The National Park Service is gearing up to celebrate 100 hundred years of service in preserving America’s natural and historical treasures. While the official Centennial date–August 25, 2016–is pretty far off, the celebration is already starting on the Natchez Trace Parkway!
The National Park Service is an agency of the United States federal government that was founded in 1916. NPS manages all of our national parks, many national monuments, and promotes historical preservation and conservation efforts at sites across the country. The agency was created by the National Park Service Organic Act which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
As the National Park Service reflects on its work over the last 100 hundred years, one of its projects, your Natchez Trace Parkway, is celebrating its own storied history. Way before the National Park Service began administering the Natchez Trace, history was in the making along the 444-mile trail from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.
Let’s take a look at some of the historical highlights from the yesteryear on the America’s most beautiful scenic byway…
Way before European settlers found their way to the Trace, Native Americans used the Natchez Trace as a well-trod trading route and set up numerous large settlements along the path. Evidence of these original inhabitants is abundant along the Trace. One of the most impressive is the Pharr Mounds, large hills built by Native Americans who lived near Tupelo, Mississippi nearly 2,000 years ago. The National Park Service excavated these mounds in 1966. Archeologists found fire pits and ceremonial materials from as far away as the Great Lakes. The first Natchez Trace travelers really got around!
Many years later Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto traveled through the area in 1541, while first-known European to trek the entire Natchez Trace was a Frenchman who ambled through it in 1742. Thanks to the preservation efforts of the NPS, you can walk, bike, or drive this same path nearly 300 years later!
During the 1800s, action along the Natchez Trace really heated up. Shortly after the Revolutionary War, a new nation sought to expand connections with what was then called the Southwest – the Natchez Trace area. President Thomas Jefferson ordered the Trace to be expanded in 1803, and the trail was expanded sufficiently to handle horse-drawn wagons by the time the War of 1812 broke out. During both the War of 1812 and the Creek War, President-to-be Andrew Jackson commanded troops as they traveled the road to battle the British and Red Stick Creek Indians, respectively.
During the Civil War, both sides used the Natchez Trace to ferry troops and materiel between points of conflict. Along the Trace you can still find Port Gibson, Mississippi, a town General Grant dubbed, “too beautiful to burn.” You’ll also find the grounds of the epic Battle of Franklin.
More recently, numerous musical artists including Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton have recorded hits in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. You just can’t drive a mile down the Natchez Trace without running into history!
So as the National Park Service prepares to celebrate its Centennial next year, keep in mind the thousands of years of history that is at your fingertips along the Natchez Trace Parkway. We are lucky and appreciative of the great work the National Park Service has done along the Trace and around the country, and we hope you’ll celebrate the Centennial with all of us on the Natchez Trace Parkway!