The article below appeared in the April 1926 Soul Winner magazine. (For more information on Allen Messer, see my February 2013 column, “A Hill Top Experience.”)
After visiting Cocke County, Tennessee, in November 1958 with her parents, John and Leonora Whitaker Wood, Catherine Marshall wrote in Christy’s prologue: “The years had brought on changes. Two World Wars had reached deep into the mountains to snatch away Cutter Gap men. Those who had returned brought back some of the world outside: brought-on clothes, canned food, soda pop, autos, battery radios over which blared hillbilly music and soap operas, television, and consolidated school. Appalachia’s economic problem had never been solved, so, in a variety of ways, the Federal Government had stepped in.”
During the 1920s governmental “brought-on” plans–-to jump start the Smoky Mountain economy by establishing a national park–encouraged some, dismayed others. For Cocke Countians hemmed in for generations by Cammerer Ridge and Turkey Knob, it was impossible to foresee how the proposed blend of natural resource preservation and forced community resettlement, along with thousands of East Coast tourists to cook for and clean up after, would alter their culture. Their fears were genuine: fears of “brought-on” people, “brought-on” goods, “brought-on” ways.
At what cost for what end?
Similar to what Christy witnessed at the El Pano General Store–where “in straight chairs and cowhide rockers a group of men were gathered around a roaring fire in a bumper stove”–we can imagine Allen Messer at the Hartford General Store, stating his mind to men amid smells of “coal oil, strong cheese, leather, bacon fat, tobacco,” then sharing his thoughts with Soul Winner Society supporters nationwide.
“A Letter from Allen Messer”
“There is a great deal of interest in the proposed Smoky Mountain National Park, which we hope and feel sure will be a reality. We are very much interested in seeing such a development as two of our Mission Fields are within the proposed park area. We realize that it will mean much or little, just in proportion to our ability to cope with it, in our work. It is our desire of course to face every occasion, in the best and wisest way possible. We should like to be able to conserve the good and eliminate the evil.
“The mountain people are just like other folks. They are not all good, neither are they all bad. I must say this of them, they take the Bible as The book of authority. As far as I know there is not an infidel in all these mountains. I hope there may never be one. Yes, we have bootleggers, but even the worst of them respect the Bible and Church. They are to be commended for this trait. But I fear that a certain evil element will be brought in with the Park development, that may lower this standard of reverence and respect. However, we shall endeavor so far as possible to safe-guard these standards.
“The Men’s Earnest Workers Bible Class, of Hartford, which meets each Friday night in our home, is now a part of our work and is encouraging. The men are faithful and loyal. The Class spirit is fine and wholesome. We study the Bible with pleasure and for profit. The members of this Class are the pick and choice of this village. The attendance has kept up splendidly during the winter, and will increase with the coming of warmer weather…
J. Allen Messer.
In May 1926 President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To prepare for land acquisition the United States Geological Service published a hand drawn topographic map titled “Proposed Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina-Tennessee” drawn to a 1:125,000 scale. Based upon previous surveys, it delineates the area’s topography with contour lines just two hundred feet apart. This segment outlines in red the park’s proposed northeast boundary.
In this section of southern Cocke County you can see the area Allen Messer described and feel your calf muscles ache after hiking it!