Old road, southeastern U.S. It follows an Indian trail (or trace) to the northeast from Natchez, Miss., across northwestern Alabama to Nashville, Tenn., and is more than 500 mi (800 km) long. A wagon road constructed in the early 19th century was used by traders and settlers. Among its historical landmarks are the Emerald and Bynum Indian ceremonial mounds and Chickasaw Village, in Mississippi, and Napier Mine and Metal Ford in Tennessee.
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Construction was begun by the federal government in the 1930s. The final two segments, between Interstate 55 and Interstate 20 (in Ridgeland and Clinton, Mississippi, respectively); and between Liberty Road in the city of Natchez, Mississippi and U.S. Highway 61 near Washington, Mississippi, opened to the public on May 21, 2005. The road is maintained by the National Park Service, and has been designated an All-American Road. The purpose of the road is to commemorate the original route of the Natchez Trace.
The gentle sloping and curving alignment of the route is due to the fact that it exists on top of, and follows, an ancient salt-lick-to-grazing pasture migratory route of the American Bison and other game, who moved between grazing the pastures of central and western Mississippi and the salt and other mineral surface deposits of the Cumberland Plateau. The route generally traverses upon the tops of the low hills and ridges of the watershed divides from northeast to southwest.
Native Americans, following the “traces” of Bison and other game, further improved this “walking trail” for foot-borne commerce between major villages located in middle Mississippi and central Tennessee. The route is locally circuitous. However, by traversing this route the Bison, and later humans, avoided the energy taxing, endless, climbing and descending of the many hills along the way. Also avoided was the danger to a herd (or groups of human travelers) of being caught en-masse at the bottom of a hollow or valley if attacked by predators. The nature of the route, to this day, affords good all-around visibility for those who travel it. Though the modern traveler by car, or on foot, will only appreciate the beauty of the scenery afforded by the topography of the alignment.
By the time of European exploration and settlement the route was well known and established as the fastest means of communication between the Cumberland Plateau, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico settlements of, Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans. In the early Post Revolutionary War period of America’s (south) westward expansion, the Trace was the return route for American flat-boat commerce between the territories of the upper & lower Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland River valleys. The Americans would construct flat-boats, load their commerce upon them, and drift upon the said same rivers, one-way south-southwestward all the way to New Orleans. They would sell their goods (including the salvageable logs of the flat-boats), and return home via the Trace (for the middle section of their return trip), to as far away as Pittsburgh, PA.
Improved communications (steam boats, stagecoach lines, and railroads) and the development of river cites along the rivers named above, (e.g., Natchez, MS, Memphis, TN, Paducah, KY, Nashville, TN, and Louisville, KY) made the route obsolete as a means of passenger and freight commerce. As a result no major population centers were born or developed along the Trace, because of the Trace's alignment, between its termini Nashville and Natchez. The two cities of note, near or on the Trace's alignment (Jackson, MS and Tupelo, MS), developed as a result of their alignment along axis of communication different from the Trace. To this day has there has not been constructed a dedicated rail alignment between Natchez and Nashville.
Thus the Trace and its alignment come down to us today almost completely undeveloped and unspoiled along its whole route. And many sections of the original foot path are visible today within the Parkway right-of-way to observe, and for hiking.
The road was one of the many projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The road was the proposal of U.S. Congressman Thomas Jefferson Busby of Mississippi, who proposed it as a way to give tribute to the original Natchez Trace. Inspired by the proposal, the Daughters of the American Revolution began planting markers and monuments along the Trace. In 1934, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration ordered a survey. President Roosevelt signed the legislation to create the parkway on May 18, 1938. Construction on the Parkway began in 1939, to be overseen by the National Park Service. Its length includes more than 45,000 acres (182 km²) and the towering Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge in Williamson County, Tennessee, completed in 1994 and one of only two post-tensioned, segmental concrete arch bridges in the world. (See the Federal Highway Administration's photo)
There are numerous historical sites on the Parkway, including the Meriwether Lewis Museum, the refurbished Mount Locust stand, and the Ridgeland Crafts Center in Ridgeland, Mississippi, which focuses on promoting Mississippi's native art. Nestled between the Parkway and Old Port Gibson Road is the ghost town of Rocky Springs that thrived in the late 1800s. Today the old Rocky Springs Methodist Church, the cemetery and several building sites still exist and are accessible from the Parkway. Scenic Cypress Swamp is located at Mile Post 122. There are also several cascading waterfalls to view, some require a little hike from the parkway to view. In addition, parts of the original trail are still accessible. The history of the Parkway and that of the entire Trace is summarized at the Natchez Trace Visitor Center in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Commercial traffic is prohibited along the entire route, and the speed limit is 50 miles per hour (80 km/h).
Emergency Appropriations Act of June 19, 1934, allocated initial construction funds; established as parkway under National Park Service by act of May 18, 1938. Ackia Battleground National Monument (established August 27, 1935, and now called Chickasaw Village) and Meriwether Lewis Park (proclaimed as Meriwether Lewis National Monument February 6, 1925 and transferred from the War Department August 10, 1933) were added to the parkway by act of August 10, 1961.