A Look Back at… The History of the Blue Ridge Parkway (Part the Third)

by Ross Cooper

A retrospective historical view celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, compiled from archives of the Watauga Democrat newspaper of Boone, North Carolina



Fox Hunters Paradise Overlook, North Carolina.

Image from “Blue Ridge Parkway Guide Book: Virginia – North Carolina, 1949”, retrieved online from http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/blri/guidebook-1949/index.htm.

May 18, 1933

An interesting glimpse into the role of automobiles during the days of the Great Depression was revealed by a front-page feature story entitled, “Judge Clarkson Pilots Model T through Boone.” The story reports that “[a] dilapidated Model T Ford sedan parked in front of a local garage Monday for a familiar quarter job. The flivver looked very much like all the rest, carried all the well-known rattles, and the fenders flopped more or less like the wings of a bird in flight – but a passerby noted that the license tag was No. 12, indicating a member of the State’s official family” (a “flivver,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “[a]n automobile, especially one that is small, inexpensive, and old.”). Boone locals discovered that “the man at the throttle was none other than Associate Justice Herriot Clarkson of the State Supreme Court, who, with members of his family, was passing through from Little Switzerland, where he owns a cottage.” The newspaper reported that “the genial Jurist chatted with a small group under the [Watauga] Democrat’s maple tree, and chuckled good naturedly as attention was called to his dingy and ancient vehicle. ‘The best points about the old Ford are that it’s paid for and will get you there,’ said Justice Clarkson, whereupon he cranked up Lizzie, and, with a wave of the hand and a cheerful smile, he ‘gave her the gun’ and went rattling down the road.” This episode gives an interesting insight into the value and use of private cars during the trying times of the depths of the Depression, factors which doubtless were influential in the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway as a scenic motorway during this period of U.S. history.

This week’s issue reveals another reality of life in those days in the report “Small Docket Disposed of in County Court Tuesday.” Crimes including “a charge of larceny of chickens” by two offenders, “violation of the prohibition law,” “drunkenness and affray,” and “driving car while intoxicated and assault with deadly weapon” earned penalties of “4 and 3 months respectively [working] on the roads,” “judgment suspended on payment of cost,” “4 months suspended,” and “four months road sentence suspended on payment of $50 and cost,” in turn. Sentencing to road work was, it seems, a not uncommon sentence by the public courts.

May 10, 1934

“Park Folks Will Return May 18th” provided an update on a previous, fog-cloaked visit to the Watauga County area by officials of the Federal Government involved in planning the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway. “Information coming from Engineer James H. Councill is to the effect that the national roadway officials who have been engaged in checking over tentative routes for the Park to Park Highway, will return to Boone on May 18th, after having assembled in Bristol on the day previous. Several weeks ago the proposed route through the Blowing Rock section was practically obscured by fog, thus the return trip.” The news item reports that “Mr. Councill stated that two weeks ago Chairman Jeffress and Chief Locating Engineer Browning traversed a good deal of the route favored by Carolinians, and went on foot to many of the eminences along the way.” At this time, there was debate as to whether the “park-to-park” scenic roadway, connecting the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, should follow a route through Western North Carolina or through East Tennessee – a decision with great implications for the lands, economies, and people along the route eventually selected.

May 17, 1934

An article in this week’s edition of the Watauga Democrat carried the headline “Survey of Scenic Highway Will Begin on Friday,” with a staccato subheading proclaiming that those involved “Expect to Complete Survey and Begin Actual Construction Soon. Favor North Carolina Route. Delay in Survey Improves Chances for Carolina Route. Hugo Fund Appropriated for Road.” The details of the story, datelined “Washington,” relate that “A.E. Demaray, assistant director of the National Park Service, said Monday that plans for another survey of the proposed routes for the parkway connecting the Great Snoky [sic] and Shenandoah national parks are now being made… A late winter has delayed the park service from completing the survey work necessary to locate the route of the parkway. But now with fair and warm weather prevailing Demaray is hoping that surveys can be completed at an early date and some of the $16,000,000 allocated by the PWA [Public Works Administration] for the parkway can be put to work in providing for the unemployed.” Interestingly, the Watauga Democrat writer suggests that, “[t]he more time that is given to surveying the proposed routes for the parkway the better the chances are for adopting the route proposed by the North Carolina highway department which takes in the famous scenery of Western North Carolina,” alleging that “North Carolinians interested in the project are confident that if the parkway is to be a real scenic highway, then it must follow the route proposed by the North Carolina highway department.” The article closes by asserting that such persons “believe the more time the park service gives to making the surveys of the various proposed routes the more they will be impressed with the scenery of Western North Carolina.”

– Visit the Watauga Democrat online at: www.wataugademocrat.com

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Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment