From the 1940s through the 1960s, William Derris, owner of the Derris Motel in Townsend, traveled by automobile around the accessible parts of the Smokies recording the people and scenery in both slides and silent film. He used the images and films to entertain and inform the guests at his hotel. His collection was donated to the UT Special Collections and is now the newest digital project from the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project and the UT Digital Library: digital.lib.utk.edu/derris.
As part of a student practicum project, approximately 340 of the 4400 slides were digitized to create the online presentation. These images document seasonal landscapes in Townsend, Tuckaleechee, Cades Cove, Newfound Gap and Fontana. Derris photographed the Walker Sisters, the most famous residents of Little Greenbrier, and many of the wildflowers he encountered on his travels.
The films presented a unique opportunity for the team who worked on the collection. The original footage is on 8mm film spools. It includes not only films of the Smokies but many other locales as well. To create the digital collection, the films were first digitized and then the most interesting Smokies content was excerpted to create shorter clips. Since the films were silent, the team decided to add folk music. Local musicians Chris Durman (also our Music Librarian), Steve White, and Leslie Gengozian recorded live music to accompany the films. The musical tunes were selected because there is evidence from folksong collectors that they were played in the Smokies. The result is a wonderful hybrid of new and old technology.