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Roosevelt’s “Grand Trip” to the Smokies

Many people are aware that President Roosevelt visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940 to dedicate the park. But few realize that this was his second trip to the Smokies; his first trip occurred in 1936.

“For thirty years I have been wanting to get to the Great Smoky Mountains. I have planned at least a half dozen trips to this section, but each time something happened to prevent my coming. Today I finally made it. I am not disappointed. I am delighted and thrilled. It was a grand trip.” So spoke Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the occasion of the first visit of a sitting president to the new national park.

The presidential party left Washington DC on the evening of September 8, traveling overnight by special train to Knoxville. Waiting for the president in Knoxville was his customized automobile, bearing the presidential seal. The car—a convertible designed to allow the president to see and be seen—had been driven to Knoxville the evening before by White House chauffeur Monte Snyder. After the stop in Knoxville, the train was to continue on to Asheville to meet up with the president and his party after their trip across the Smokies.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedication speech was Sept. 2, 1940 – Labor Day – at the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The dedication date came at a point when the nation’s attention was turning from the Great Depression to what would become World War II. Pearl Harbor was still 15 months away, but the rumble of war could be heard in the distance.

Indeed, a great deal of Roosevelt’s park dedication speech dealt not with soaring rhetoric about nature and its beauty but about external threats to the American way of life, what he said were “dangers far more deadly than were those that the frontiersmen had to face.”

Here in the Great Smokies, we meet today to dedicate these mountains, streams and forests to the service of the millions of American people. …

There are trees here that stood before our forefathers came to this continent; there are brooks that will run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them. In this park, we shall conserve the pine, the redwood, the dogwood, the azalea, the rhododendron, the trout and the brush for the happiness of the American people.

The old frontier that put the hard fibre in the American spirit, and the long muscles on the Americana back, lives and will live in these untamed mountains to give future generations a sense of the land from which their forefathers hewed their homes.

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