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Maps of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, encompassing some of the oldest mountains on earth, is located in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The state boundary line bisects the park, which is one of the largest in the eastern United States. Measuring fifty-four miles long and nineteen miles across at its widest point the park consists of slightly more than half a million acres. Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts the largest number of visitors annually of any national park, perhaps because it is located within a day's drive of over 60 percent of the nation's population. In recent years, more than nine million visitors have come to the park each year.

Early European Maps | American Maps and Map Makers | Exploration and Geological Mapping | Environmental Maps | Early USGS Maps | USGS and the TVA -- Topographic Quadrangle Maps | National Park Service Maps | Great Smoky Mountains Bibliography

Detail of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, waterfall... American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, Collection.

The park is named for the mist or blue haze that surrounds the mountains resulting from the interaction between the moist environment of streams and waterfalls and the thick vegetation. The Cherokee name for the area, Sha-co-na-qe, means "place of blue smoke." Rising upward through the blue "smoke" arc thirty-six miles of mountain peaks standing five thousand feet or more above sea level, sixteen of which exceed six thousand feet. The Cherokee Indians, the earliest settlers in these mountains, revered them as the sacred ancestral home of the entire Cherokee Nation, which at one time stretched from Georgia to the Ohio River.

The Cherokee arrived in the area around 1000 A.D. The Eastern Band lived in the Smoky Mountains where they farmed the land, raising a variety of crops which were supplemented by hunting and fishing.

Once the coastal settlers began moving westward beyond the mountains, there was increasing pressure to force the Native Americans to reservations west of the Mississippi. As a result, most Cherokees were forced to leave their home. Approximately one thousand of the Native Americans hid in the hills rather than be forcibly removed; today their descendants live on a fifty-six thousand acre area called the Qualla Boundary or Cherokee Indian Reservation that borders the national park and is shown on park maps.

Early European Maps

The mountains forming the southern portion of the Appalachian chain that begins in Canada and ends in Georgia were an area of mystery to early explorers of the Southeast as well as to early cartographers. Although there was recognition that the major portion of the mountain range ran along a northeast-southwest axis, roughly parallel to the Atlantic coastline, the fact that the mountains broke into several smaller ranges extending in a variety of directions at the southern end of the chain presented a puzzle that was not fully solved until Arnold Guyot's exploration and survey of the region in the mid-nineteenth century.

The written history and cartography of the area that now encompasses Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among the earliest for any national park's region. The first European who led an expedition into the mountains and the homeland of the Cherokees was the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who was reportedly in the area in 1540. Like many adventurers of his time, he was searching for gold and silver. A beautiful manuscript map made long after his expedition shows the route through the mountains believed to have been taken by his party. De Soto was merely the first of many to attempt to claim what was already the home of the Cherokees in the name of a distant European country. The entire southeastern region of what is now the United States was involved in the struggles among the French, Spanish, and English from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. This map, drawn from the viewpoint of the Spanish, noted locations of various European possessions, including areas in dispute, such as English claims in what is now Georgia.

Many of the early maps, while vague about the particulars, named the mountainous area in the vicinity of what became the national park after the Apalachee Indian tribe. The Gutiérrez map of 1562, which represents a compilation of knowledge obtained by Spain in the course of many expeditions to the American continents, referred to the southeastern mountain region as "Apalchen." Later, the term seems to have been adopted for the areas of the Southeast that were beyond the range of initial European settlement. Jodocus Hondius, a Dutch cartographer, labeled a western area "Apalchen" on his map of 1640. Jole Gascoyne's 1682 map included more information than was previously known about the Carolina backcountry, specifically naming the "Apalatian Mountaines." An eighteenth-century map by Herman Moll noted not only the "Appalatian Mt" but also information concerning the location of thirty villages that were labeled "Charakeys." This map also stated that good pasture land was located beyond the mountains, suggesting that both the mountains and the Cherokee Indians were barriers between settlers of European origin and fertile land for farming.

Detail of Carolina, drawn by Herman Moll, 1732.

An English map dated 1752 used modern spelling for "Cherokees," referring to them as warlike people. Until the arrival of European rivals for the North American continent, the Cherokee were peaceful farmers who lived in villages and practiced a democratic form of government in which men and women participated equally. Through their shifting alliances with the European powers who sought their support, however, the various tribes Native American came to be known primarily for their participation in colonial wars. They came to be perceived as significant threats to the process of westward expansion by the American colonists.

In a series of treaties with the colonial governments under the British, and later with the United States, Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi River were gradually ceded, and Native Americans were forced to relocate to reservations in the West. This map documents the treaties and land cessions of the Cherokee. Only the few who evaded American troops by hiding in the Smoky Mountains escaped the infamous "trail of tears" in 1838.

American Maps and Map Makers

Detail of Johnson's North and South Carolina.

