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National Park Status for Great Smoky Mountains, 1926

A 1948 souvenir postcard from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Image from the State Archives.

On May 22, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The process was difficult, taking many years and much negotiation before the park became one of the 59 parks in the national system.

The idea to create a park in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee originated in the late 1890s.  Initially there was a debate over whether to make the public land preserve a national park or a national forest. The main difference is that in a national forest timbering of the land is allowed, while in a national park, scenery and resources are protected.

Students pose at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Image from the Library of Congress.

Once Coolidge signed the bill establishing the park, supporters had to find the funds to purchase an initial 150,000 acres before the Department of the Interior would assume responsibility. By 1928, $10 million had been raised by individuals, the North Carolina and Tennessee state legislatures, private groups and a campaign by school children.

Thousands of small farms and homesteads as well as large timber corporations had to be bought out. The park was dedicated in 1940, and today it is regularly among the most visited national parks.

You can also check out the 1927 North Carolina law that authorized the purchase of land for the park online in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Hiwassee Dam, Five Years in the Making

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 06:30

Hiwassee Dam and powerhouse. Image from
the Library of Congress.

On May 21, 1940, the Hiwassee Dam in Cherokee County generated power for the first time. The dam was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority and was one of the largest construction projects in the state at that time.

The Tennessee Valley Authority was one facet of the sprawling New Deal plan created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The goal of the TVA was to bring electricity, economic development and flood control to the Southern Appalachian region and, to achieve those aims, it recommend building dams and reservoirs along the Tennessee River and its main tributaries. The Hiwassee and the Fontana Dams were the two built in western North Carolina as part of that effort.

Work on the Hiwassee project began in July 1936, and it took a crew of 1,600 men nearly four years to complete. The building of the dam and reservoir led to the creation of Hiwassee Lake which is still used today for recreation.

At the time of construction the overspill dam was the nation’s tallest at 307 feet. The final cost of construction came in at $16.8 million, which would be about $282 million if built today.

Check out Works Projects in North Carolina, 1933-1941, an online exhibit from the State Archives, for more on New Deal projects in the Tar Heel State.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Secession Vote and Realigned Allegiance

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 06:30

A letter book copy of North Carolina’s
Ordinance of Secession. See the full document
online from the State Archives.

On May 20, 1861, North Carolina delegates unanimously voted to approve an Ordinance of Secession from the United States.  Only three months earlier, in February 1861, North Carolinians by popular vote refused to call a convention to consider a Secession Ordinance. The vote in May made North Carolina the last state to leave the Union.

Between February and May 1861 much happened that shaped the delegates’ decision. After South Carolina passed a Secession Ordinance in December 1860, one attempt after another to stem the Secession Crisis failed. North Carolinians adopted a “watch and wait” attitude after the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

The April 12 bombardment of Fort Sumter by the budding Confederate government prompted Lincoln to call for troops to put down the rebellion. Deeming such a call an illegal use of Federal power, Governor John Ellis replied that Lincoln would get no aid North Carolina.

Ellis called for a convention. The delegates debated the wording of the resolution but not the outcome. Divided sentiments expressed earlier were not voiced and the vote to pass the resolution became unanimous. Shortly thereafter the state aligned with the Confederacy.

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Tour’s Country Stars Overshadowed by Elvis Presley

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 06:30

A poster for the tour Elvis was on when he came to Raleigh. Image from ElvisBlog.

On May 19, 1955, Hank Snow’s All Star Jamboree tour, featuring a new young talent named Elvis Presley, ended at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh.

The concert marked the beginning of the end of the touring relationship between the headliner, Faron Young, and featured new player Presley. Young later recounted that each night of the tour Elvis attracted bigger and wilder crowds. Before intermission, each show included a new talent portion in which Presley took the stage, with the headliners performing after intermission.

As the tour progressed, fans began to shout for more Elvis during the other performances, and he was called back for encore after encore. In the early days of the tour, Colonel Tom Parker, as booking agent, actually paid teenagers $5 apiece to scream for Presley. He used the publicity photographs to send to the newspapers in the next cities on the tour.

