restricted access 10. Death by Eminent Domain

From: Cades Cove

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10 Death by Eminent Domain On a hot September afternoon in 1929 John Oliver found himself once again engaged in legal battle before the Blount County Circuit Court. Even unfriendly spectators in the old courthouse in Maryville, however, grudgingly conceded Oliver's audacity and courage in fighting a seemingly hopeless battle against impossible odds. Arraigned against him were the full force of the federal government, the state of Tennessee, and widespread public disapproval throughout East Tennessee . He was challenging the right of the state to seize his farm by eminent domain, but in so doing he threatened the larger progress of the entire movement to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To Carlos C. Campbell, leader in the park movement and later chronicler of its history, Oliver had created "one of the most troublesome and lengthy cases" confronting the Park Commission, a case "out of all proportion " to the small size-337.S acres-of the farm. "It had been expected ," Campbell asserts, that because of his education and standing within the community "Oliver would be a local leader in the park work."1 Instead Oliver fought a bitter battle in the courts for more than six years, including three appeals before the Tennessee Supreme Court. Ironically Oliver shared the same progressive values as the Knoxville boosters who initially proposed and fought to establish a national park in the Great Smokies. These men - Colonel David C. Chapman, ]. Wylie Brownlee, Cowan Rodgers, Willis P. Davis, and Carlos C. Campbell-were all prominent business or civic leaders in Knoxville 242 Cades Cove I A Southern Appalachian Community during the 1920S. Most were members of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce; Campbell himself was its manager.2 Although some of these businessmen had a genuine concern for conservation , it is undeniably evident that from the beginning of the park movement their primary motive was profit. Even the most cursory glance at the correspondence of these men or at the Knoxville newspapers at the time shows that they expected an unprecedented financial bonanza for Knoxville and the surrounding region to result from the establishment of a national park. This expectation of enormous profit was repeated countless times in the propaganda used to solicit private donations to the park fund. So vital did the park seem to the city's economic future that on March 31, 1926, Knoxville's city council took the unprecedented step of voting to pay one-third of the purchase price for the Little River Lumber tract, the first large segment of park land acquired.3 Knoxville's motivation may also be gauged by the lengthy debate over whether the new park should be a national park or a national forest . Colonel Chapman, who quickly became the park movement's leader and most prominent spokesman, pointed out in 1925 that no commercial or financial benefits would accrue if a national forest were established in the Great Smokies. Two such national forests were already located in East Tennessee, he argued, but neither had brought "advertising " or "prestige." Only a national park, Chapman maintained, would bring "nationwide" attention and commerce to Knoxville.4 Like their Knoxville counterparts, many cove citizens hoped that the 1920S would bring a new era of prosperity and growth to their community . The long-anticipated railroad never reached the cove, but a new road (the present route) was completed in 1922. This route to Townsend was far superior to older roads and for the first time made Cades Cove easily accessible by motor vehicles. The cove's century-old struggle for better transportation seemed now finally to be solved in the automobile era. Such access not only made marketing crops easier but promised the advent of an entirely new tourist industry to exploit Cades Cove's unparalleled natural beauty. "Cades Cove will be the chief summer resort of the South," one optimistic cove resident went so far as to predict in July 1921.5 Commercial development began in earnest July 11, 1925, with the Death by Eminent Domain 243 opening of Gregorys Cave, complete with an electric power plant. Other cove families took advantage of the influx of tourists by offering summer board and lodgings. In 1924, John Oliver began renting tourist cabins and offering his services as a guide to hikers who wanted to see the mountains, particularly such spots as Gregory Bald, Thunderhead, and the Spence Field. By 1928, when Oliver constructed a large and commodious lodge, he had developed a large clientele from the Midwest and...


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