1959 Middlesboro, the media, and the Mountain Pass

Published 9:17 am Friday, August 9, 2019

By William H. Baker

Contributing Writer

In preparing for the July 1959 dedication of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, the Dedication Committee chose “Pathway of the Pioneers” as a slogan for the event.

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Before and after 1959, Cumberland Gap has been described by news writers, politicians, novelists, poets and others in many different ways.

For example, the Gap has been referred to as “the first great gateway to the west,” “a pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland mountains,” and as “nature’s passage through the Cumberland mountains.”

In a 32-page booklet published by the University of Tennessee in 1959 and authored by David James Harkness devoted a third of the publication to “Cumberland Gap in Literature,” Harkness noted that “No other part of our country has a more romantic tradition and interesting historical background than the pass through the mountains named by Dr. Thomas Walker in April, 1750.”

Another Volunteer State publication, The Tennessee Conservationist, featured additional pictures and narrative promoting the dedication. The same is true of the Holiday Inn Magazine, which 60 years ago was a responsibility of the corporate offices in Memphis.

Kentucky Magazine, from state offices in Frankfort, was a primary source of stories and pictures that promoted the park dedication in the Blue Grass State. Writers and editors there were enthusiastic in their treatment of publicity for the July event.

A much smaller magazine, Mountain Life and Work, printed a feature story on the Middlesboro Round Table. A small group of volunteers met regularly prior to the dedication with the sole purpose of looking for ways to make the tri-state area attractive and inviting to visitors.

From the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, editors of The Commonwealth (“The Magazine of Virginia”) sought local stories for two different issues. The issue in August carried a two-page spread with pictures of Vice President Richard Nixon and local, regional and national leaders who attended the dedication.

That issue also featured a photograph of Nixon with Harry M. Hoe, local chairman of the dedication, and Millard D. (Dean) Guy, the park’s first superintendent.

An unexpected offering to radio stations throughout the United States came from Broadcast Music, Inc., (BMI) of New York City. Staff members at BMI prepared a 30-minute radio script for broadcast on July 4,1959. The script was mailed to every radio station in the USA. Station managers were encouraged by BMI President Carl Haverlin to join the celebration.

Haverlin was a self-educated Civil War historian who served at one time as a trustee of Lincoln Memorial University.

There are many other stories about the concentrated publicity efforts on the local level and the results regionally and nationally. Together, they brought to the attention of the American people the importance of this new park at Cumberland Gap, “the first great gateway to the west.”

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