Other performers on the tour recalled how much they discounted Presley and his odd onstage behavior. Most country singers thought that he was a fad and would quickly fade, but Presley soon found himself the headliner, and few established stars would agree to perform with him on a tour.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


North Wilkesboro and the Roots of NASCAR

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 07:18

A pit crew working during a 1954 stock car race

On May 18, 1947, the North Wilkesboro Speedway opened its doors to a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators who watched Fonty Flock win the first official race held there. The 5/8-mile oval dirt track was well-known for challenging the best of drivers.

Stock car racing fans and scholars have long acknowledged that the roots of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) are closely tied to the tradition of illegal moonshine production. Races between “runners” evolved into spectator events. The North Wilkesboro Speedway was among the first tracks recognized by NASCAR during its inaugural year of 1949. NASCAR’s first finale took place there, with the crowning of the first points champion, Robert “Red” Byron, in October 1949.

The speedway often has been called to as “The House that Junior Built,” a reference to racing legend Junior Johnson who began his career there at age 16. Johnson earned four of his 50 career NASCAR victories there, and continued his success on the track as a team owner.

The last NASCAR race at North Wilkesboro, won by Jeff Gordon, was held on September 29, 1996, with more than 60,000 fans in attendance.

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Olympic Medalist Leonard No Match for Camacho

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 05/17/2015 - 06:30

Charles Ray in the ring at Madison Square Garden.
Image from the Library of Congress.

On May 17, 1956, Olympic gold medalist and professional boxer Charles Ray “Sugar Ray” Leonard was born in Wilmington.

Leonard spent the majority of his formative years in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where, as a teenager, he discovered his love of boxing. At the age of 20, he dominated opponents in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and took home the gold medal in the sport. Though he had originally planned to retire following the Olympics and go to college, his father’s mounting medical bills and the birth of his son persuaded Leonard to pursue boxing professionally.

In February 1977, Leonard fought the first of forty professional bouts, defeating Luis “The Bull” Vega and claiming a $40,000 prize. He went on to claim world titles in five different weight classes.

Despite his retirement in 1991, Leonard returned to the sport at age 40 to fight Hector “Macho” Camacho. The match was an embarrassing loss for Leonard and proved to be his last. Nevertheless, he finished his career with a record of 36 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. Twenty-five of his wins were knock-outs.

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Corbitt, Major Manufacturer of Trucks, Based in Henderson

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 06:30

Early school buses manufactured by the Corbitt Truck Company
in Henderson. Image from the State Archives.

On May 16, 1961, Richard Corbitt, a well-known truck builder, died.

Corbitt began his business as a tobacco merchant in the 1890s before creating the Corbitt Buggy Company in 1899. Initially building horse drawn buggies to haul agricultural products, Corbitt’s company began to produce passenger cars and trucks, and later buses and military vehicles.

The company adopted assembly line production and that, combined with successful marketing efforts, transformed the small Henderson operation into the leader in North Carolina’s auto industry. Though the Corbitt Company made the state’s first commercially produced automobile, a motorized buggy, in 1907, the most successful products it offered were trucks. It built the first of those in 1909.

Trucks continued to be the bestselling vehicles produced by Corbitt, thanks in large part to sizable contracts with the state Highway Department and U.S. military. The company is also notable for furnishing the state’s first motorized school bus, which it delivered to the Pamlico County school system, in 1917.

Corbitt’s cars and trucks sold well in the South but the company was unable to keep pace with the mass-production operations in Detroit. When Corbitt retired in 1952, the company lost its momentum and ceased production soon after.

Do you have a Corbitt vehicle in your possession or know someone who does? Contact us if you do. The N.C. Transportation Museum is looking to acquire one for its collection.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Blockade Runner John N. Maffitt

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:30

Maffitt in 1863. Image from the
N.C. Museum of History.

On May 15, 1886, John Newland Maffitt, captain of Confederate blockade runners, died.

Born at sea in 1819, Maffitt split his formative years between northern schools and his uncle’s home near Fayetteville. At age 13, Maffitt was commissioned as a midshipman in the United States Navy and spent 15 years with the U. S. Coast Survey, experience that proved invaluable during his time as a blockade runner.

Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Maffitt resigned his commission in the Navy and received a commission as lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy. After a two month stint in command of blockade running operations out of Nassau, Maffitt assumed command of the CSS Florida and was promoted to the rank of commander. At the helm of the Florida, Maffitt shifted his attention to raiding merchant vessels during an eight-month cruise, capturing 23 ships.

Maffitt is credited with making the Confederacy’s last run of the blockade, which took place after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Obeying final orders from the Confederate government, Maffitt delivered the Owl to agents in England, where he remained until 1868.

With his career at sea largely over, Maffitt retired to a farm near Wrightsville Beach.

Visit: The N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport interprets the history of the blockade runners that operated in the lower Cape Fear region.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Inaugural Concert for the North Carolina Symphony, 1932

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 06:30

The N.C. Symphony plays an education concert in the mid-1970s.
Image from the N.C. Symphony.

On May 14, 1932, the North Carolina Symphony played its first concert at Hill Hall on the campus of UNC. The concert included music by Wagner, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and others, and featured 48 musicians from around the state under the direction of conductor Lamar Stringfield.

The symphony had its origins earlier that year as a work relief project of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and became the first symphony orchestra to receive state aid with the passage of what became known as the “Horn Tootin’ Bill” in 1943.

Today, the North Carolina Symphony is a first-class, professional orchestra with 65 members led by Music Director Grant Llewellyn, based at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh. In addition to classical series in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines and Wilmington, their schedule also features a Pops Series, Young People’s Concerts and the annual Summerfest outdoor concert series at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre.

Always the “people’s orchestra,” the symphony has an especially strong legacy of music education, with more than 3 million schoolchildren reached since it began its children’s concerts series in 1945. Each year the symphony puts on more than 50 educational programs in nearly as many communities across the state.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


It’s a Shell of a Building

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 06:30

Image from the State Historic Preservation Office.

 

On May 13, 1976, the iconic Shell Service Station on East Sprague Street in Winston-Salem was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Built by R.H. Burton in 1930, the station was one of eight constructed around Winston-Salem that year in an effort by the Shell Company and its local affiliate, Quality Oil, to boost marketing in North Carolina. The Sprague Street station is the only one of the eight still in existence.

The building’s design was modeled on the logo of Royal Dutch Shell Oil at the time, and the structure was built by first boxing in the interior office and then adding a wire frame in a shell shape around it. Concrete was then poured on the wire like stucco, giving the building its distinct shape. The station reflects the literalism of advertising of the era, and it is a great example of the Pop architecture that became popular around the time.

After the structure was used as a lawn mower repair shop and had fallen into disrepair, Preservation North Carolina raised funds to bring the landmark back to its original condition in the late 1970s.

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Modern-Day St. Mary’s School True to Its Nineteenth Century Roots

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 08:10

The Main Building, Smedes Hall, on the campus of Saint Mary’s School,
circa 1910. Image from the State Archives.

On May 12, 1842, the first classes got underway at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh.

Established through the vision and fundraising efforts of Episcopalian minister Aldert Smedes and his wife Sarah, the school for women was converted from a similar institution for young men, built in 1831. Smedes and his wife greeted the new students at the door, and from then on the couple acted more like family than faculty to the students.

Smedes personally interviewed each student for admission, and though most students came from prosperous families throughout North and South Carolina, Smedes would grant scholarships to girls whose families were unable to provide tuition.  He understood that the education of young women, as well as the confidence and skills it confers, was essential for coming generations.

The chapel at St. Mary’s School, circa 1910.
Image from the State Archives.

The school offered a junior college program until 1997, but shuttered that program to focus on high school and college preparatory classes, which it continues to offer this day.

The school’s entire 23-acre campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its iconic Gothic Revival style campus chapel, designed by architect Richard Upjohn in 1857, continues to be a Raleigh landmark to this day.

