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Peter H. Prince Papers

Identifier: MS-2921

  • Staff Only

Series I: Research Files, 1770-2006 houses the files that Prince created while researching own family history and the history of the Great Smoky Mountains. The bulk of the research (housed in Sub-Series B through Sub-Series I) is devoted to the Smokies and includes photocopies of books and articles, correspondence with libraries and other researchers, printouts of Internet sites, notes, and other materials. Sub-Series J houses Prince's extensive collection of photographs showing people and places in the Smoky Mountains. The vast majority of these images are copies of originals held at the Blount County Public Library, the University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, Special Collections, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Library, and the North Carolina State Library and Archives. Some, however, are copies of images owned by private citizens whose families originated in the area that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park now occupies. Prince himself took several while working for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Finally, this series includes maps showing many of the locations that Prince was researching and publications that Prince kept for reference purposes.

Researchers should note that the vast majority of the cemeteries that Prince takes credit for discovering were found by dowsing. Dowsing has traditionally been used to locate water on open ground, but some dowsers believe that it can also find such lost objects as graves, railroads, and buildings. According to this theory, the dowser's rods will cross as he passes over the location previously occupied by the item in question and uncross when he moves away from it. Unfortunately, this method is not completely accurate, as Prince himself discovered when two experts (one professional and one lay) found no evidence of burials at a site that Prince claimed contained the remains of 37 Caucasians, 14 slaves, and 12 Union soldiers. Additionally, Prince assumes race and culture based on the orientation of the grave; thus, whites are buried facing east, slaves are buried facing south, and Cherokee (Prince does not claim to have discovered graves created by other tribes) are buried in the fetal position.

Additionally, Prince occasionally references research that is not housed in this collection. The two most prominent examples of this phenomenon are interviews that Prince conducted with people who had lived in some of the towns that he was researching and Prince's daily journal, which he kept from the 1950s to 2006.

Series II: Publications, 1890-2005 houses drafts and materials that Prince had set aside to write Prince Family Prince and Ghost Towns of the Great Smokies. The majority of the drafts pertain to Ghost Towns and were printed from floppy disks that Prince had assembled. The smaller articles were apparently meant to be paired with images housed in Sub-Series J of Series I and published as a set.

Series III: Personal Papers, 1980-2006 includes materials showing the later portion of Prince's personal life. Much of it documents Prince's gradual slide into depression and paranoia, particularly the lawsuits Prince intended to file against his apartment complex (which he claimed had endangered his life and evicted him unfairly), the Maryville Housing Board (which he claimed had wrongfully denied him housing at Broadway Towers), and Habitat for Humanity (which he claimed had improperly dismissed him from their program and so cheated him out of a home). This series also houses materials documenting the injuries that Prince sustained in his car accident, the lawsuit that Prince wanted to file against the two drivers who had hit him, and Prince's gradual conclusion that his injuries would eventually kill him.


  • 1770-2006

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite and must be requested in advance. See for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.

Conditions Governing Use

The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.


139.75 Linear Feet


The bulk of this collection is composed of photographs, newspaper clippings, computer printouts, xerox copies, floppy disks, correspondence, and reference publications documenting Peter Hayden Pete Prince's research into the history of his family and of the Great Smoky Mountains both before and after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formed. Other materials document Prince's personal life (including his two fiancees, his work with cerebral palsy patients, his struggle to find housing, and the injuries he sustained in a car accident) from approximately 1990 to his death in 2006.

Biographical/Historical Note

Hayden Peter Prince (who legally changed his name to Peter Hayden Prince on July 24, 1962) was born on May 31, 1935 in Sewanee, Tennessee to Hayden Alton and Minnie Agnes (Moinette) Prince. Orphaned in 1946, Prince spent several years among relatives in Tennessee and Florida before learning printing at the Tennessee Prepatory School in Nashville between 1949 and 1954. Although he never graduated from college, Prince attended the George Peabody College for Teachers (1954-1958) and the University of Tennessee's College of Journalism (1958-1959), where he gained considerable journalistic experience.

