Natchez Trace Parkway is a modern drive through history

Natchez Trace Parkway is a modern drive through history
Natchez Trace Parkway stretches through three states, including Alabama. (Erin Harney / Alabama NewsCenter)

The National Park Service (NPS) turned 100 years old this year. Over the past century, the organization has grown from 35 national parks to more than 400 sites under the protection of the NPS today. From national seashores, monuments, heritage and historic sites, trails, and military parks, the variety is as vast as the history they contain. There are nine National Park Service sites in Alabama that drew 790,000 visitors with a $31 million economic impact last year. Alabama NewsCenter is spending the rest of this centennial year highlighting each Alabama site.

The Natchez Trace Parkway spans 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to the Nashville area of Tennessee. According to the National Park Service (NPS), which began managing the area in 1938, the parkway follows the approximate location of a footpath that led through the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations. As the American settlers expanded westward in the 1700s and early 1800s, the rough trail became a clearly marked path.

In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson signed treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes to establish the path as a road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez. While some famous Americans, including Gen. Andrew Jackson, John James Audubon, and Ulysses S. Grant are known to have traveled on the road, it was most heavily used by a group of farmers and boatmen known as the Kaintucks.

The Kaintucks were from the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky areas. They would take goods, such as crops, coal, and livestock, by boat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to sell in Natchez and New Orleans. They would also sell their boats and begin their journey home by horse or on foot. According to the NPS, “research indicates that more than 10,000 Kaintucks traveled the Old Trace in 1810 alone. The 500-mile trip on foot typically took about 35 days. Lucky travelers that rode horses could expect to cover it in 20 to 25 days.” At that time, there were a number of way stations, inns and ferries that operated along the route.

“During the first three decades of the 19th century, the Natchez Trace functioned as the southwest United States’ most-traveled road, although it was seldom more than 12 feet wide,” said David Devoss in End of the Road, an article for Smithsonian Magazine. However, the development of better roads, the formation of new cities and an increased use of steamboats brought a decline, and eventual end, in use of the trace beginning in the late 1820s.

Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway, completed in 2005, provides a travel route between Natchez and Nashville, as it did centuries ago. However, the greenway also connects today’s travelers with important historical and archaeological sites and diverse natural habitats. The Parkway has been designated as a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, for its beautiful and unique scenery; from cypress swamps in Mississippi to the Appalachian foothills of Tennessee.

Natchez Trace Parkway in Alabama

The Parkway spans 33 miles in Alabama, from the Mississippi state line at milepost 308, to the Tennessee state line at milepost 341. Unless familiar with the area, it is important to review a map ahead of time, as there are no motels or gas stations on the parkway. Nearby communities have lodging, restaurants, gas stations, medical care and other services.

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Getting to the Parkway

There are more than 50 roads that access the Parkway in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. For specific questions concerning how to get to a certain portion of the Parkway, please call the Visitor Center at 1-800-305-7417. Some of the more common ways that travelers access the Parkway are listed below.

In Natchez, Miss. – The southern terminus of the Parkway is accessed off of Liberty Road in Natchez, Mississippi. Technically, this is starting your trip from the historical “beginning” of the Old Trace, in Natchez, at milepost zero.

In Jackson, Miss. – There are two major access points in the Jackson area. One access is from Interstate 20, and the other from I-55.

In Tupelo, Miss. – U.S. Highway 78 (future I-22) accesses the Parkway.

In Cherokee, Ala. – U.S. Highway 72 accesses the Parkway.

Southwest of Nashville, Tenn. – The northern terminus of the Parkway (milepost 444) intersects with Tennessee Highway 100 about 17 miles southwest of downtown Nashville. Travelers can also follow I-40 west of Nashville to exit 192, McCrory Lane. Travel on McCrory Lane for about 5 miles to the entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway

Upcoming Events

The Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center in Tupelo (milepost 266) has several events scheduled through the end of the year.

  • Dulcimer Days: The National Park Service and the North Mississippi Dulcimer Association invite everyone to listen to the soft sweet sounds of the dulcimer and learn of its extensive history. There are two “Dulcimer Days” on Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Pioneer Day: The Tombigbee Pioneer Group will demonstrate pioneer era crafts and skills. The demonstrations will show the challenges faced and creative solutions developed by those American who lived in the area from 1700s to around 1840. The event will be held on Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Chickasaw Film and Student Art: The Natchez Trace Parkway is commemorating the NPS Centennial Year and American Indian Heritage month with a special art exhibit. The exhibit displays artwork by talented young people from the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma who have attended some of that nation’s art programs. The exhibition is on display through Nov. 30.

For additional information about these events or traveling the Parkway, contact the Visitor Center at 1-800-305-7417. The Parkway Visitor Center is open every day, except Dec. 25, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

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(Library of Congress)
(Library of Congress)
(Library of Congress)

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