Other related resources:

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Worth Bagley of Raleigh, Casualty of the Spanish-American War

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 06:30

Worth Bagley’s 1898 funeral at the State Capitol.
Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On May 11, 1898, in battle at Cárdenas, Cuba, Ensign Worth Bagley became the first naval officer and first North Carolinian killed in the Spanish-American War.

The sinking of the USS Maine in February 1898 led the United States to declare war against Spain. North Carolina met President William McKinley’s call for troops by establishing three regiments.

An 1898 portrait of Bagley. Image from
the N.C. Museum of History.

Born in Raleigh in April 1874, Worth Bagley graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1895. He achieved the rank of ensign in July 1897, and, in November, was appointed inspector of the new torpedo boat Winslow. When she was commissioned the following month, Bagley became her executive officer. In April 1898, the Winslow was mobilized, with the fleet it was a part of, for operations in Cuban waters.

On the morning of May 11, the ship went with two others to force open the entrance to the harbor of Cárdenas. The Winslow was fired upon by a Spanish gunboat and a battle ensued. The ship was disabled and was hauled out of range of the Spanish guns. Just as the engagement ended, Bagley and four sailors were killed by a shell.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Military Order Beginning the Trail of Tears

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 05/10/2015 - 06:30

Cherokees at the Cherokee Indian Reservation in 1936. Image from the State Archives.

On May 10, 1838, General Winfield Scott issued a proclamation to eastern Cherokees, by order of President Martin Van Buren, to evacuate their ancestral homeland. The subsequent military-enforced migration to what is now Oklahoma became known as the Trail of Tears.

The events leading to the migration were set in motion eight years earlier, in 1830, with the passage of the Indian Removal Act by the U.S. Congress. The act gave the president authority to exchange unsettled land west of the Mississippi River for Indian land in existing states.

An order issued by Scott later in May 1838.
Image from the National Archives.

In 1835, an unauthorized group of Cherokee leaders entered into the Treaty of New Echota in Georgia with the Federal government, giving all Cherokee territory in the South to the Federal government in exchange for land in the west. Chief John Ross, with more than 15,000 Cherokee signatures, petitioned the Senate not to ratify the treaty. The effort was to no avail; the treaty was ratified in 1836.

Two years later, in 1838, with the Cherokee still occupying their lands, General Scott came to issue the ultimatum to evacuate, backed by more than 5,000 troops. His May 10 proclamation read in part:

Cherokees! The President of the United States has sent me, with a powerful army, to cause you, in obedience to the Treaty of 1835, to join that part of your people who are already established in prosperity, on the other side of the Mississippi. . . . The full moon of May is already on the wane, and before another shall have passed away, every Cherokee man, woman and child . . . must be in motion to join their brethren in the far West.

Cherokee people were initially placed in internment camps in western North Carolina where many died prior to the tragic exodus.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


U-Boat Survivors Added to POW Camp Rosters

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 05/09/2015 - 06:30

German prisoners in batches of 1,000 arriving at a prisoners of war cage. the Library of Congress.

On May 9, 1942, the U.S. Coast Guard sank German U-boat 352 off the Outer Banks.

Thirteen German sailors died and 33 were plucked from the water. They were taken to Fort Bragg and confined as prisoners of war. During the course of the war thousands of POWs—mostly Germans and Italians—were captured and sent to camps in North Carolina.

Most POWs were brought to North Carolina from abroad. Fritz Teichmann was a member of the German Luftwaffe (the air corps) and was captured in Sicily in July 1943. He was held as a POW at Camp Butner in Granville County. Giuseppe Pagliarulo, a soldier in Benito Mussolini’s Italian army, was captured in Tunisia in North Africa in May 1943 and held at Camp Sutton in Monroe.

So many POWs were brought to the state that men were sent from larger military bases to smaller branch camps. These smaller camps housed up to 500 men each and were located in 16 communities around the Tar Heel state, including Whiteville, Roanoke Rapids, Williamston and Hendersonville.

From there, they were placed on compulsory work details and sent out to cut pulpwood, dig ditches, wash dishes and pick apples. Their employers—farmers, loggers and restaurant owners—knew of the camps but otherwise their presence was relatively secret.

Visit: The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras interprets the shipwreck history of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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