George Masa, a Japanese immigrant who helped put WNC on the map with his photos. His work is featured in Picturing Appalachia.

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In a collaboration with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other partners, Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library has published a sizable new collection of digitized local photos, including some of the first ever taken in our region.

The collection, Picturing Appalachia, includes more that 1,000 images drawn from several sources, including George Masa, a native of Japan whose pics helped bring WNC to national attention, renowned early National Park photographer James E. Thompson, who was based in Knoxille, Tenn., and Abraham Lincoln Ensley, a Jackson County farmer who ran a side business as one of the area’s first commercial photographers.

Anna Fariello, an associate research professor at WCU who coordinated the digitization project, said that the collection is designed to show how Western North Carolina looked and felt over a span of years running from the 1890s to the 1920s — a period that was key to the region’s development as a haven for naturalists and tourists alike.

The collection was made possible by a grant from the State Library of North Carolina, according to a WCU press release.

See a slideshow of selected images below, and the full collection here.

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Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at

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