The dedication of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park — 59 Years Later

Published 1:18 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

Events from the year 1959 are noteworthy, none more so to the tri-state area than the official dedication of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

For decades civic and government leaders at local, state and national levels had been working to ensure the opening of a great new park. Their dreams came true, their efforts rewarded on July 4, 1959 — when the park was formally dedicated.

A day earlier the Park Visitor Center was officially opened to the public. And on that Friday, Vice President Richard M. Nixon arrived in Middlesboro as special guest. He participated in a mid-day parade, visited the Pinnacle, attended a special luncheon in his honor and gave a major address to hundreds of residents and visitors who gathered near the Cumberland Hotel Plaza.

Nixon’s speech was carried by radio station WMIK and other broadcast stations in the region.

Friday’s schedule also included an aerial salute by Air Force F-100 Jet Bombers and band concerts on Fountain Square and the Cumberland Hotel Plaza. Music continued throughout the evening with the highlight taking place at Bradner Stadium. There, two of the most popular country musicians in 1959 entertained a large and lively crowd.

Billy Grammer, veteran radio and television star, brought his band and a No.1 nationally ranked song, “Gotta Travel On,” to Bradner. Stonewall Jackson from the Grand Ole Opry brought the audience to its feet with another nationally ranked song, “Waterloo.”

The Friday night musical offerings continued with dances for all ages, including popular music at the Middlesboro Country Club and the Junior High School Gymnasium, rock and roll music at Joyland Skating Rink, and a square dance party in the Kroger parking lot on Cumberland Avenue.

Saturday, the Fourth of July, featured the nation’s first parade of the country’s 49 state flags — Alaska had been admitted to statehood about six months earlier. The military’s 101st Airborne Division Band provided music to start the dedication program at 2 p.m. and also led the audience in the National Anthem. LMU’s Director of Music Louisa Hoe sang “America the Beautiful.”

Dozens of local, state and national leaders attended the dedication. Conrad L. Wirth, Director of the National Park Service, presided. Fred A. Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, delivered the dedication address. Millard D. Guy, park superintendent, participated in the formal program and recognized the leadership of Harry M. Hoe, volunteer chairman of the dedication committee, and others who had made the park a priority and a reality.

At 10 p.m. on July 4, 1959, spectacular fireworks at Bradner Stadium closed the dedication program. It was a loud and colorful ending to a noteworthy event for the tri-state area and a significant moment in the extension of America’s history for future generations to enjoy.