1959 remembered

Published 4:06 pm Friday, July 12, 2019

By William H. Baker

Contributing Columnist

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As noted in a column a week ago, the years seem to have suddenly added up to 60 since the dedication of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The date was July 4, 1959.

While that was a date of great importance, it was the efforts of tri-state citizens in the years before the dedication that now seem to take on an added dimension.

Looking back, we are reminded that the idea for a park at Cumberland Gap dates back to the 1920s, almost 100 years ago. Middlesboro leaders joined with others from the three states to get the idea going and to get agreement from officials in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia to acquire land for the park.

A big dream. A big effort. And lots of time. A reminder to today’s generation of the importance of community leadership, big dreams, hard work and patience.

Early proponents of the park included Dr. Robert L. Kincaid, who had served as editor of the Middlesboro Daily News and as president of Lincoln Memorial University. His book, The Wilderness Road, was not published until 1947, but his influence and persuasive powers dated back 20 years earlier.

Other interested citizens and leading civic enthusiasts in the years before the dedication included Howard Douglas, who was a full-time executive with the Middlesboro Chamber of Commerce. It was he who acquired most of the land for the three states. His assistant, Virginia Huff, would later serve as a long-time staff member at the park.

Former U.S. Congressman Tom Fugate, from Lee County, was a strong supporter for the establishment of the park. He, Kincaid and Douglas are most often mentioned as key players in those early days. Of course, there were many other local and area leaders who worked through the years to generate support for the establishment of the park.

Maurice Henry, son-in-law of Dr. Kincaid and later publisher of the Middlesboro Daily News, was one of those whose views were heard and listened to in the state capitols and in Washington, D. C.

In future columns, I will share with today’s readers some remembrances of the volunteers who worked tirelessly with Harry M. Hoe, general chairman of the dedication committee, in the planning and execution of the many aspects of the July 4, 1959 dedication.

Their commitment to the success of the dedication reminds us of the “Greatest Generation,” and many of those tri-state volunteers were veterans of military service during World War II. They also serve as role models for us 60 years later.

William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu