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Great Smoky Mountains Association publishes 'Letters from the Smokies'

Oct 18, 2023 07:17PM ● By WNC Business

GATLINBURG, TN — Great Smoky Mountains Association is pleased to announce the publication of “Letters from the Smokies,” a compilation of written accounts from the archives of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that spans more than 230 years. Each captivating letter in this collection culled by park librarian–archivist Michael Aday is the centerpiece of a chapter that provides additional historical context for a deeper look into the original writer’s world. 

“I wrote this book with more than one reader in mind,” Aday explained. “I think the first-time visitor to the Smokies who wants to know more about the history of the park and the region will find some great stories to engage them, while the seasoned visitor will hopefully learn some things they didn’t know before.”

In his role, Aday has access to nearly 1.4 million historic documents: thousands of pages of government correspondence covering decades of park service management decisions; reams of letters documenting the herculean task of establishing the park; and hundreds of documents chronicling the lives of many of those who lived here before the park existed. 

“I quickly realized the genuine challenge would not be what to put in but what to leave out,” Aday writes in the book’s author’s note. “After several weeks perusing collections and making copious lists, I finally whittled the selection down to the 19 documents in this volume. It is my hope that these letters and their stories will give readers a deeper appreciation of the Smokies.” 

The 160-page book published by Great Smoky Mountains Association offers a look into both the ordinary and extraordinary events of the park’s past. Meet a Tennessee woman who wrote about Southern life under a male pseudonym. Follow celebrated ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson on a road trip that included the Smokies. Learn how an artificial lake would have engulfed the park’s beloved Cades Cove. And hear the tale of a Smokies bobcat gifted to a US president. 

Drawing from centuries of archival records, Aday also shares the stories of people we don’t often hear about in more general accounts of Smokies history. An 1879 tax license issued to “retailer of spirits” Deborah McGee begins to tell the story of a beloved fixture in a remote community who made space for herself in arenas often dominated by men. A telegram to Anne Davis congratulates her on the passage of a bill authorizing the purchase of 78,000 acres of land for a new national park she helped make possible. From another preserved letter, we get a glimpse of Jewell Manor’s grief at the untimely death of her cousin Charley, a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps working in the national park. 

“Most people who come to the Smokies have no idea that the park archives contain 1.4 million documents much less how to begin to explore them,” said GSMA’s Creative Director Frances Figart, the book’s editor. “Lucky for us, Mike has drawn our attention to some of the most fascinating. Sensitively presented, explained, and contextualized, they represent the centuries-long development of this region in a way that makes history tangible, tactile, and recognizably human.”

“Letters from the Smokies,” a six-by-nine-inch softcover work of nonfiction in full color, is now available for $16.99 in the park’s visitor center bookstores and at GSMA’s online store at

About Great Smoky Mountains Association:
Great Smoky Mountains Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the scientific, historical, and interpretive activities of Great Smoky Mountains National Park by providing educational products and services to park visitors. Membership-driven funding also supports the preservation of more than 90 historic structures throughout the park, as well as the backcountry rangers who protect more than 800 miles of trails to spectacular mountain vistas, rushing streams, waterfalls, and quiet groves of old-growth forest. For more information about GSMA, visit
Great Smoky Mountains Association