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Wednesday, 11 May 2011 20:55

A treasure that deserves reprinted in 1933 ‘Guide’

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More than a few readers of this column collect books associated with the Smokies region. A friend who spends most of his waking hours either fishing the backcountry trout waters in the Smokies or plotting ways to do so brought what he called “an interesting item” by my office. He had obtained at local auction the first edition of a softbound, 142-page volume titled Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Asheville: Inland Press, 1933). Having worked in the park himself some years ago, he has an ongoing interest in its history.

I’d spotted the book in various library collections through the years, but had never had an opportunity to peruse one at leisure. It makes for some interesting reading; indeed, both as a historical artifact and as an information source, it deserves to be reprinted.

According to the title page, George W. McCoy and George Masa compiled the “Guide.” McCoy was born in Dillsboro. He attended the University of North Carolina, 1919-1922, and the University of Chicago, 1926-1928, and was editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times from 1955 to 1961.

Masa was the noted Japanese photographer who helped promote the formation of a national park in the Smokies via photographs published in the national press during the 1920s and early 1930s. He was the subject of a documentary, “The Mystery of George Masa,” by Paul Bonesteel.

Masa’s photo studio was located in Asheville, where he first worked at the Grove Park Inn while teaching himself photography. But he was reputed to spend more of his time in the Smokies than in his studio. In recent years, he has been recognized as a great photographer, renowned for his patience in waiting hours, even days, for just the right light.

The Guide my friend had lucked into contains numerous photos by Masa depicting various scenic spots on both sides of the park, as well as a number of historical photographs that the compilers were able to obtain permission to reproduce.

A Masa study captioned “Sunlight on bed of giant ferns on Big Creek” is a beautiful study of light effects, while another captioned “Camping at Three Forks in the Great Smokies” depicts an idyllic tent camp in the backcountry.

The text consists of a number of motor tours and guides to hiking trails in the Smokies region. It’s full of bits of information such as the fact that, “Andrews Bald is believed to have been named for Anders Thompson, one of the first white men to hunt and camp there.” Or that the name of the vast and infamous heath thicket named Huggins’ Hell in Hazel Creek, which contains nearly 500 acres of tangled rhododendron and laurel, came about, because “Irving Huggins, who lived in the Hazel Creek section, was herding cattle on Siler’s Bald one day and wanted to reach another knob.  He thought he could cross the intervening ‘slick’ but was trapped there for a number of days before he could find his way out.”

Also included are sections devoted to hunting and fishing, plants and flowering seasons, Cherokee mythology, geology, native mountaineer and Cherokee culture and more. Keep your eyes peeled and maybe, like my friend, you’ll be fortunate enough to happen upon a copy of this little gem.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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