Looking Back to Think Ahead

I thoroughly enjoyed Jack Neely's feature on the National Conservation Exposition, held at Chilhowee Park in 1913. ["A Fair to Remember," Nov. 12, 2009] It is indeed timely for Knoxvillians to remember and celebrate how progressive and forward-thinking this community can be when it puts its collective mind to it.

One correction: Neely claims that in 1908, within months of Teddy Roosevelt's establishment of the National Conservation Commission, "Knoxvillians were contemplating an exposition to celebrate the new idea."

Such contemplation began as early as 1899, according to the book The First Exposition of Conservation and Its Builders: An Official History of the National Conservation Exposition, Held at Knoxville, Tenn., in 1913 and of Its Forerunners, the Appalachian Expositions of 1910-11, by Gifford Pinchot, Don Carlos Ellis, and Julia Clifford Lathrop, published in 1914.

According to the book, "Chilhowee Park was selected as an exposition site in 1899; and a map of the grounds was drawn in 1900, on which was indicated the present Main Building and its location—the Forestry Building—the Woman's Building of 1910-11, and other features familiar to exposition visitors."

The map, along with plans for financing an exposition and a lease of the park for one month each year by the Knoxville Railway and Light Company, was presented at a meeting of the Commercial Club of Knoxville in 1900, according to Pinchot's book. The plans were approved, an exposition committee was appointed, and a charter for the East Tennessee Exposition Company was applied for with starting capital stock of $100,000. Its officers were J. Pike Powers, president; Geo. W. Murphy, vice-president; and W. M. Goodman, secretary. Their efforts for a 1900 exposition failed, as did another attempt in 1903. But by 1909, they were dragging that darned map back out.

"The map showing grounds and proposed buildings, which was made ten years before, was brought from its place among other treasures, and copied, with a few changes necessary to carry out new ideas; grading was started, building began, and within eleven months the gates of the 1910 exposition were opened."

Pinchot's book further posited that "This exposition [The 1910 Appalachian Exposition] was regarded by the press of the South as a good example of twentieth century initiative and as a great constructive movement and a strong argument for the doctrine of conservation."

Knoxville was indeed in it for growing the city, its population, and influence, as well as reaping the worldly returns for such generous natural resources. But conservation was also on their minds from the very beginning. And as early as 1899, they were already executing a grand plan.

Even earlier, in 1896, Pinchot was appointed to the President's Committee on the Inauguration of a Rational Forest Policy for the Forested Lands of the United States, according to A History of the First Half Century of the National Academy of Sciences, 1863-1913. Teddy Roosevelt and Pinchot were clearly close, as Pinchot had once advised Roosevelt on forestry issues when T.R. was governor of New York, according to Pinchot's diaries.

Thanks again for the article. That Knoxville, Park City, and the other involved East Tennessee communities could accomplish such a monumental national event 69 years before the 1982 World's Fair speaks volumes about what our community has always been capable of achieving. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the first Appalachian Exposition. Think about where Knoxville and our nation may be in 100 more years. Clearly, they did. So can we.

Doug McDaniel

Knoxville