Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Committee Chair

K'Meyer, Tracy Elaine

Author's Keywords



Cumberland Falls State Park (Ky.); Historic preservation--Kentucky


This thesis is an examination of Louisville Times editor Tom Wallace's fight to prevent the construction of a hydroelectric dam at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky between 1926 and 1931. By mining Wallace's recently cataloged personal papers, this study provides a narrative of Wallace's lead role in the campaign that resulted in the preservation of Cumberland Falls and the establishment of a state park on the site in 1931. More importantly, however, as a case study of conservation activism during the understudied period from late 1920s and early 1930s, this thesis illustrates how Wallace developed certain arguments and strategies that were especially effective in confronting the social, political, and cultural currents of the era. As this thesis argues, Wallace's activism highlights a transitional and creative period in the conservation movement's history. By crafting and disseminating arguments in direct response to emerging trends like the consumer economy, the rise in auto tourism and recreation, and the growing public distrust for power trusts and lobbyists, Wallace's activism mobilized a number of interests previously untapped by conservation activists. For this reason, his preservation campaign succeeded at Cumberland Falls at a time when conservation activism waned at the national level. The thesis is divided into five sections, an introduction and four chapters. The introduction situates the Cumberland Falls episode in the broader context of conservation history and considers the historiography of the conservation movement. In addition, it outlines Wallace's arguments and strategies during the Falls campaign and explores why his campaign was ultimately successful. Chapter one has two main objectives. First it provides a brief history of Cumberland Falls prior to the controversy. Second, it considers Wallace's background leading up to the episode. The remaining chapters examine Wallace's role in the complex chain of events that culminated in the preservation of the Falls in 1931. The final chapter also briefly discusses Wallace's rise to prominence and his evolution as a conservationist in the wake of the Cumberland Falls campaign.