Gatlinburg post office was doing very little business early in 1934. The small post office only generated about $4,000 a year in stamp sales and money order fees, therefore, it remained a substation of the Sevierville post office.
Since 1932, Gatlinburg had been the headquarters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although this had somewhat increased the flow of mail, the great surge of tourists into the town was still several years in the future.
But on October 8, 1934, in only one day, according to the figure reported to Knoxville newspapers at the time, Gatlinburg’s little rural postal station had first day of issue sales of $6,000 of the new ten-cent Great Smoky Mountains commemorative stamp.
Because the Gatlinburg post office was only a substation, the cancellations were marked “Sevierville,” with “Gatlinburg Rural Station” ink bars across the stamp.
This event occurred almost four months after Congress officially established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on June 15, 1934, preserving the land for generations to come.
But there was not a ceremony of any kind held locally. In fact, it wasn’t until Sept. 2, 1940 that President Roosevelt came to speak at the official dedication ceremony at Newfound Gap.
On the day the stamp was issued, Gatlinburg was visited by the greatest number of limousines driven by uniform chauffeurs it had ever seen in one day, with most of the limousine owners being wealthy stamp collectors.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an avid stamp collector, so it is possible that he made certain that he received one of the stamps.
A St. Louis stamp dealer, J. Edward Vining, made the largest purchase. For his customers he paid $700 for 7,000 stamps and hired local people to help him put them on postcards, so they could be mailed to his customers with the Gatlinburg rural station postmark.
The stamp was adopted from a photograph submitted by the Thompson brothers, Robin and James E. The picture was an enlarged view of Mount LeConte, thin gray in the distance, with its peak in the distance with a giant pine tree in the foreground.
Gatlinburg was the only place anywhere that the stamps were sold on the first day. But they were sold at post offices across the country on following days.
So, it was having a stamp canceled with the Gatlinburg postmark and dated the first day of issue that made it much more meaningful to stamp collectors.
The stamps are even more meaningful today. Some new stamp collector guides list the value of the 1934 GSM commemorative issue one stamp alone in mint condition, at $6.50. That’s without the postmark.
Although there were several large individual purchases on the first day, including one of 3,000 ($300 worth) by a man from Knoxville, there were thousands of letters containing only a dime each for one stamp.
Each person who sent money also sent a self-addressed envelope. Postmaster J.J. Graham of Knoxville sent six of his staff to help process the one-day flood of outgoing mail. Help was sent from Sevierville and also from Washington, D.C. Together, there were over 20 postal clerks busy pasting stamps and canceling the “first day of issue” covers.
There is considerable doubt that all the commemorative mailings could be processed that first day. The dates on some of the canceling machines may have been kept at Oct. 8. 1934 for a day or two following.
There were 10,000 stamps received in Gatlinburg for the sale. If any had to be returned that information is lost in time. There are very few people still living that can remember the event of 86 years ago.
Theodore “Ted” Davenport, a Sevier County native who in 1934 was a young administrative clerk in the new park headquarters purchased one of the first day covers.
His copy was more distinctive than most of the others postmarked that day because it bears the signature of Major J. Ross Eakin, then superintendent of the park.
In the years that followed Ted himself was superintendent of several national parks. He and his wife, the former Cecile Price of Greenbrier, moved back to Sevier County after his retirement. He held on to the prized first-day cover until his death in 1993 at age 83.
Although people flocked to Gatlinburg to buy the stamps, the everyday buyer that included many local residents was willing to fork out the price of ten cents, a very high price in the depression era, for a stamp.
Anyone who wrote a letter in 1934 could mail one first -class surface mail to any part of the United States, with a three-cent stamp.
Most people who purchased the stamps have held on to them and passed them on to their children and grandchild. Therefore, the Smoky Mountains first-day of issue commemorative stamp remains hard to find.
Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian.