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National Park Status for Great Smoky Mountains, 1926

Front of souvenir postcard packet Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1948

A 1948 souvenir postcard from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Image from the State Archives.

On May 22, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The process was difficult, taking many years and much negotiation before the park became one of the 59 parks in the national system.

The idea to create a park in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee originated in the late 1890s.  Initially there was a debate over whether to make the public land preserve a national park or a national forest. The main difference is that in a national forest timbering of the land is allowed, while in a national park, scenery and resources are protected.

Students beside Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign

Students pose at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Image from the Library of Congress.

Once Coolidge signed the bill establishing the park, supporters had to find the funds to purchase an initial 150,000 acres before the Department of the Interior would assume responsibility. By 1928, $10 million had been raised by individuals, the North Carolina and Tennessee state legislatures, private groups and a campaign by school children.

Thousands of small farms and homesteads as well as large timber corporations had to be bought out. The park was dedicated in 1940, and today it is regularly among the most visited national parks.

You can also check out the 1927 North Carolina law that authorized the purchase of land for the park online in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

North Wilkesboro and the Roots of NASCAR

A pit crew working during a 1954 stock car race

A pit crew working during a 1954 stock car race

On May 18, 1947, the North Wilkesboro Speedway opened its doors to a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators who watched Fonty Flock win the first official race held there. The 5/8-mile oval dirt track was well-known for challenging the best of drivers.

Stock car racing fans and scholars have long acknowledged that the roots of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) are closely tied to the tradition of illegal moonshine production. Races between “runners” evolved into spectator events. The North Wilkesboro Speedway was among the first tracks recognized by NASCAR during its inaugural year of 1949. NASCAR’s first finale took place there, with the crowning of the first points champion, Robert “Red” Byron, in October 1949.

The speedway often has been called to as “The House that Junior Built,” a reference to racing legend Junior Johnson who began his career there at age 16. Johnson earned four of his 50 career NASCAR victories there, and continued his success on the track as a team owner.

The last NASCAR race at North Wilkesboro, won by Jeff Gordon, was held on September 29, 1996, with more than 60,000 fans in attendance.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Olympic Medalist Leonard No Match for Camacho

An image of Leonard from the
Raleigh DeGeer Amyx Collection.

On May 17, 1956, Olympic gold medalist and professional boxer Charles Ray “Sugar Ray” Leonard was born in Wilmington.

Leonard spent the majority of his formative years in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where, as a teenager, he discovered his love of boxing. At the age of 20, he dominated opponents in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and took home the gold medal in the sport. Though he had originally planned to retire following the Olympics and go to college, his father’s mounting medical bills and the birth of his son persuaded Leonard to pursue boxing professionally.

In February 1977, Leonard fought the first of forty professional bouts, defeating Luis “The Bull” Vega and claiming a $40,000 prize. He went on to claim world titles in five different weight classes.

Despite his retirement in 1991, Leonard returned to the sport at age 40 to fight Hector “Macho” Camacho. The match was an embarrassing loss for Leonard and proved to be his last. Nevertheless, he finished his career with a record of 36 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. Twenty-five of his wins were knock-outs.

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Birth of the Atlantic Coast Conference, 1953

The program or the first annual ACC Men’s Basketball Championships,
held in March 1954. Image from NCSU Libraries.

On May 8, 1953, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) was created during a meeting of representatives from the Southern Conference in Greensboro. The initial members of the conference were Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Wake Forest. Virginia was accepted as a member later that year.

Players square off during the 1987 ACC Tourney in Greensboro. Image from NCSU Libraries.

Wallace Wade, the former Duke football coach who was commissioner of the Southern Conference, agreed to serve as the ACC’s interim commissioner. Jim Weaver, the athletic director at Wake Forest, was named commissioner the following year.

The seven schools pulled out of the Southern Conference for two reasons. The Southern Conference’s 17-institution membership had made scheduling games very difficult. Additionally, the Southern Conference had banned post-season bowl games because of gambling and financial scandals. The budding conference elected to allow schools to play in bowl games.

A number of names were proposed for the new conference including Dixie, Tobacco, Blue-Gray, and the Southern Seven. Duke’s Eddie Cameron ultimately suggested the name that stuck: the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Wing Walker and Daredevil Bonnie Rowe

Bonnie Row hangs from an airplane by his feet in the 1920s.
Image from History of Hapeville, Georgia.

On May 4, 1932, Bonnie Rowe, legendary wing walker, was killed performing a stunt in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He was 37-years-old. He had almost been killed two years before in Lenoir when, upon opening, his parachute split in two places.

Rowe, who had his roots in North Carolina and had lived in Charlotte, had had moved about a year prior to his death. Married to Alexander County native Florence Pool, Rowe met Pool when he was hurt performing a stunt in Gastonia. She nursed him while he recovered. The two were married soon after, much to the surprise of the Taylorsville community.

A World War I Navy veteran, Rowe starred in Mabel Cody’s Flying Circus and performed more than 12,000 jumps. He was known for performing other stunt, too, including running along the top of a speeding train to grab a ladder hanging from beneath an airplane.

The Charlotte Observer reported that at his death Rowe was hanging from the undercarriage of a plane, lost his grip and plunged to the ground.  Although Rowe’s widow and son remained close to their family in North Carolina, they lived in Georgia for the rest of their lives.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Jim Valvano’s Legacy One of Grit and Determination

Jim Valvano celebrates a victory with his team. Image from
N.C. State University Libraries.

On April 28, 1993, Jim Valvano died of cancer at the age of 47.

Born in Queens, New York, Valvano played basketball at Rutgers University and had several coaching positions before coming to North Carolina State as head coach in 1980. In a series of inspiring and improbable last minute victories, he led the Wolfpack to the championship of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in 1983. Sports Illustrated included the achievement as one of the top 10 sporting events of the 20th century.

In 1992, Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the final months of his life, he helped establish the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, whose motto, “Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up!” reflects Valvano’s eternal optimism. His last public appearance was when he received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage from ESPN in March 1993.

The broadcast of his inspirational speech at the ESPY awards ceremony has become an annual tradition on ESPN and has helped the V Foundation raise more than $120 million dollars for cancer research—a fitting legacy to a man who inspired a nation both on and off the basketball court.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Baseball Hall of Famer Enos “Country” Slaughter of Roxboro

On April 27, 1916, Hall of Fame baseball player Enos Slaughter was born near Roxboro to a farm family.

As a child, Slaughter honed his strength and skill with farm work, hunting rabbits with rocks and playing sports. He also began to develop a lifelong passion for baseball by watching Durham Bulls games. Slaughter began his pro career with a St. Louis Cardinals farm team, the Martinsville Redbirds, and it was while playing with the Virginia team that his tireless hustle earned him the nickname “Country.”

Slaughter entered the majors with the Cardinals in 1938, and stayed with them until 1953. He went on to play for a number of other teams including the New York Yankees, seeing five World Series and ten All-Star Games during his career. At various times he led the National League in triples, double plays by an outfielder and RBIs.

Though a standout player in many respects, Slaughter saw his reputation marred by his racial attitudes. In 1947, he tried to get Cardinal players to strike in protest of Jackie Robinson’s presence on the Dodger’s roster. Though the strike attempt failed, Slaughter intentionally spiked Robinson in a later game.

Slaughter retired from baseball in 1959, but managed a few minor league teams and coached briefly at Duke. He died in 2002.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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