Saturday, February 8, 2014

Funding Approved for Smokies Historical Collection Site

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday that the U.S. Department of Interior has approved federal funding to complete the $4.3 million Joint Curatorial Collections Facility that will house more than 800,000 historical artifacts and archival records at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Construction could begin as early as this summer.

“This is great news for everyone who loves the Great Smoky Mountains, especially because the new center will honor families who once lived in the park,” Alexander said. “This was made possible only because of years of effort by dedicated park service employees and by the generosity of friends of the Smokies.”

The Joint Curatorial Collections Facility will preserve 422,000 historical artifacts and 450,000 archival records, including land records, oral histories, historic photos and park operating records, and items such as clothing, vintage weapons, logging-era equipment, farm tools and other possessions from the individuals and families living on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days. The archival collections will also include President Andrew Johnson’s presidential papers.

The total cost for funding the facility is $4.3 million, with approximately $2.3 million coming from private donations. In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, other federal park and recreation areas will be able to make use of the new joint facility, including the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and Obed Wild and Scenic River. These sites currently house artifacts and records in facilities that do not meet National Park Service standards for physical security, or environmental controls to protect them from mold, insects, and fire.

There is no word as to whether these artifacts will be on display to the public, which would truly be a shame if they weren't. When this was discussed a couple of years ago, a museum open to the public was not part of the plan. Lets hope the DOI and/or the NPS have a change of mind on this.



John Quillen said...

It is important to note that this archive is nothing more than a housing facility. A very expensive one at that and normal citizens are not able to walk in there and look at these artifacts. It is something else that is generally off limits to taxpaying citizens and Lamar Alexander is breaking his arm to pat himself on the back for it. It would be nice if those tax dollars would afford citizens access to these documents without a monumental bureaucratic runaround not unlike using the new backcountry reservation system. NPS logic and Lamar Alexander logic are intertwined. Both are creatures and mainstays of federal bureaucracy.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

John - I agree with most of your comments. This project brings up several issues:

1) If they're already building a housing facility, why not include a museum - even a small one - and have the artifacts rotate based on a different theme each year or so?

2) We the taxpayers own these artifacts, don't we have the right to see them?

3) By opening them up to public viewing, and thus presumably asking for a nominal fee to see them, wouldn't this be a great way for the Park to generate some additional revenue? I would think there would be a lot of people who would love to see the rich historical aspects of the park.