Anne Davis: Mother of the Park

Anne Davis: Mother of the Park

Anyone who has studied the history surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park likely knows the monumental effort it took to establish the park, and the many individuals whose voices and actions made it all possible. Perhaps one of the most important—and oft overlooked—founders of GSMNP is Anne Davis, who has been credited as the first to suggest establishing a national park in the Smokies.

By Sarah Shiver
By Sarah Shiver - Photos courtesy of GSMNP archives

Anne was born in Louisville, KY, and moved to Knoxville with her husband Willis in 1915. The pair quickly fell in love with the Smokies. Driven partially by their love of nature, the couple decided to explore the western national parks during the summer of 1923. On their way back to Tennessee, Anne asked her husband, “Why could not our Great Smokies be made a national park—and those magnificent monarchs of the forest preserved for posterity?” Anne might not have realized it at the time, but her simple question inspired the movement that would eventually lead to the creation of GSMNP.

Willis used his position as president of Knoxville Iron Company to sway the local business community in favor of establishing a national park. In 1923, he and Anne cofounded Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, and Willis served as its first president.

The movement was gaining significant momentum, but Anne was determined to do more. In 1924 she added her name to the Republican ballot as a candidate for state representative—and she won, becoming the third woman to serve in the Tennessee legislature. She sponsored legislation that would allow the purchase of more than 78,000 acres of land from Little River Lumber Company for the national park. Although local support for a national park was high, the bill encountered opposition in the House. Critics believed the area was little more than “stump land,” so Anne organized an inspection trip for the entire legislature in 1925. The trip swayed critics’ minds and the bill was soon signed into law.

Anne served in the legislature for two years, deciding not to run again. However, she remained politically active as a member and officer of the League of Women Voters. In 1934, a few years after her husband’s death, she moved to Gatlinburg to be even closer to her beloved mountains.

One can only imagine the emotions Anne must have felt on September 2, 1940, as she sat on stage alongside other prominent park advocates and listened to President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially dedicate the national park, 13 years after she asked one simple question that would set everything in motion. Anne passed away in 1957, and in 1958 Greenbrier Ridge was renamed Davis Ridge in her honor.

Anne wished that the Smokies would be “preserved for posterity”, and thanks to her initial efforts as well as continued support from the government, volunteers, nonprofit organizations, and Smokies lovers from all over the world, we can ensure that it is so.

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