The first efforts to revive the old Natchez Trace began with the Mississippi Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1903. State Regent Mrs. Egbert Jones led the effort to place markers along the old Trace. The United States Daughters of 1812 also marked the Trace. By 1918, the idea of returning the old Natchez Trace to its former prominence led to the formation of the Natchez Trace Highway Association and the motto “Pave the Trace.” That call was revived in 1934 at a convention in Jackson with the formation of the Natchez Trace Association.
Memorializing the rich history of the old Natchez Trace became its objective. Association president Lucille Mayfield soon moved to Washington, D.C. where she was able to promote the project one-on-one with decision makers. Roane Fleming Byrnes agreed to lead the organization, and she continued to serve as its president until her death in 1970. Mississippi Congressman Jeff Busby introduced legislation for a survey of a road to memorialize the old Natchez Trace. Mississippi Senator Pat Harrison won President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s support to include the project as one of the New Deal parkways. Congressman Busby told supporters that he would continue to request funding, but he needed people to “whoop and holler” for it. Paul Coburn of Tuscumbia, Alabama took the lead in promoting the project in his state. In Tennessee, the effort was led by P.M. Estes, a powerful insurance executive whose company National Life and Accident Insurance Company was also developing a radio show called the “Grand Ole Opry.”
The Association mounted an impressive campaign to generate support. Association committees were formed in every county through which the road would be built. Semi-annual meetings of members from all three states were used to maintain the attention of legislators. Radio broadcasts, magazine articles, dinners and local motivational meetings generated public support. An important part of the campaign was to educate the public about the history of the old road.
Construction on the Parkway began in 1937, and on May 18, 1938, the Natchez Trace Parkway became a unit of the National Park Service. Construction funding was diverted to the war effort during World War II. The first section of paved roadway opened in Ridgeland, Mississippi in 1951. The Association continued efforts to encourage support for construction. The 1950s National Park Service program known as “Mission 66” proved to be an important source of funding for construction of much of the road, as well as comfort stations, picnic areas, wayside exhibits and campgrounds. Though it was hoped that the Parkway would be completed by 1966 at the conclusion of the program, more than one-third of the road remained to be built.
In the 1980’s, a new group of Association leaders mobilized. The three state- affiliated associations rechartered to combine leadership as the Natchez Trace Parkway Association. The Community Development Foundation of Tupelo, Mississippi and its director Harry Martin sponsored the Association’s work. “Finish The Trace” became the Association motto to focus all efforts on completing the motor road. Each new section was opened with ribbon cuttings and speeches. Community leaders in all counties bordering the Parkway joined together to add momentum to the push. In 1996 the northern terminus was completed in Nashville and the southern terminus in Natchez was opened in 2005.
Now that the motor road is complete, the Association has turned its attention to completing the park and supporting interpretation and services needed, while protecting the scenic views. To become part of the heritage of the Association, click the “Become A Member” tab to the left.
The Association has published a photo history book through Arcadia Publishing for the 75th Anniversary of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
“Building the Natchez Trace Parkway” is available in parkway bookstores, independent book shops along the parkway and through national book chains. Pick up a copy to read more about the Association and its role in building the three-state national park.