- [S106] The Mountain Press, 8 Nov 2014.
Upland Chronicles: Smoky Mountain Historical Society preserves the past
The Smoky Mountain Historical Society has published a variety of books. They are great sources for anyone interested in local genealogy.
The Smoky Mountain Historical Society Journal and Newsletter is published four times a year and is included in membership dues.
For half a century, the Smoky Mountain Historical Society has been dedicated to preserving the past, weaving accounts of former times into those of the present with the records of history. The organization is devoted to the Smoky Mountain region, its pioneers and its posterity, and covers the three counties located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—Sevier, Cocke, and Blount. Its mission always has been to "perpetuate culture and genealogical studies and histories…and to promote a sense of pride through our heritage and connections associated with the Great Smoky Mountains."
The genesis of the organization can be traced back to 1964, when the National John Huskey Genealogical Society was organized. The president in 1965 was Harkless Orlie Trentham (1892-1976), whose ancestors were some of the earliest settlers in the Smoky Mountains. In order to better reflect the society's target area and objectives, Trentham desired to change the organization's name to the Smoky Mountain Historical Society. That change took place on July 10, 1966.
Membership numbers for the organization's early years are sketchy, but from July 1972 to January 1974, membership more than doubled, to 93. Though the membership fluctuates, it has been as high as 650, with members as far away as Alaska. At times as many as 43 states have been represented on the membership rolls.
Countless numbers of citizens from the three-county area have given selflessly of their time and have committed themselves to the preservation of historical and genealogical records. Officers in 1966 along with Trentham included P.J. McCarter, Elmer Mize, Irene Huskey, Addie Perrow, Earlene Teaster, Otis Trentham, Ruby Catoe and Bob Graham.
Original membership dues were $3 a year. Today, dues are $15 per year and include a subscription to the society's Journal and Newsletter.
The Smoky Mountain Historical Society's first newsletter consisted of a few single-sided, 8x12 mimeographed pages. By 1977 the newsletter boasted a new masthead, had grown in content and was printed on both sides of the page. The publication continued to grow to the point that members felt simply calling it a newsletter did not adequately communicate the organization's mission and the publication's expanding content.
Beginning in 1995, the publication became known as the Journal and Newsletter. It is published a minimum of four times per year and may contain as many as 100 pages. Former editors include Bob Graham, Donald B. Reagan, Cherel Henderson and Florence Cope Bush. Jim Shular has served in that capacity since 1994.
The Journal and Newsletter contains a variety of articles written or contributed by both members and non-members. The subject matter is as varied as the mountain landscape. Subjects might include memories of growing up in the Smoky Mountains, mountain foods and recipes, old time remedies, family traditions and memoirs, family Bible accounts, community, church, school, landmark and structure histories, as well as ancestor charts and queries. A recent issue was dedicated in its entirety to the Civil War in this region.
As well as serving in various capacities with the Society, including editor, Mrs. Florence Cope Bush was a regular contributor to the Journal. In 1992 she wrote "Dorie: Woman of the Mountains," which received the distinguished Tennessee History Award sponsored by the Tennessee Library Association and Tennessee Historical Commission. The award is presented annually for excellence in historical writing.
In 1978, the organization published its first book. "A Piece of the Smokies" contained 57 pages of photographs depicting life in Sevier, Cocke and Blount counties during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Subsequent to that, the historical society published "Gentle Winds of Change: A History of Sevier County 1900-1920" followed by "The History and Architecture of Sevier County." Two volumes of "Sevier County and its Heritage" were also published by the society. Additional publications – great resources for genealogy researchers – include five volumes of marriage records beginning in 1856 and ending in 1987; three volumes of funeral home records; and a comprehensive record of all Sevier County cemeteries with a catalog of graves up to 1988. Many of these publications are still available from the society.
The organization established an online presence in 1997 with a website called Smoky Mountain Ancestral Quest (smokykin.com), managed by member David Beckwith. Smokykin.com features a massive collection of genealogy records specific to the Smoky Mountain Tennessee region. John Beckwith, genealogist for the society, has spent the past 10 years researching his Smoky Mountain ancestry. A major project for him recently has been to enter every name, line by line, as it appears in the 1850-1930 Sevier County federal census records into one single database.
A new website recently inaugurated, smhstn.org, has a wealth of information. Members can view over 6,000 pages from Journals, and can get a free family tree with up to five generations of their ancestry. A forum allows members and non-members to post genealogical queries for sharing and exchanging information.
Since 1976, the Smoky Mountain Historical Society has partnered with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for an annual Festival of Christmas Past at Sugarlands Visitor Center, a celebration where regional traditions of the holidays are shared, as well as storytelling, mountain music, and cultural exhibits on topics such as how pioneers preserved food and prepared for the winter in the remote, rugged mountains. The society also has participated with the city of Pigeon Forge in Wilderness Wildlife Week each year since its inception in 1991.
The current members of the board of directors are President Charlote Leibrock, Vice President (Blount County) Ruby Hall, Vice President (Sevier County) Robert Beckwith, Recording Secretary Tim Fisher, Corresponding Secretary Larry D. Fox, Treasurer Aileen W. Fowler, Director (Cocke County) J. Duay O'Neil, Director (Sevier County) Theresa D. Williams, Genealogist John R. Beckwith, Journal Editor James E. Shular, and Historian/Publicist Gina Fox.
In order to enjoy fellowship with others and further historical research in the coverage area, the society meets six times a year. The January, March, July and November meetings are held in the community room of the Sevier County Courthouse Annex at 2 p.m., on the third Sunday in the month. Visitors are always welcome. At each meeting, members and visitors are informed and entertained by authors, musicians and other guest speakers who discuss a wide range of topics of historical interest.
Past programs have included local pioneer musician Osie Ownby relating the history of the banjo in Appalachia before performing some traditional music. In a more recent program, Ann Blomquist, editor of "This Cruel War: Letters of Grant and Malinda Taylor," discussed the book's characters and their lives in the war-torn 1860s. Blomquist, dressed in full period costume, brought the era to life, delighting and inspiring the audience. In May and September the organization meets for a picnic at locations announced in advance. Anyone interested in membership or other information may contact any member or refer to the website, smhstn.org.
As there is no greater legacy for children and grandchildren than teaching them about the history and lives of their ancestors, the Smoky Mountain Historical Society will continue to ensure that the past is kept alive for future generations.
Jo Harris is a Sevier County native residing in Jonesborough, Tenn.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email@example.com.
- [S76] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume III, 1974-1986, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 26 Jun 1976.
Trentham, Harkless Orlie 84 b. 1-29-92 TN d. 6-26-76 Knox Bapt Hosp welding foreman Tidal Refining Co f. N H Trentham m. Sophia Ogle veteran 139th Co of CAC 1908-1911 SMMG Survivors: widow Inez McKean 211 Cedar Lane P-Forge 2 sons Bruce Bob 5 gc Alan Trentham Brent Janet Bryan Scott 1 bro Muncy Trentham 5 ˝ bro & sis Bonnie Myers Gladys Russell Kate Stogner Sam Trentham Harmon Trentham.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 387.