Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway, a unit of the National Park Service since May 18, 1938, commemorates the historical significance of the Old Natchez Trace, which served as a frontier road linking Nashville through the wilderness to Natchez, Mississippi. The Parkway does not follow the exact route of the Old Natchez Trace, which actually consisted of several different trails, but follows the general route of the old road over 445 miles through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Interest in recognizing the Natchez Trace started in the early twentieth century when Mrs. Egbert Jones of Holly Springs, Mississippi, suggested to the Mississippi Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution that they erect granite markers along the Old Trace in each county through which it ran. The first marker went up in Natchez in 1909. Soon DAR groups in Alabama and Tennessee as well as other historic organizations became involved in the marker project, which lasted until 1933.

After the passage of the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1916, the Natchez Chamber of Commerce suggested reconstructing and paving the Old Natchez Trace. Enthusiasm for this project died as the United States became more involved in World War I. Interest in paving the Old Trace increased again after the last marker was placed in 1933, when U.S. Representative Thomas J. Busby of Mississippi became involved. Believing the project to be in accord with the public works programs being established by President Franklin Roosevelt, Busby introduced two bills that, first, called for a survey of the Parkway and, second, appropriated $25 million for its construction. The president approved the survey, with funding coming from the National Park Service's Roads and Trails fund. Initial funds for the subsequent construction of the road came from the 1934 Emergency Appropriation Act.

Federal public works agencies such as the Public Works Administration, Works Projects Administration, and Civilian Conservation Corps participated in the initial construction of the Parkway. After the New Deal, construction slowed drastically and the National Park Service completed the last segment, which terminates at Highway 100 at the community of Pasquo in Davidson County, in 1996.

The construction of the parkway's bridge over Highway 96 west of Franklin during the early 1990s was a highlight in the engineering history of the parkway. Designed by Figg Engineering Group and constructed by PCL Civil Constructors, the 1572-foot-long bridge opened to traffic in 1994. Recognized as the first American arch bridge to be constructed from segments of precast concrete and featuring a design that placed the bridge load on the double arches without the use of supporting spandrels, the Natchez Trace Parkway bridge has received many awards, including ones from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Presidential Award for Design Excellence, and the Eleventh Annual Bridge Conference, which named it the single most outstanding achievement in the bridge industry for 1994.

Just over 100 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway are located in Tennessee and run along the Western Highland Rim through Davidson, Williamson, Hickman, Maury, Lewis, and Wayne Counties. Although there are prehistoric Native American sites along the original Natchez Trace in Tennessee, there are no such sites along the Natchez Trace Parkway within the state's boundaries. Historic sites along the Parkway commemorate the late eighteenth and early nineteenth period of the Old Trace, including two sections of the original trace, located at mile markers 375.8 and 401.4, that travelers may drive over. There are also several sections of the Old Trace open for hiking. Other Tennessee sites include the Gordon House (1818), a former toll house which is located near the Duck River crossing; the Meriwether Lewis National Monument, which was annexed to the Parkway in 1961; and various mining sites associated with the nineteenth-century iron industry in Tennessee. Located near the Buffalo River crossing is the town of Napier, where open pit iron mining took place from the 1830s to the 1920s. A tobacco barn site interprets the twentieth-century practice of burley tobacco production.

The Natchez Trace Parkway offers a unique look at Tennessee history ranging from the backcountry years of the early nineteenth century through the mining period of the nineteenth century to the agriculture and New Deal history of the twentieth century.

Suggested Reading

Carroll Van West, Tennessee's Historic Landscapes: A Traveler's Guide (1995).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010