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Walter R. Turner serves as historian at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC. A fifth-generation North Carolinian, he grew up in Winston-Salem, He earned his undergraduate degree in history at Methodist College, Fayetteville, and a master’s degree in social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He served with the Peace Corps in the Philippines and later became a social worker and travel agent. His articles on transportation history have appeared in Our State, Business North Carolina, and the state’s major newspapers. He and his wife Pamela live in Greensboro with their Yorkshire terriers.
Paving Tobacco Road: A Century of Progress by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (2003)
Excerpt from Paving Tobacco Road by Walter R. Turner:
“In the early 1930s the Skyline Drive parkway was built through he Shenandoah National Park in the Virginia mountains. Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia and others proposed that a scenic parkway extend from that roadway to link the Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, located in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The estimated cost of such a road was $7.5 million. The proposal set off a spirited competition between North Carolina and Tennessee politicians and civic leaders for the route to traverse as much of their respective states as possible. North Carolina wanted the route to extend to Blowing Rock, Asheville, and the par. Tennessee advocated a route passing closer to the state line, with the last one hundred miles and an entrance to the Smokies in Tennessee.
Though the Bureau of Public Roads, the National Park Services, and the Public Works Administration were involved in planning the road, Harold L. Ickes, U.S. secretary of the interior, had the ultimate decision as to precisely where the federally funded parkway would be built. At a hearing he arranged in Baltimore in February 1934, each state presented its recommendations. With the routing still unresolved at the conclusion of the hearing With the routing still unresolved at the conclusion of the hearing, Josephus Daniels, owner of the Raleigh News and Observer and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, met with his friend, Secretary Ickes, and also talked with the president, on behalf of the North Carolina position.
Secretary Ickes called for a second hearing to be held in September 1934 in Washington, DC. The North Carolina delegation, led by governor Ehringhaus, traveled from Asheville to Washington by a special train. At the hearing, the governor introduced the state’s speakers, among them Senator Robert R. Reynolds and Josiah W. Bailey, Congressman Robert L Doughton, Robert Latham (editor of the Asheville Citizen), Frank page (former chairman of the N.C. State Highway Commission), and R. Getty Browning, chief locating engineer for the North Carolina Highway Commission, who made the major presentation. On November 10, 1934, Secretary Ickes sent identical letters to the governors of North Carolina and Tennessee indicating that he had decided on the North Carolina route. He reasoned that the route offered better scenery and required the acquisition of less right-of-way and the construction of fewer bridges than did the Tennessee route. The fact that Tennessee already had a huge jobs program, the Tennessee Valley Authority, was likewise a factor in the decision.
Construction of the parkway commenced in September 1935. The North Carolina State Highway Commission purchased the right-of-way for the parkway in North Carolina (overseen by Browning) and was then reimbursed by the federal government. The Nello L. Teer Company of Durham began building the road, and members of the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on landscaping it. The following year the parkway, which had been called by various names, was officially named “Blue Ridge Parkway” because, in the words of historian Harley Jolley, “the parkway lies upon the Blue Ridge throughout most of the length of both the parkway and the ridge.” Routing the parkway through the Cherokee Indian reservation west of Asheville ignited a controversy that took five years to resolve. The Cherokees objected to the proposed route of the parkway because, they concluded, it would take too much land and harm the Indian tourist business. Congress in 1940 approved the compromise solution that Browning had skillfully negotiated on behalf of the State Highway Commission; it routed the parkway at a higher altitude, northwest for the reservation, with the state building a connecting road from the parkway to the town of Cherokee.