Upland Chronicles: Annual conference of governors once held in Gatlinburg

Aug. 03, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

In 1951, one of the most spectacular events in Gatlinburg’s history unfolded. The 43rd annual Governors’ Conference was held there from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. Governors from all 48 states attended along with territorial governors representing Alaska and Hawaii.

Gov. Huey Long of Louisiana was not sure he would be able to attend until the last minute. Jimmy Byrnes of South Carolina sent word that a twisted ankle would not keep him away. “But I’ll need a room on the first floor and near the conference hall.”

Nationally known figures such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was there. He delivered a speech during the state dinner on Monday at the Mountain View Hotel. Also attending was Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York, twice the Republican nominee for president; Earl Warren of California, who would later serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; and Adlai E. Stevenson, who would be the Democratic nominee for president in 1952.

The conference sessions were held at the Greystone Hotel in its playhouse. 53 chairs were placed along the outside of a continuous table which formed a hollow square. In the middle of the square bellhops were on duty during each session, like pages in the senate to carry microphones to and from the governors around the table.

Western Union brought a staff of 25 men needed to handle a file of 300,000 words. There were two direct-line main circuits from Gatlinburg to New York and Chicago.

Every newspaper of major importance, all the press associations, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and five radio stations were represented by 150 correspondents and commentators. Among the commentators were Edward R. Murrow and Charles Collingwood.

To provide the accommodations needed for the press coverage, the Host Committee erected a temporary frame building adjoining the playhouse. In the building were two broadcast booths and about 50 typewriter tables for the reporters.

Tennessee Gov. Gordon Browning served as host, and his executive assistant, Robert A. Everett was chairman of the host committee. Representatives of the executive staff of the conference, who had long experience setting up temporary headquarters for the annual meeting in many places, praised the foresight and energy of the Host Committee.

About 650 feet of news film were shot. Later, it was edited down to 125 feet and was shown as newsreels in theaters throughout the country.

The activities began with a luncheon meeting of the Executive Committee of the Governors’ Conference at 1 p.m. in the dining room of the Mountain View Hotel. A reception and buffet supper were held at 6 p.m. at the new Gatlinburg Inn.

On Monday the opening business session took place at the Greystone Playhouse. Browning gave an address of welcome and Stevenson presided over a roundtable on emergency programs. At 1 p.m., the governors' wives and other ladies in official parties had luncheon together at the New Riverside Hotel. Music was provided by the Fine Arts Department, University of Tennessee.

A round table on licensing boards and monopolies highlighted the session at 2 p.m. The annual state dinner at the Mountain View Hotel took place at 8 p.m.

Social Security and welfare were the topics for the morning session on Tuesday, Oct. 2. Dewey presided. At 11 a.m., there was a sightseeing trip followed by a picnic in the mountains for the wives. Cars left from the four major hotels.

Following informal discussions in the afternoon, the governors were entertained with a concert by the University of Tennessee Band. A barbecue was held on the lawn of Greystone Hotel at 6 p.m.

The Sevier County Square Dance team that danced at the barbecue made a big hit. Dave Hendrix, county agent and leader, later said that although the dancers were not professionally trained, they were willing to practice and represented both the young and older generations.

The final day, Oct. 3, Warren presided over a roundtable on law enforcement. Following an informal luncheon and Executive Business Session, the conference adjourned at 2 p.m.

After the conference was over it was apparent the press coverage sent out over the country gave a favorable impression of the sleepy little tourist town.

Bruce J. Whaley, president of the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce, release a statement on behalf of the chamber membership. In part, his statement said: “There is no immediate way to measure the value of this vast volume of publicity, should bring dividends of a tangible kind over the years to come.

"There will always be a sense of deep satisfaction for all citizens of Gatlinburg in the knowledge that the host town and its people truly measured up to their marvelous opportunity, and should reap a just reward from a greater public knowledge of Gatlinburg’s attractions as the host town of the Great Smokies.”

Although they make their own appreciation in their reporting, newspaper reporters usually don’t send out thank-you notes. For this reason the Gatlinburg Chamber was both surprised and pleased when they received a generous note from Jack Spaulding who covered the event for the Atlanta Journal. The note ended:

“As for myself, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything comparable to the conference that went off in finer style. There were no hitches, no strains, and the hospitality of course was superb.”

Signed by legendary publisher Silliman Evans, The Nashville Tennessean took out a full-page ad in The Mountain Press with a headline: “Well done … Gatlinburg.” The ad stated, “The press of the nation acclaims the magnificent hospitality given the governors of the United States and territories who assembled a few days ago. ... We add our congratulations to those of the rest of the nation. You have not only added to your own fame … but you have helped to bring new glory to this great State and its illustrious Governor.”

— Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com.