By Arthur “Butch” McDade
In his Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies—A Personal Journal, Harvey Broome wrote: “I have never wanted to leave the top of a mountain.” That sentiment permeated his productive life as a lawyer, hiker, conservationist, and co-founder of The Wilderness Society. A guiding principle in his life was a genuine love of wild lands, especially in his beloved Great Smoky Mountains. In his life, he gave homage to Henry David Thoreau’s seminal proclamation: "In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
|A playful Harvey Broome among the trees on a hike in the Smokies. Photo courtesy of Knox County Public Library, McClung Collections.|
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1902, Broome used to gaze out of the upstairs window of his parents’ home and see a pale blue line of distant mountains trailing across the southern horizon. Even though he didn’t know it at the time, those views led to a life of wilderness conservation nationwide. He later wrote, “I don’t recall when I became aware there were mountains to the south of the city. But I couldn’t have been very old.”
Broome got his first experience in the Smokies on a church outing by train to the lumber town of Elkmont prior to the park’s establishment. He swam in Little River and picnicked, recalling that he was “reluctant to leave when the long blast of the locomotive signaled the end of the day.”
That outing led to other explorations. “I believe it was 1918 that I took my first trip up the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River and caught my first view of the Chimneys,” he wrote. “No one had warned me of these precipitous peaks. I was on a fishing trip with relatives and glanced up. ‘What are they?’ I cried out…Someone said, ‘The Chimney Tops!’ I am sure I resolved right then to climb them.”
|Four founders of The Wilderness Society (L to R): Bernard Frank, Harvey Broome, Bob Marshall, Benton MacKaye. Photo courtesy of Knox County Public Library, McClung Collections.|
Broome later attended the University of Tennessee and Harvard Law School. He practiced law in Knoxville in both the private and public sectors, and joined the hardy hikers of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Over the years he served multiple terms as club president.
Broome’s legal skills and wilderness interest soon led to an association with conservationists such as Bob Marshall, Sigurd Olson, Howard Zahniser, Aldo Leopold, and Benton MacKaye. He became a founding member of The Wilderness Society in 1935 and later served as its president. He worked with TWS on the 1964 Wilderness Act and other important issues for decades.
Through the years, Broome remained a humble man more at home exploring the Smokies than being famous. The Smokies were his hermitage, where he and wife Anne, his constant hiking companion, could enjoy their rustic “Cobbles Hollow” abode near Greenbrier on weekends.
Broome never wanted to leave the top of a mountain. But, sadly, he left this world on March 8, 1968, after a heart attack. His journals and articles were published in three fine books: Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies—A Personal Journal; Faces of the Wilderness; and Harvey Broome—Earth Man.
This humble son of East Tennessee became a nationally known conservationist who always had a special love for the Smokies. Noted Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Carson Brewer penned the following: “Though Harvey Broome’s profession was law, he was more widely known for his love of the wild outdoors and his efforts to preserve it.”
Arthur “Butch” McDade retired as a park ranger from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He is the author of Old Smoky Mountain Days, The Natural Arches of the Big South Fork, and is a contributing writer to The Encyclopedia of Appalachia.