"In the late afternoon, before the pigs had to be fed and the milking done, if we were lucky we could persuade Father and Grandpa to climb the wooded ridge to the east, whence five long miles away we could just make out the red standpipe on the hill above our house in town. I was astounded that one could see five whole miles." — Harvey Broome
Even as a child, Harvey Broome was amazed by the beauty and grandeur of the natural world. Perhaps the view mentioned in the above quote, witnessed by an awe-struck young Broome on his grandfather's farm in Fountain City, Tennessee was the inspiration for a life that would evolve into a passion and deep love for the hills, flora and fauna of the Smoky Mountains.
Harvey Benjamin Broome was born to George W. and Adeline Broome on July 15, 1902 in Knoxville, Tennessee. During his childhood, most of Broome's outdoor experiences took place on his grandparents' farm. Here, five miles outside of Knoxville, he had access to livestock, clear, fresh springs, an orchard and a view of the Smoky Mountains, or Smokies, which lay 40 miles to the south.
Though the view from the farm may have been his initial inspiration, Broome's first camping trip acted as the cement that would glue a deeply rooted love of the outdoors to his life projects and goals. Broome's father took him to spend a weekend on Silers Bald, a peak on a section of the current Appalachian Trail that borders Tennessee and North Carolina. This first trip, at the age of fifteen, was later considered by Broome to be the beginning of a subsequent 50 years spent hiking through, and exploring, the forests, creeks and crags of his beloved Smokies.
After graduating from Knoxville High School in 1919, Broome attended the University of Tennessee, graduating in 1923, and then Harvard Law School from which he graduated in 1926. He began his law career as a clerk, eventually entering into private practice in Oak Ridge, Tennessee with the law firm of Kramer, Dye, McNabb and Greenwood. Realizing after several years that the life of a clerk had provided him with more time to spend in the outdoors and focusing on Wilderness issues, Broome left his firm and private practice to return to his former position.
In 1935, before he entered into private practice, Broome and seven other key players in the Wilderness preservation movement officially founded The Wilderness Society. Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall and Benton MacKaye were among this original group. Today The Wilderness Society still exists to work towards the protection of wilderness and road-less areas. True to the passions and hopes of its original founders, the current mission is to: "Deliver to future generations an unspoiled legacy of wild places, with all the precious values they hold: Biological diversity; clean air and water; towering forests, rushing rivers and sage-sweet, silent deserts". Were it not for the vision and foresight of Broome and the other founding members, many of the nation's wild lands may not have been protected for today's generation and the generations to come.
During this time Broome also met and fell in love with Anna Pursel, a secretary from the Harvard Law School. She shared Harvey's passion for the outdoors, and in her he found not only a wife, but a hiking partner and wilderness advocate. The two were married in June of 1937 at the Massachusetts home of Benton MacKaye. Broome and MacKaye had become friends through joint efforts to found The Wilderness Society and to establish the Appalachian Trail.
Today the trail is officially named the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. It is our National Park System's narrowest, yet longest piece of protected public land, spanning 2,175 miles over 14 states and 250,000 acres from Georgia to Maine. Spread throughout its path are no less than 60 federal- and state- run parks and forests.
Broome and Anna spent their time together exploring the natural world from their cabin in the Smokies or enjoying the view of the mountains from their ridge-top Tennessee home, a house that the couple moved from Broome's grandfather's farm.
Broome also developed a talent for writing about the natural world in which he lived and explored. The earliest record of Broome's journal writing is from 1941. From these observations of the natural world around him and his experiences in the out-of-doors, Broome was able to leave behind the legacy not only of Wilderness preservation but of book authorship as well. Harvey Broome: "Earth Man," "Faces of the Wilderness" and "Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies: A Personal Journal" can give us today the gift of vicariously experiencing the world through Broome's eyes, almost half a century ago. All three books were published posthumously by Broome's wife Anna.
In 1957 Broome was elected president of The Wilderness Society and remained so for eleven years. On September 3, 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed The Wilderness Act into being. Aside from the actual formation of The Wilderness Society, this hallmark piece of legislation created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which now contains over 700 Wilderness areas.
Although Broome worked for much of his life to preserve Wilderness, the Smokies were often his first priority, given that he spent much of his life in the area. In October of 1966, more than thirteen hundred people joined in on the "Save Our Smokies" hike, a hike that Broome had organized to prevent road construction across a section of the mountain range. Broome was also an active member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and regularly contributed works to different periodicals including "Living Wilderness," "National Parks Magazine" and "Nature."
Other key life accomplishments include becoming a trustee of the Robert Marshall Wilderness Fund, a trust fund set aside for the preservation of wild lands, being appointed a member of the Advisory Council of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, director of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association and being elected president of the East Tennessee Historical Society.
On March 8, 1968, Harvey Broome, after a life lived with passion and dedication, passed away from a heart attack shortly after working on his last contribution to the natural world: a sawed log he had planned to make into a wren's birdhouse.
"And thus flowed the current of life. The seeds of the silverbell were converted into squirrel; and squirrels were converted into foxes. Everything edible, from mice and chipmunks to roots and berries and apples was converted into bear. And bear and his tracks are converted into wonder and adventure for man." — Harvey Broome from Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies: A Personal Journal
Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Broome, H. (1972). Faces of the Wilderness. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press.
Pierce, D. (2003). Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies: A Personal Journal.
The Backpacker. (2000). Silers Bald Shelter.
The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. (1998). Harvey Broome.
The Wilderness Society.
Tumblin, J.C. (2002). Fountain Citizens Who Made a Difference: Harvey Broome.