The history of the Southeast also demonstrates the general pattern of American migration to the frontier. Pioneers on the frontier soon began to live in settlements which were eventually bound together as newly formed states west of the original thirteen colonies. After the American Revolution, more detailed maps of the interior parts of the original colonies, became available as well as maps of the new states. The pioneering American mapmaker Matthew Carey produced the first atlas published in the United States, the American Atlas. The atlas was initially published in 1795; it was later expanded and revised several times, with the final edition appearing in 1818. Its maps of Tennessee and North Carolina vary considerably in the amount of information given. The former is a very early Carey map of Tennessee that was published before statehood in 1796. The map of North Carolina is far more detailed and includes the counties, reflecting its later date, the longer history of settlement there, and the larger population of that state.

As the nation expanded westward, new maps were developed to show the western states and territories. The Isaac W. Moore map, which has the image of the American eagle superimposed it, was created to teach geography. It was published in a book dedicated to the youth of the United States, and shows the Appalachian Mountains as part of the feathers on the wings of the bird.

During the mid-nineteenth century, a number of American atlas publishers produced engraved maps of the United States, its regions, and individual states. Some of these maps were the earliest to show localities eventually incorporated into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 1861 Johnson and Browning map of North Carolina identifies the "Iron or Great Smokey Mts," as well as Cade's Cove in Tennessee, which was first settled by Americans in the early nineteenth century. Evidence of the frontier community established there is present today in the partially preserved residences, churches and other buildings exhibited in Cade's Cove, which is one of the most visited sites in the park. In addition, the map shows Quallatown, the Cherokee settlement that later became the Cherokee Indian Reservation, and Old Bald Mountain in North Carolina.

Exploration and Geological Mapping of the Smoky Mountains

Just as the West had its early explorers and pioneers, so too there were early geographical and geological expeditions in the Smoky Mountains that took place during the mid-nineteenth century. Thomas Lanier Clingman and Dr. Elisha Mitchell became involved in a scholarly feud over which of the mountains in the Southeast was the highest. While they were trying to resolve the matter, Mitchell was killed in a fall from the slopes of the mountain named for him. Mount Mitchell turned out to be a mere forty-three feet higher than the peak that was named Clingman's Dome.

Clingman's interest in surveying the Smokies led to his inviting the distinguished Swiss-born physical geographer, Arnold Guyot, who held an endowed chair at Princeton University, to come to the mountains and study them. In 1856, 1859, and 1860, assisted by a local guide, Guyot, conducted the first detailed surveys of the area now inside the park. In honor of his contribution to knowledge about the geology and topography of the Smoky Mountains, Mount Guyot bears his name.

Guyot's information was incorporated into a map published during the Civil War. At that time, the U.S. Coast Survey produced several regional base maps at the scale of 1:633,600 for the use of the military in the field. This map, showing the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, provides the kinds of information later found on U.S. Geological Survey maps: relief, names, and boundaries of states, roads, and railroads. It also includes the route of a proposed military railroad. This particular copy of the map is from the Millard Fillmore collection and was signed by the thirteenth president of the United States after he had left office on December 6, 1864.

Geological maps of the area document the unique environment below the surface of the earth in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Mountains were already ancient when the Rocky Mountains were just starting to be formed in what is now the western United States. The Smokies were formed when the land buckled and folded, leaving mountains and valleys eroded by water and other natural forces. Approximately one million years ago, the landscape began to resemble the one that we know today. A localized geological cross-section map for the Knoxville Quadrangle illustrates this point.

Soil maps help explain why these mountains are teeming with life. The soil overlaying the rock includes a rich humus that fertilizes the land and produces an abundance of species. Geological and soil maps, which are categories of thematic maps--maps focusing on a particular subject--show the basis for the landforms and environment that make this region one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. With the aid of its temperate climate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park supports approximately five thousand species of plant life, including more than fifteen hundred species of flowering plants and two thousand different fungi. The number of tree species, about 130, is comparable to the total number found on the continent of Europe. So spectacular is the setting, with its rich plant and animal life, that even before the park was established, various locales in the Smoky Mountains were being advertised by railroad companies as vacation destinations.

Environmental Maps

State of Tennessee, roadless and undeveloped area evaluation II..., 1979.

Between the first suggestions for establishing a park in the Southern mountains in the 1880s and the founding of the Appalachian National Park Association around the turn of the century, popular support for a national park in the Southeast grew. One of the arguments for setting aside land for a national park was the desire on the part of conservationists to protect the last large stands of virgin forest in the eastern United States permanently. When it seemed unlikely that the federal government would support such a park, the group began promoting the establishment of national forests where logging could be limited and controlled but not completely prohibited. This map shows the national forests in Tennessee.

