Parking lot at Newfound Gap looking down from Rockefeller Memorial
November 30, 2023

Newfound Gap is a popular spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Not only does this location have spectacular views, but it also commemorates a significant moment in the history of the national park. You can even find a physical representation of this history with the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial. Here’s everything you need to know about this memorial and its significance in Smoky Mountain history.

1. The Rockefeller Memorial was built to thank the Rockefeller family.

Through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund, the Rockefeller family donated five million dollars to support the purchase of land for the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To thank the Rcockefellers and commemorate their generous donation, the National Park Service decided to build a memorial to John D. Rockefeller’s wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. The Olmsted Brothers were hired to create the memorial, and Henry Hubbard was tasked with its design. This project began in January 1938 and was completed in September 1939. The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial is still standing today.

2. Both Tennessee and North Carolina helped pay for the Rockefeller Memorial.

Newfound Gap Overlook

Because the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in both Tennessee and North Carolina, the two states split the cost of the construction of the Rockefeller Memorial. In April 1937, the North Carolina legislature stated that it would provide $10,000 toward the memorial if Tennessee did the same. Tennessee agreed to match this amount in May 1937.

3. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the national park from the Rockefeller Memorial.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially established on June 15, 1934. It wasn’t until September 2, 1940, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally dedicated the national park. He gave his dedication speech from the terrace of the newly completed Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap. This dedication stated that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park not a local, county, or state park, but a national park for all the people of the country and the world to enjoy. More than 10,000 people attended the dedication ceremony.

4. The Rockefeller Memorial is located on the state line.

North Carolina-Tennessee state line sign at Newfound Gap

Much like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial can be found in both Tennessee and North Carolina. This memorial was built on the state line between the two states. This symbolizes that the national park does not belong to one state or the other but rather to all the people of the country.

5. There is a historic inscription on the Rockefeller Memorial.

Between the two tiers of this stone structure is a plaque commemorating the Rockefellers’ generous donation. The inscription on the plaque is significant because it states the purpose of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and for whom the park was created. The plaque reads: “For the permanent enjoyment of the people, this park was given one half by the peoples and states of North Carolina and Tennessee and by the United States of America, and one half in memory of Laura Spelman Rockefeller by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial founded by her husband John D. Rockefeller.”

Learn More About the History of the Smoky Mountains

The Rockefeller Memorial symbolizes the history of the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Are you interested in learning more about the history of the Smoky Mountains? Check out these historical facts about the national park!