Tennessee State Parks
Are Celebrating Their
75th Anniversary Year
BY LAUREN HENRY
LIMESTONE -- Tennessee's state parks are celebrating their 75th anniversary here this weekend with a tribute to the state's best-known hero: Davy Crockett.
"In Tennessee you've got Elvis, and you've got Davy Crockett," said state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, in remarks Friday at an event at the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park launching the local celebration of the 75th anniversary.
The kickoff Friday fell on another anniversary as well: the exact birthday anniversary of Crockett himself, who was born Aug. 17, 1786, near what is now Limestone.
Events on Friday were only the beginning of the weekend celebration.
Activities continue both today and Sunday and are open to the public.
"Our annual Crockett Days weekend is a great opportunity to thank the park's many patrons and the entire local community for their support throughout the years and invite community members to see what the park has to offer," park Manager Mark Halback said.
"This three-day celebration will offer something for all ages, and we hope you can come out and join us for this family-friendly event," Halback said.
Park staff and local historical interpreters will be available throughout the weekend celebrating the life and times of the famed frontiersman.
Participants will be able to explore living history demonstrations and hear interesting tales of life on the frontier in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
There will be a number of activities, workshops and children's games, in addition to crafts, period food and live music.
Saturday events will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday festivities will start at 11 a.m. and conclude at 4:30 p.m.
PARK IS 'A SHINING STAR'
The program on Friday at the park's visitor center kicked off the celebration.
It included light refreshments, a tour of the Tennessee State Parks' new traveling anniversary exhibit, and a brief history of Davy Crockett and the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park itself.
"It is about recognizing staff, volunteers and seasonal staff that make this a very successful park," said Jeff Wells, director of interpretive programming and education with Tennessee State Parks.
Wells said 75th anniversary celebration worked well to combine with the annual "Crockett Days."
Friday afternoon's gathering was to celebrate all of the state parks, but the occasion here focused on the local hero, Crockett.
"We're celebrating 75 years of Park Service and the Davy Crockett State Park is one of the shining stars in all of our state park system," said Hawk, who said he has been to all of the Crockett Day celebrations over the past 10 years.
IMPACT OF DISNEY FILM
Ken Tester gave a brief history lesson to the crowd of Park Rangers, members of Pioneer Friends of Davy Crockett Birthplace State Historic Park, members of the Sons of the American Revolution, reenactors and others.
Rather than beginning with 1786, at the birth of Crockett, Tester chose a rather contemporary launching point, 1955.
That year was the genesis of the Walt Disney film, "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier."
On June 8, 1955, the movie was simultaneously released in Greeneville, close to the site of his birth, and in San Antonio, Texas, home of The Alamo, where Crockett died in 1836.
Actor Fess Parker, who portrayed Crockett in the film, also made a personal visit to the park, accompanied by a long motorcade of patrol cars, local officials and citizens.
San Antonio was the official premier site for the movie, but the first showing actually happened here, in the Capitol Theater on Greeneville's South Main Street.
"Our country was looking for a hero -- Walt Disney gave them that," Tester said. "He was the image of honesty, wholesome integrity that our country was looking for."
Tester said that, although Crockett was a hero in his own right, the media fascination of the 1950s shot him to superstar status.
"We still have adults come in with coonskin hats because they grew up with Crockett," he said.
ESTABLISHMENT OF PARK
The vast popularity of the film, as well as its theme song and a Disney series on television, also brought Crockett's birthplace into the spotlight.
However, it was pointed out, who outside East Tennessee knew where Limestone, Tenn., was?
"This land right here grew some of the best watermelon known to Tennessee," Tester remarked, indicating that, prior to the establishment of the park, the location was farmland.
According to the history Tester outlined, local citizens formed the Davy Crockett Birthplace Association in 1955 to raise funds to preserve the birthplace.
Within a year the group had just enough funds to purchase 3.3 acres and construct a small replica of Crockett's cabin, which is marked with a small rock inscribed with his birthday.
Ruritan members at Limestone took a major role in the effort to establish the park.
WELL KNOWN NOW
The beginnings were humble for a state park that now draws enthusiastic interest from as far away as New Zealand.
According to Halback, the park museum houses Davy Crockett comic books that were sent to them by an individual in New Zealand.
Following the talk and refreshments, a new history DVD was premiered outlining the life of Crockett. The DVD will remain in the park for visitors to view.
While the weekend events are free, donations to the Pioneer Friends of Davy Crockett Birthplace State Historic Park will be accepted to benefit future park programs and efforts.