Trace Parkway turns 75

Published 12:03am Friday, October 26, 2012

NATCHEZ — It was once a rutted, muddy trail, but now it’s a National Park. This weekend, The Natchez Trace Parkway Association will mark the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Natchez Trace’s transformation.

The official groundbreaking for the Trace was Sept. 16, 1937, but it was Oct. 28, 1937 — 75 years ago Sunday — that the official celebration of the start of work on the Trace was hosted in Natchez.

The work had started years earlier, when the Daughters of the American Revolution began placing historical markers along the original Trace. When the proposal for a paved Trace was put forward, the Natchez Trace Parkway Association was formed to lobby for the effort.

One of the most influential members was Roane Fleming Byrnes of Natchez, who is sometimes referred to as “Queen of the Natchez Trace.”

NTPA member Janet Sullivan said Byrnes had a mural of the Trace on the wallpaper in her home, and she used that as an inspiration in her crusade to get the Trace funded and built.

“She wined and dined the Congressional officials in her home, she went to Washington, D.C., and lobbied hard for the Trace for years, and she was very instrumental in getting it,” Sullivan said. “I would say she is 99 percent of the reason we have the Trace. She was the original lobbyist, and she knew how to get it done, lobbying at local, state and federal levels for this.”

With success and construction secured, the celebration of the advent of construction was hosted at Brandon Hall. Five U.S. governors — from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas — and five Mexican governors attended the celebration, which included the planting of a tree, speeches, a barbecue and a dance.

At 3:15 p.m. Sunday, the tree-planting ceremony will be recreated at Brandon Hall at its entrance facing the Trace, and an inaugural celebration — which will be followed by a meal — will commence at 4 p.m.

Prior to the events at Brandon Hall, Smokye Joe Frank will host a special tour of Natchez’s historic places on the Natchez trolley, starting at 12:30 p.m.

And even though it’s a day early, the celebrations will actually begin Saturday, when Don Estes will host a ceremony at Byrnes’ grave in the Natchez City Cemetery at 4 p.m.

A plaque honoring her contributions to the cause of the Trace as the president of the parkway association from 1935 to 1969 will be dedicated at that time.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, a ball and dinner connected with the celebrations will be at the Eola Hotel. Music at the ball will be selections from the 1930s and 1940s.

Tickets are needed for the ball, trolley tour and Brandon Hall barbecue, and can be purchased at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and online at www.natchezpilgrimage.com.