You hear Ed Rupp mention it in just about every morning traffic report on 10News Today. But why do they call that stretch of U.S. 441 from South Knoxville towards Sevier County the "Chapman" Highway?
The name honors a man with a vision of national greatness for the Smoky Mountains. Colonel David C. Chapman was a wholesale druggist in Knoxville in the early 20th Century. The prominent businessman attended the University of Tennessee in 1897, played football, but did not graduate.
Chapman's legacy is more closely linked with the mountain range south of Knoxville.
"Col. Chapman is credited with being the father of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," said supervisory park ranger Kent Cave. "He was the prime mover behind getting the Smokies to be designated a park."
In 1924, a government commission was considering potential sites for a new national park in the eastern United States. The commission was meeting in Ashville, North Carolina, when Chapman and a group of civic leaders from East Tennessee showed up for what is now known as the "Knoxville Raid."
"The commission had not even considered the Smokies at that time," said Cave. "People were looking at other places in the southern Appalachian Mountains."
After the meeting, Chapman's salesmanship had moved the Smoky Mountains to the top of the list for potential national park sites. He then sold the idea to the governments of Tennessee and North Carolina, securing public funding for the new park.
Chapman also helped generate large sums of money from private donors to purchase the land. However, convincing timber companies and thousands of families who already lived in the Smokies to leave was a much larger mountain to climb.
"This land, unlike the great national parks out west, was not public land. This land was privately owned," said Cave. "They visited people in the park and tried to persuade them to sell their land and Chapman was involved in that directly."
Chapman received death threats from angry residents and those with interests in the profitable lumber companies. Nonetheless, Chapman drove forward as the first chairman of the Tennessee Great Smoky Mountain National Park Commission. The park became a reality in 1934 and was officially dedicated in 1940.
Chapman also played a part in physically shaping the future of the park.
"He worked with map surveys to determine exactly where the boundaries of the park would be," said Cave.
Chapman's tireless efforts earned him the moniker, "Father of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park." One of the tallest peaks in the park was renamed Mount Chapman in his honor. After Chapman's death in 1944, the state of Tennessee designated the stretch of U.S. 441 that leads from Chapman's hometown towards the Smoky Mountains as the Chapman Highway.
"If a person is driving down Chapman Highway and they look beyond their windshield a little bit and see that mountain range in front of them, which is the Smokies, they have Colonel Chapman to thank for the preservation of that land," said Cave. "It is to his everlasting credit that the park is where it is because nobody was considering this location and he made it a reality."
Right now the park is restoring several cottages that were built in the historic Elkmont District, which is listed on the national register of historic places. Among the buildings being refurbished is a cottage that was owned by David C. Chapman. Construction is set to conclude within the next year.
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