The Walton Road played a major part in the settlement of the area between the Cumberland Plateau and the Cumberland River. Passing through what are today Roane, Cumberland, Smith, and Putnam Counties, it was not the first road through the area but followed older paths at several points. Nevertheless, by providing an adequate and relatively secure avenue to the west, the Walton Road served as an enticement to settlers contemplating the journey.
The road was named for one of its surveyors and builders, William Walton of Carthage. In 1795 Walton, who anticipated profits from the promotion of travel along the route, secured permission from Governor William Blount for the construction of the first section of the road from the junction of the Cumberland and Caney Fork Rivers in Smith County (Carthage) to a point on the North Carolina Military Trace (Avery Trace) at Brotherton in modern Putnam County. Walton completed the project in the autumn of 1795 at about the same time he received a license to operate a ferry at the junction of the rivers.
In 1799 the general assembly appointed Walton, William Martin, and Robert Kyle to establish a new east-west road. Completed in 1801 and officially designated as the Cumberland Turnpike, but popularly called Walton Road, it traversed over one hundred miles of wilderness from Southwest Point to Carthage. The new road was fifteen feet wide and free of stumps. It was to be leveled on the sides of hills and have bridges or causeways built over streams. Mile markers blazed on trees or signs appeared every three miles. Tollgates and stands (inns) were established along the route.
Spencer’s Mountain at Crab Orchard in Cumberland County, named for pioneer Thomas “Bigfoot” Spencer, was the most dangerous, and the most talked about, point on the Walton Road. Although construction of I-40 destroyed the side of the mountain, Spencer’s Rock still marks the path of the road up the mountain.
U.S. 70 and the railroad followed the same path as the Walton Road to descend into Roane County. The steep descent down Walden’s Ridge through Kimbrough Gap on the south side of Mount Roosevelt received some comment from the travelers, but it evidently did not create the same intensity of fear as Spencer’s Rock.
Walton Road served the traveling public into the twentieth century, providing the foundation for newer roads until the construction of Interstate 40. The Tennessee Central Railroad, built in the 1890s, followed alongside the Walton Road, particularly in Cumberland County. One way to trace the old road today is by locating the abandoned railroad bed. U.S. 70N, built in the 1920s, followed the Walton Road and built on top of the road in several parts of western Putnam County and eastern Smith County.