Lumbering was the major industry in the Smokies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the profits earned from lumber came at a heavy cost to the environment. For example, dead underbrush and discarded branches left in the forest after the timber was removed created conditions that resulted in more than twenty devastating forest fires during the 1920s. In 1909, the peak year for lumbering in the Smokies, a map of the forests of North Carolina was produced showing the percentage of land that was forested and the variety and amount of timber that was grown in that state.

Increased mechanization of logging along with extensive clear-cutting of the old-growth forests also caused increasing erosion that threatened fish and other wildlife and increased the potential for flooding. Recognizing that this was a major environmental problem, in 1937 the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service conducted reconnaissance erosion surveys and produced maps of the results for both North Carolina and Tennessee. These colorful thematic maps were drawn at a scale of 1:500,000.

There was considerable debate about where the new park, if it were to be established, would be located. Approximately sixty different sites were proposed. One of the sites that was discussed during a Congressional hearing in 1927 included a proposed dam. The report was illustrated with a map of a site suggested for a national park located in northeastern Tennessee.

Early USGS Maps

The most comprehensive map coverage available for the United States today is produced by the United States Geological Survey. The USGS was established as a civilian agency in 1879 to consolidate the various surveying operations that were being conducted throughout the country by the United States government. [See Grand Canyon text for further details.] The primary mission of the USGS was to classify the public lands and to document the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the public domain. The maps initially produced by the USGS were drawn at a scale of 1:250,00 for the one-degree maps and 1:125,000 for the 30 minute maps.

The oldest USGS maps of the areas that were eventually incorporated into Great Smoky Mountains National Park were of Cowee, in 1885, Knoxville, Nantahalah in 1895, and Mount Guyot in 1893, all at a scale of 1:250,000. They accurately depict the terrain in hundred foot contour increments while providing detailed and precise information on the location of such cultural features as roads, houses, and other structures, and such physical features as streams, falls, springs, and mountain peaks and valleys. These maps were updated as late as 1912. Together they formed the basis for subsequent mapping of the park and the surrounding areas.

U.S. Government Mapping in the Smoky Mountains: USGS and the TVA

In 1926, the same year that Congressional approval of the concept of a park allowed private fundraising to begin, the USGS produced an outstanding topographic map of the "Proposed Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina-Tennessee" at a 1:125,000 scale. It was based on the surveys done for earlier maps. The map shows the topography of the area by using contour lines at two hundred foot intervals. The area proposed for the park is outlined in red.

Proposed Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina-Tennessee. 1926.

The Geological Survey also published a large-scale set of maps of the proposed park between 1926 and 1931, including an index map . At a scale of 1:24,000, with twenty foot contour lines, these maps were extremely detailed and were probably used for planning purposes and to record the complex land purchases the park required. This set of maps was drawn at a scale that was very unusual for the time. It was not until 1950 that the primary USGS map product adopted this scale for the 7.5-minute topographic quadrangles replacing the earlier smaller-scale maps.

The need for these maps was undoubtedly generated by the many obstacles to creating a park in the Smoky Mountains that persisted even after Congress approved a plan for the park. In addition to opposition from some local residents and long-established mining and lumbering interests in the area, there was the larger problem of financing. Unlike the western national parks, which were carved out of the public domain, the land for this park would have to be purchased from thousands of owners who held more than sixty-six hundred tracts of land. The initial plan required that all of the funding be raised independently of the federal government.

The amount of funds that had to be raised was considerable. Lumber companies, reluctant to sell their land, raised the price per acre of their holdings, which included many of the most beautiful sites designated for the park. Even though the 1926 legislation authorized the purchase of lands in Tennessee and North Carolina which would then be deeded to the federal government for the park, no authority was given to the states to condemn land. Property obtained for the park had to be purchased from owners willing to sell, and was often offered at an inflated price.

By the spring of 1926, groups in each of the two states had raised more than $1,000,000. The North Carolina and Tennessee legislatures each donated approximately $2,000,000. With $5,000,000 in available funds, the advocates of the park began buying parcels of land. When the prices demanded for some of the most scenic parcels, including upper Greenbrier, Mt. Guyot, Mt. LeConte, the Chinmeys, and a side of Clingman's Dome owned by the Champion Fibre Company, far exceeded available resources, John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated an additional $5,000,000 in memory of his mother, through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund. Today a marker at Newfound Gap, on the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee, commemorates his generous gift.

In 1931, two years before the federal government contributed the final $2,000,000 needed to complete the land purchases, the USGS published another map of the park at a scale of 1:125,000. Although this edition of the map is not part of the Library of Congress map collections, the map was reprinted without revision in 1978, as it appears here. A map based on surveys conducted between 1927 and 1931 was published by the USGS in two sheets in 1934. It was drawn at a scale of 1:62,500.

