Preserved on Paper

Preserved on Paper: From a GSMNP archivist comes a collection of missives from the mountains
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A map showing the proposed 1,196-acre lake can be found in the national park’s archives.

Editor’s Note:
Recently, Great Smoky Mountains National Park archivist and librarian Michael Aday released Letters From The Smokies, a collection of epistles found in the park’s archives. Chronicling everything from an account of an ornithologist’s passage through the Smokies, a surprisingly wild gift to a United States president, the leasing of national park land to its previous owners, and more, Aday provides a glimpse into the lives of mountain residents dating back hundreds of years. This excerpt from the novel comes from the chapter entitled “A Proposal for Cades Cove Lake.” In 1935, several conservationists proposed damming Abrams Creek in order to flood a Tennessee valley not far from the North Carolina border. The park service denied the request, but their sentiment remained preserved in library archives—and now published, courtesy of Smokies Life.  

You might think that the creation of an artificial lake would be anathema to supporters of a proposed national park, but, as this letter shows, an artificial lake was indeed proposed in Cades Cove. The plan was to build a 60-foot-high dam across Abrams Creek to create a lake covering 1,196 acres, inundating the farms and structures of more than 40 former cove residents.

(Left to right) Michael Aday; Aday’s book, Smokies Life & In this document NPS director Cammerer rejects the propsal to create Cades Cove Lake.

As early as 1926, members of the Southern Appalachian Parks Commission advocated for the creation of a lake in Cades Cove. Major William Welch, a member of the commission, was the first to propose the idea. Welch made the assertion that geologists had examined the valley and could easily see the outline of a former lake. Whether or not Welch’s claim was a valid one, supporters latched onto the idea with a surprising amount of zeal. The pro-lake faction included the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association’s founder, Col. David Chapman, and its board of trustees; Tennessee Governor Gordon Browning; and, surprisingly, then director of the National Park Service, Arno B. Cammerer.

Chapman, Welch, and Browning supported the lake because they saw an opportunity to place a jewel in the crown of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They envisioned a beautiful mountain lake fed by crystal-clear waters and bounded by peaceful campgrounds. They believed the area would become a major destination for boaters, anglers, and those seeking a bucolic escape. Cammerer’s support, however, was more practical. He saw the creation of a lake as an expedient means of eliminating the presence of unsightly abandoned farmsteads in the valley.

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To purchase a copy of Aday’s book, visit Smokies Life at