Stretching from the Shenandoah National Park, VA, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, the Blue Ridge Parkway contains 469 miles of continuous scenic road. Not only did the Parkway create tourism revenue for nearby towns and cities, but it protects 88,000 acres of land and all the species living there, and preserves several historical buildings for the public’s education.
The project was first envisioned in 1933 with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit to Skyline Drive, VA and Virginia Senator Harry Byrd’s idea to connect it to the new Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In November of 1933, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes approved the new project and landscape architect Stanley Abbott of New York was put in charge of designing the new parkway. To preserve the land and views, the road was to be non-commercial, and have limited access with 800-1000 foot right-of-ways. Controversy arose when Asheville, NC lobbied and won for the parkway to pass through their city (instead of a proposed leg through Tennessee). The Great Depression had taken a severe toll on Asheville’s tourism industry and economy and the parkway project would provide both employment and revenue.
Finally, on September 11, 1935, construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway began in Cumberland Knob, NC. The original project funding came from the Works Project Administration. In addition to the WPA, the Civilian Conservation Corps, Emergency Relief Association, Resettlement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, and private contractors all worked together to construct the parkway.
It would take 52 years for the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed. As WWII began, only 170 miles of road were open for travel while construction continued on another 160 miles. In the early 1950’s, the parkway was half-completed. In 1956 the project saw the launch of Mission 66, a campaign to complete the new parkway by 1966 – an except for 7.7 miles at Grandfather Mountain, NC, this goal was achieved. After much negotiation, the final stretch was finished in 1987 and the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed.
Unlike national parks in the western United States created from public lands, the Blue Ridge Parkway ran through pre-existing properties. Some land was given to the National Park Service by the US Forest Service, but other land had to be obtained by the states through eminent domain before being turned over to the federal government. In sum, around 40,000 acres were obtained this way; however, most of the land acquisition occurred during the 1960’s, not the New Deal Era. The Blue Ridge Parkway crossed land populated for a long time by small farms and towns, and the two large cities Roanoke, VA and Asheville, NC. In some places logging was an active industry, which would interfere with creating scenic views. Residents in areas impacted by the new Blue Ridge Parkway greeted it with mixed reviews, from excitement over anticipated business and economic gains to resentment over losing property to eminent domain and frustration about compensation. Nonetheless, the Blue Ridge Parkway is nicknamed “America’s Favorite Drive,” and has become one of the most visited National Parks.
Initial Discovery: https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/New_Deal_in_Virginia Research: accessed 26 October 2015 https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/historyculture/stories.htm https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/historyculture/buildings.htm https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/historyculture/index.htm https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/historyculture/construction.htm https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/nature/index.htm "About the Parkway" by Anne Mitchell Whisnant https://docsouth.unc.edu/blueridgeparkway/about/about_parkway/parkway/ https://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=68
Project originally submitted by Alice Keith on January 21, 2016.
We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.SUBMIT MORE INFORMATION OR PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS SITE