Born on February 8, 1885, in Knox County, Tennessee, Laura Thornborough was a local-colorist writer who, through her writings and photographs, promoted a romantic and anti-modernist depiction of the Smoky Mountains and their inhabitants. Dramatic scenery, opportunities for hiking and strenuous physical activity, and mountain people all attracted tourists and part-time residents from Knoxville and beyond. Thornborough was part of that group most deeply attracted to the mountains.
Thornborough grew up near the Smokies and, like many others from the region, acquired a Gatlinburg house that became a seasonal home. Her home was on Burg Hill, near those of Anna Porter, who founded the library in Gatlinburg, and Jeanette Greve, who like Thornborough published about the area. The neighbors were but three of many women who found in Gatlinburg a hospitable environment to work and live. The unmarried “Miss Thornborough” exemplified another trend noticeable in 1930s Gatlinburg and other places sought out by outdoor enthusiasts–that of women spending time there on their own or with women companions.
Thornborough authored or coauthored several books on housekeeping, education, and etiquette during the 1920s and 1930s, but the book that generated the most attention was her 1937 publication The Great Smoky Mountains. She intended her words and images to guide tourists in their explorations of the national park, which was under construction at the time. A New York Times reviewer on April 18, 1937, emphasized two of the book’s major themes, scenic beauty and picturesque lifestyles, saying, “She knows and loves not only the mountains but their people. And her book has a special merit in that she can do justice to the plan for pioneer cultural museums with its purpose of keeping alive for visitors the interesting features of these mountain people’s old, deep rooted lives. Needless to say, she writes with full appreciation, too, of the beauty and richness of nature in these misty hills.” Thornborough passed away March 28, 1973, in Chattanooga. Still in print in 2008, Thornborough’s book remains a lively account of one person’s perception of life in the Smoky Mountains and provides a literary snapshot of the region during a period of rapid social and physical change.