In 1959, Prince hitchhiked to McMinnville, Tennessee, to work as the news editor for the Southern Standard. In 1960, Prince left the Standard to become a reporter/photographer for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He stayed with the Sentinel until becoming the director of public relations for St. Mary's Memorial Hospital in 1966. He returned to journalism in 1968, this time as the associate publisher and managing editor of the Clinton Courier-News. In 1971, he took a position as the executive editor of the Citizen Tribune, where he remained until suffering a severe manic depressive episode 1985. Prince also served as a national board member of the Society of Professional Journalists (1977-1984), as a nominating juror for the Pulitzer Prize (1981-1982), as a charter member of the Hamblen County Historical Society (1978), and as a sexton and administrative board committeeman for the First United Methodist Church.

As a result of his mental illness, Prince was legally declared disabled, left journalism permanently, and returned to the research he had begun while writing Prince Family Prince: the Story of 1400 Princes Across America (1982). He quickly became fascinated with the history of the Great Smoky Mountains and devoted considerable energy to researching 251 towns that were destroyed in order to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He intended to publish his findings as a 10-volume set entitled Ghost Towns of the Great Smokies, but had not completed the first book (dealing with Western North Carolina) at the time of his death.

Toward the end of his life, Prince was increasingly tormented by severe paranoia. In the late 1990s, he became convinced that an unidentified person or persons were attempting to steal his photographs and/or research. By the early 2000s, this paranoia had evolved to include a belief that these tormentors meant to kill him. Prince was particularly terrified of fire, and filed frequent complaints with his apartment complex about obstructions that he believed would trap him and others in the building, causing them to burn to death. This paranoia became particularly obvious after he was evicted on unrelated grounds in 2003 and struggled to find new housing. In the same year, Prince was injured in a car accident in Maryville. He never recovered fully, and the psychological ramifications of these injuries contributed significantly to his death on April 10, 2006. Prince is buried beside his mother in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Prince married Millicent Norma Ruth Melhorn (who legally changed her name from Norma Ruth Melhorn on July 24, 1962) on August 11, 1962 at the Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The couple had three sons: Michael Hayden, Daniel Melhorn, and Jonathan Moinette. In 1990, Prince divorced his wife in order to marry Peggye Owens Adams. For unknown reasons, this marriage never took place. In 2006, Prince became engaged to childhood sweetheart Aliese Owens Griffin, but the pair were not married before Prince's death.


This collection consists of ninety-seven boxes divided into four series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Research Files, 1770-2006
    • Sub-Series A: Prince Family Genealogical Research, 1770-2006
    • Sub-Series B: Blount County, Tennessee, 1813-1996
    • Sub-Series C: Sevier County, Tennessee, 1861-2005
    • Sub-Series D: Cocke County, Tennessee, 1810-2006 (bulk 1903-2006)
    • Sub-Series E: North Carolina, 1820-2005 (bulk 1880-2005)
    • Sub-Series F: Buncombe, Haywood, Macon, Jackson, and Swain Counties, North Carolina, 1945-2006 (bulk 1900-2006)
    • Sub-Series G: Southeastern Railroads, 1858-2005 (bulk circa 1909-2005)
    • Sub-Series H: Great Smoky Mountains Genealogical Research, 1952-2003 (bulk 1872-1996)
    • Sub-Series I: Other Research Files, 1872-2001
    • Sub-Series J: Photographs, 1838-2006 (bulk 1884-2005)
    • Sub-Series K: Maps, 1883-2005
    • Sub-Series L: Reference Publications, 1883-2006 (bulk 1945-2006)
  2. Series II: Publications, 1890-2005
    • Sub-Series A: Prince Family Prince, 1890-2005
    • Sub-Series B: Ghost Towns of the Great Smokies, 1892-2005
    • Sub-Series C: Drafts, 1944-2003 (bulk 1987-2003)
  3. Series III: Personal Papers, 1980-2006
    • Sub-Series A: Cerebral Palsy Advocacy, 1997-2005
    • Sub-Series B: Housing, 1980-2005 (bulk 2002-2005)
    • Sub-Series C: Car Accident and Lawsuit, 2003-2006 (bulk 2004-2005)
    • Sub-Series D: Profile Sheets, 1992-2006
    • Sub-Series E: Photographs, 1993-2006
    • Sub-Series F: Other Papers, 1994-2006
  4. Series IV: Oversized and Other Materials, 1833-2006

Acquisition Note

Pete Prince's sons formally donated this collection to the University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, Special Collections in April of 2006. Prince had arranged to deposit these papers at the Library before his death.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA