the trail, just like a bug, back to the car.”
In fact, Kintner saved at least two lives, one a diabetic man who was suffering a blood sugar crash, the other a young man caught unprepared in a sudden snowstorm and suffering severe hypothermia. It took much cajoling to convince the disoriented young man to walk out with Kintner to the nearest ranger station.
UT librarians Anne Bridges and Ken Wise, co-directors of the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project, were thrilled to add Elgin Kintner’s panoramic photographs to materials they are gathering on the Smokies and surrounding region. “We love these photos. As soon as Beccie showed us the images, we saw their potential,” says Bridges. “We’re so grateful to her for letting us add them to the Smokies collection.”
For 15 years, the UT Libraries’ Great Smoky Mountains Project has been collecting and preserving books, articles, photographs, manuscripts, maps, business records, diaries, and other written and visual material to create the definitive collection of Smokies-related material. Some unique visual collections, like “The Panoramic Images of Elgin P. Kintner, M.D.,” are digitized and made available online for use by scholars and researchers around the world. Those online collections now include a photographic record of the Smokies covering more than 125 years.
The UT Libraries’ digital collections are viewable at library.utk.edu/digitalcollections.
Looking southeast from Cove Mountain. Some panoramas include an alternative version annotated with the prominent peaks marked to better orient the viewer.