By JOHN KIENER
Camping, hiking, swimming and experiencing the beauty of this Appalachian Region are the subject of a recently opened exhibit at the Chester Inn Museum titled “The Great Outdoors.” The display cases at the museum contain camping items and photographs beginning in the 1890s and continuing through 1920.
“In the late 1800s and early 1900s people started to have more free time and money to spend,” said Joe Spiker, head docent at the museum. Spiker assembled the exhibit. “There was a push to get out of the larger cities in the northeast and explore this area. Many visitors were of middle- and upper-class families, including the Vanderbilt family who constructed Biltmore in Asheville. But there were also local residents who enjoyed outdoor recreation as well.”
The items on display are from the Heritage Alliance collection consisting largely of items from native Jonesborough conservationist and historian Paul M. Fink (1892-1980). They were acquired by James Thompson, a Jonesborough resident, from Miriam Fink. Thompson was a long-time friend of Paul’s. All of the items were used by Fink.
Spiker said, “His two big legacies were outdoor conservation and history.” Fink researched regional history and for a time wrote a column for the Herald & Tribune titled “DID YOU KNOW?” containing interesting bits of local stories. His publications include “Early Explorers in the Great Smokies” (1933); “The Nomenclature of the Great Smoky Mountains” (1937) and more. He was the author of many articles on campcraft in such magazines as Field and Stream and Outdoor Life.
Fink was a leader in the movement that led to the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains Park. He served as a member of the board of managers of the Appalachian Trail Conference (1925-1949) and helped establish the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina and Tennessee. He was the recipient of the Tennessee Conservation League’s Z. Carter Patten Award in 1973.
One of the more fascinating displays in the exhibit is a canvas tent used by Fink and his friends that features handwritten information on much of its exterior. One side of the tent can be seen in the museum’s exhibits featuring its name, details about their camp plus several amusing inside jokes.
The legends read: “The Hotel Whangbird, Whangbird Chim, Proprietor – Reasonable rates, American Plan: Somewhere in the mountains, here today gone tomorrow. ‘Where the Whangbird goeth not, neither does the buzzard or the storm.’”
The other side of the tent features two columns of various peaks, trails and points of interest that Fink hiked including several mountains and their elevations. Most of the trails are in the Southern Appalachians and part of what is now the Appalachian Trail. Some of the peaks listed are Celo, Black Mountain, Balsam Cone, Mitchell, Roan, Cherokee, Unaka and Big Bald.
A camp photo apparently taken at Clark’s Creek in Washington County in 1904 shows a number of campers. They are not identified. If any reader of the Herald & Tribune recognizes any of the campers they are asked to contact Spiker at (423) 753-4580 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spiker said he put together “The Great Outdoors” collection when he found enough items “that tell a story. One of my personal areas of interest was how people spent their free time. Over 100 years ago people were becoming more recreational than ever. This (1890s-1920s) is when hobbies like camping really took off. At the same time, people including Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, were promoting conservation.”
As president, Roosevelt created five national parks (doubling the previously existing number); signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon; set aside 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and more than 100 million acres’ worth of national forests.
As proof of camping’s attraction, the exhibit contains several advertisements from a 1914 supplement that accompanied the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog that was geared specifically toward outdoor recreation customers. The company located in New York City said it was “The Greatest Sporting Store in the World.” The Chester Inn display also includes a L. L Bean Pneumatic Air Mattress made in the early 1900s. There is also a 1908 Sears catalog in the Heritage Alliance collection with camping items.
A Boy Scout Axe and Sheath were advertised in the supplement for $1. They weighed a total of 2 ½ pounds. A Matchless Justrite Carbide Lamp – The Newest Lamp on the Market – sold for $1.25. Both items are on display in the museum.
Canvas bags and knapsacks were often used on hiking and camping trips for storing and carrying items. The most curious item in the display is a homemade piece of equipment consisting of two boards – one with a compass inset, the other covered with string around it – and a chart that indicates the distance covered by the number of paces taken. When used together they could possibly keep track of distance and direction during hiking or mountaineering trips. Also in the exhibit are a number of pots and pans used for cooking and a canteen dated in 1918 along with a drinking cup.
Besides camping and hiking, the museum also has a photographic collection of people swimming. As indicated in a legend with the pictures: “Before citizens swam at Wetlands, they used swimming holes. One of the most popular was known as ‘Sally Hole’ on Clark’s Creek. . . Jonesborough residents would state that the ghost of Sally stayed in the area waiting to grab others who got in the swimming hole.”
Docent Spiker said he expects the display will be at the museum through at least the month of September. The Chester Inn Museum is open during the months of May through October from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesdays and Saturdays and from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Sundays.