Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Natchez Trace Parkway

I spent Labor Day weekend in Natchez, Mississippi, and along the way got to add another park to my NPS life list. Granted, I only drove about one-fifth of the Natchez Trace, but that's probably a higher percentage of what I'll see in most parks I visit. The Natchez Trace Parkway was established in 1937, no doubt as part of the public works programs begun as part of the New Deal, and placed under administration of the National Park Service the following year, 1938. It's 444 miles long, beginning in Natchez and terminating near Nashville, Tennessee. I got on near milepost 89, which is where it crosses I-20, and headed south. Sort of.
First I did a little detour north to a historic site noted on the park brochure, the Cowles Mead Cemetery. This is the cemetery. Think it's at about milepost 90.
It's a little odd: two monuments surrounded by an iron fence and a lot of sidewalk. If this was a 19th century family cemetery, there should have been more than two people planted there -- and the walkway around the graves cuts it close enough to the monuments that odds are the decedents are getting walked on. Very strange. Still, a good place to get out and stretch one's legs as the cemetery is set back a couple hundred feet from the parking area.

The Parkway is definitely set up for automobile tourism. The various points of interest along the way all feature humongous waysides, like Cowles Mead above and Deans Stand below, interpetive signage writ large enough for the casual tourist to easily read through a windshield. A "Stand" is another name for an inn or roadside tavern, a place for travelers to stop for the night or maybe just a meal. No trace of Deans Stand remains, although a short trail from the parking area does lead to a pioneer cemetery. No one named Dean is interred there, though, so it's rather a mystery, too.

Down around milepost 54 is the former community of Rocky Springs. Rocky Springs is one of the more elaborate sites along the Trace. There are trails, a campground (complete with pull-through sites for folks with RVs), and cultural resources (the old town site of Rocky Springs). The parkway also includes a number of bicycle-only campgrounds, which strikes me as a pretty neat idea. I did notice the Trace is popular with cyclists; I think I may have seen more bicycles than cars.
Not much remains of the town of Rocky Springs today, other than a few odd artifacts like the safe pictured above. In the late 19th century the town supposedly had a population of over 2,000, but poor farming practices that led to major erosion (and the subsequent drying up of the springs that gave the town its name) followed by the arrival of the boll weevil killed the cotton industry in the area.
The Sunken Trace is at milepost 41.5. I was impressed -- it's a pretty deep trench to have been created by foot (human and horses) traffic. Of course, loess does erode easily.

This sign is an example of the signage used to mark the turn-offs for the various sites along the Trace. Highly visible from a decent distance down the road. There are also signs posted about 1/2 mile in advance that give a person plenty of warning she's coming up on something interesting.

The photo below is an interior shot of the Mount Locust Inn. Mount Locust is at milepost 15.5, and is a nice example of an early 19th century "stand" along the Trace. The Chamberlain family farmed as well as providing meals and lodging to travelers, beginning with just renting floor or bed space in their own home and then later constructing a second building to serve as sleeping quarters.

The property was owned by the same family from 1784 to 1944, which is when the Park Service bought the house and 100 acres of land. The house has been restored to an 1820s appearance.
The above photo shows the house as it appears from the path leading from the Visitor Center at Mount Locust. The photo below shows the rear elevation. Mount Locust is the only NPS site I can recall visiting where the interpretive ranger on duty had such an intimate connection with the property.

Mr. Chamberlain's grandmother was the last private owner of the property, so it was his family's home for multiple generations. He knows its history well, and seems to thoroughly enjoy sharing that history with the public.

Other sites between Jackson and Natchez included the Battle of Raymond (one of those Civil War clashes that I'd never heard of before and will have forgotten fairly soon) and Emerald Mound, the second largest ceremonial mound in the United States. Emerald Mound is sufficiently impressive to be fairly unforgettable. It covers 8 acres and is a National Historic Landmark. I've seen mounds before, but nothing quite that huge.

All in all, it was an interesting 90 miles, and definitely pleasanter driving than the route I'd taken to Natchez in the past. One of these days I'll have to start exploring the other 354 miles.


  1. Once again I am impressed with all the places you go! Looks Lovely.

  2. I have an ancestor who is known to have been an outlaw on the Trace.

    He had actually been a pack peddlar out of Philadelphia before the Revolutionary war. Guess walking up and down that area alone with a back pack of merchandise wasn't exciting enough.

    He is said to have been part of the Cave Inn Rock gang from time to time, but was considered too nutso to have even associated much with even the Harpe brothers. (Upon my mother telling us this, my wife said that explained a lot of things she's noticed over the years...apples not rolling far from trees...bah.)

    Beautiful scenerey, and the locations are just the sort of places I'm interested in.

    Thank you.

  3. Have you seen the musical, The Robber Bridegroom?

    Happened on the Natchez Trace!

  4. You can't fool me. That abandoned safe picture was taken on Oak Island.

  5. ATGNWT:

    Nice pictures of some of my favorite places. I have had the opprtunity to drive all of the Trace now that it has been restored and camp on it as well. I recommend it to all who visit here.


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