Editorial: Smokies' Curatorial Collections Facility will help preserve history

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:46 PM

Last week’s announcement that the long planned archival facility for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had been approved is great news for fans of the park and local history.

The $4.3 million site will house more than 800,000 historical artifacts and records, an important step in preserving the heritage of the Great Smoky Mountains and the people of Sevier County.

Construction on the Joint Curatorial Collections Facility could start this summer near the Townsend park entrance. Land for the building is being donated by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

Dana Soehn, a spokesperson for the park, said Wednesday that it’s a welcome addition.

“It is a place for us to properly place and store these heirlooms,” Soehn said, referring to the wealth of historical artifacts in the park’s possession. “It’s also going to be a place where researchers can come, have study space and research these materials.”

While the facility won’t be open to the general public like a museum — there’s simply not enough space — it’s a great resource for the park and great asset for future generations. 

Far too many historical records across the state have been lost through the years to fire, floor or improper storage. This facility will make those concerns a thing of the past with a high-tech system that ensures proper conditions for optimum long-term storage.

Soehn said the project wouldn’t have been feasible without the private donations of the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains.

“We wouldn’t have been able to make this possible without their support,” Soehn said of the groups, which contributed nearly half the cost of the facility.

The site 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, according to a release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office. The archival collections will also include President Andrew Johnson’s presidential papers.

GSMNP will share the site’s amenities and space with 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 — sites that 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.