The set of maps produced by the USGS between 1926 and 1931 at the 1:24,000 scale is closely related to later maps of the areas surrounding the park and completed the quadrangle mapping to the park. The data on the set of maps showing areas inside the park were eventually integrated with data on base maps showing areas outside the park to make the first complete topographic quadrangle maps of the park and its vicinity.

Topographic Quadrangle Map

This collection of topographic quadrangle maps (Tennessee | North Carolina) at a scale of 1:24,000 illustrates the stages by which the quadrangle maps of the Smoky Mountains in use today were created. The earliest and most recent of each of the twenty-six quadrangles that fall within the park have been included. Where necessary, intervening maps are also shown if they illustrate substantial new data about the area. Some of the more recent sheets have been revised based on aerial photography.

Quadrangle Map covering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains Nationl Parks: Quadrangle Maps List

North Carolina

The progression by which the newer maps were made can be seen by looking at this collection. The earliest 1:24,000 maps for areas not entirely within the park, such as Blockhouse 1941, Calderwood, 1935, and Tapoco, 1935, are clearly the base maps for areas outside the park boundaries. Because there was no immediate need to include areas inside the park on these maps, park land was left blank. The information on these preliminary sheets was based on earlier surveys, and they formed the base for the addition of the usual kinds of information found on USGS quadrangle maps drawn to this scale.

It is interesting to note that because the Smoky Mountains were part of Tennessee River watershed, virtually all of these 1:24,000 scale maps were produced by the USGS in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA was established in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The involvement of the TVA expedited mapping of the area in and around the park, as plans were made to build dams to create electricity and control flooding and erosion in the Tennessee Valley.

Three USGS maps of the national park were published at a scale of 1:125,000 in 1950. They were based on the detailed surveys that were used for the 1:24,000 quadrangle maps. The first was simply a base map, showing place names, waterways, and the park boundary, without any information on topography. The second used contour lines over the base map to show relief. The third was a composite of the first two with shading added to the contour lines to produce a beautiful shaded relief map of the park. All three had extensive text about the Smokies on the verso.

The USGS produced four maps between 1963 and 1979, all at a scale of 1:125,000. Like their predecessors, they included information about roads, trails, railroad lines, state and county boundaries, schools, churches, and cemeteries, all of which is cultural or human geographical information. In addition, they showed physical features, including topography, as well as benchmarks giving the elevation of specific sites. The 1979 edition appears to have been produced for official use by the Park Service.

National Park Service Maps

Once the national park was established, it came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which produced maps primarily for the use of park visitors. Two of its earliest maps, however, appear to have been made for internal use by the Park Service: a preliminary base map dated 1931, and what appears to have been a worksheet with preliminary information on it to which the locations of trails, campgrounds, and other information could be added. The first map made for public distribution was published in 1940 and revised in 1941.

Most Park Service maps are made and distributed to assist visitors in identifying various areas and attractions in the park and the routes that can be taken to find them. Park service maps published during the 1950s were fairly simple and straightforward. Park Service maps made since the 1970s, however, are printed in color and increasingly include information about the park's backcountry and native black bears. The 1978 edition is the first Park Service map to provide metric information. A revised version of this map was published in 1980.

Detail of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee, trail map...1997.

Areas featured on National Park Service maps include major mountain peaks and the trails that can be used to reach them. Waterfalls and scenic overlooks, also frequent destinations for visitors, are shown. Increasingly, however, the human history of the park has been recognized through exhibits and interpretive programs in and around the park. Evidence of this past takes many forms. Some of the place names are of Cherokee origin, while others commemorate early explorers and settlers. There are buildings and exhibits that demonstrate how the inhabitants worked and lived in the Smokies long before the coming of the park. All of this information is indicated on the Park Service maps.

Four versions of the Park Service's visitors' map were published in the 1980s. These included indexed tables of campsites and trail shelters. The 1988 and 1989 editions, as well as the revision published in 1990 included instructions on how to protect campers' food supplies from bears, an indication of the increasing interaction between the ever-growing number of visitors to the park and the animals living there.

Beginning in the 1990s with a new edition of the visitors' map, there is evidence of increased concern about the large number of automobiles in the park. Efforts at traffic control are indicated by the establishment of several one-way roads. Another trend is for the maps to include more detailed trail and backcountry information as hikers and campers attempt to escape the park's more crowded areas in search of the peaceful places for which these mountains are known. Trails in the park are also connected with those outside the park, making the maps more user-friendly to hikers.

The physical beauty and cultural significance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park cannot be experienced through maps alone. The information conveyed on maps, however, provides insight into how the mountains were formed and why they continue to be visited by those seeking both a scenic and a historic destination. Maps show us the way to reach that destination.

Patricia Molen van Ee
Specialist in American Cartography
Geography and Map Division
Library of Congress