A journey along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, linking Natchez, Miss., in the southern Mississippi valley with Nashville, Tenn., in the Appalachian foothills, reflects the scenic beauty of a trail that’s more than 8,000 years old. The 445-mile-long parkway commemorates the route of the Natchez Trace, a path originally treaded by buffalo and other wildlife, then further carved out of the wilderness by Native Americans, European explorers, and American pioneers.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, boatmen floated merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. After selling their cargo and boats, the boatmen returned home by hiking or riding horseback along the trails of the Trace.
Because the road passed through territory made dangerous by wild animals, Indians, and bandits, it earned the nickname Devil’s Backbone.” In 1800, as new settlements were established along the Trace, mail service began down the parkway, connecting the Old Southwest with the rest of the nation. The road was designated a national post road for the delivery of the mail. Postal riders who often were safe companions to wary travelers, became so influential along the Trace that they were recognized as the official symbol of the Parkway.
Eventually, however, traffic along the Trace decreased as steamboats increasingly provided quicker and more efficient travel up the Mississippi River.
During the Great Depression, Mississippi Congressman Thomas Jefferson Busby brought to light the history of the Natchez Trace and proposed the parkway as a way to give tribute to the original Natchez Trace. The Daughters of the American Revolution began planting monuments and placing markers along the Trace.
In 1934, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration ordered a survey of the area.
During 1935 and 1936, under Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, the Resettlement Administration began a reclamation program in the region.
And, in 1938, Congress commemorated the historic Natchez Trace by establishing the Natchez Trace Parkway, which was one of many projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The parkway is administered today by the National Park Service.
One of the parkway’s most significant engineering achievements is near Franklin, Tenn.
The Natchez Trace Parkway Arches is a doublearch bridge spanning Route 96. The first segmental concrete arch bridge built in the United States, the bridge was completed in 1994. The 155-foot tall, double-arch bridge is designed to mimic the surrounding landscape, while minimizing adverse impacts to the natural environment. A total of 196 superstructure and 122 arch segments were used to create this bridge, which won a Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1995.
Declared a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road in 1996, the 445-mile long Natchez Trace Parkway is unique among other federal recreational motorways because of its commemoration of a historic transportation route. Additionally, the Trace was traveled by many historic notables, including Davy Crockett, Lafayette, Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and Meriwether Lewis.
Today, the parkway is one of the most used federal roads in the National Park System.
Closely following the original path, the Natchez Trace Parkway was designed to preserve the historical significance of the Trace and the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.