April 1, 1981
Henderson County Times
The Natchez Trace for which the Natchez Trace State Resort Park and the National Natchez Trace Parkway is named began as a series of animal tracks moving northeasterly from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. The animals that made these trails were mostly bison travelling to the great salt lick at Nashville. Before 1800 Nashville was known as French Lick.
Indians later used these animal trails to travel. European explorers used these Indian trails to get around. After the establishment of Fort Nashborough in 1779 the trail acquired the name Natchez Trace. Trace is a word that meant "a line of footprints" in Old French. Most of the travellers on the Trace were flatboatmen walking home from Natchez. The pioneers of Middle Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1700's had a problem of where to sell their produce. Most of the population was east of the mountains, a prohibitive journey by wagon along poor roads. So these pioneers built large rafts with a steering oar, flatboats, and floated with the current down the Cumberland, Tennessee and Ohio Rivers down the Mississippi to Natchez.
Once the boatmen reached Natchez, they sold their cargo which consisted of livestock, farm produce, and a lot of corn liquor. The flatboats were unable to go upriver against the current, so these sold for lumber. Many of the houses in Natchez, Mississippi are built from Tennessee logs.
The steamboat had not been invented yet so the only way the boatmen could return home was on foot along the ill-defined series of trails and paths known as the Natchez Trace. approximately 500 miles. The Trace was a dangerous and difficult road. Robbers abounded. The threat of robbers along the Old Natchez Trace became so great that returning travelers soon sought alternate routes and one of the most often used was sometimes referred to as the Old Natchez Trace, the Western Natchez Trace, or the Notcha Trace which followed a route in the vicinity of what is now the Natchez Trace State Resort Park. In spite of the poor trail and danger lurking around every bend, some boatmen made as much as 34 miles a day on foot.
When the boatmen got to just north of Tupelo, a place called Chickasaw Old Fields, they had a choice of routes. If they were going to Middle Tennessee they would continue in a northeasterly direction. This route is now the Natchez Trace Parkway. If the boatmen were from Kentucky it was shorter to branch off due north, coming through what is now Natchez Trace State Resort Park and cross the Tennessee River east of Camden at Reynoldsburg. (This town no longer exists in Humphreys County). After crossing the river the travellers could go north to Kentucky or east to Nashville on Glover's Trace.
The Western Branch of the Natchez Trace, also called the Notchy Trace, began as an Indian Trail called the Lower Harpeth and West Tennessee Trail. The trail follows a natural divide between 2 types of cretaceous soils. The streams to the east of the divide flow into the Tennessee River, those west into the Big Sandy River. Because of this ridge it is possible to get through Natchez Trace State Resort Park and even get from the Mississippi State line to the Tennessee River without crossing a single creek.
In April 1815, four companies of General Job.n Coffee's Tennessee Militia under the command of Captains Hudson, Williams, Edmondson, and Cook came up the Western Trace prong on their way home from the Battle of New Orleans.
The Western Natchez Trace was surveyed in 1816 by Michael Dickson and Thomas Johnson. The survey noted that the northern 100 miles of the Western Trace was uninhabited (where the Natchez Trace State Resort Park is now). Soldiers of the American Southern Army cut the road in 1818 after $4,000.00 had been appropriated by Congress.
The importance of the Natchez Trace waned as the steambosts came in and it was finally abandoned in favor of better roads connecting new towns along the way.
The area in and around the Natchez Trace State Resort Park was settled during the 1830's by a band of settlers led by Joseph Morris. The Morris family and others of their group left the worn out land of North Carolina piedmont area in 1832 to settle the fertile West Tennessee lands along Birdsong and Maple Creek, which drain to the northeast and northwest from the north portion of the park.
Evidence of the early days of settlement by the immigrants from North Carolina is present still today. The old Shiloh Church, which is located adjacent to the east boundary of the park (about 1-1/2 miles north of 1-40) was built during the early days of settlement. The most obvious indication of the settler's life in the area is the mark they left on the landscape. The farming practices which they used on the natural woodland resulted in the deep, gullied erosion of the fine sandy clay hills of the area, such as Fairview Gullies (located 1/4 mile south of 1-40). Within a span of less than one hundred years the area was depleted to the level of marginal and sub-marginal lands, incapable of profitable agricultural production.
As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to get the nation out of the Great Depression federal monies were appropriated for numerous Public Works Programs. The Natchez Trace Project containing some of the worst gullied land in the area was approved on October 1, 1934 by the Land Utilization Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In April 1935 the Resettlement Administration was created and absorbed the Land Utilization Division. A little over 40,000 acres was purchased for the Natchez Trace Project at an average of $6.10 per acre. Many of the 350 families on the area were able to relocate themselves on better farms. The Resettlement Administration helped 125 families to move to better farms.
Work began in earnest on the Natchez Trace Project in November 1935 with 5 men on the payroll. As more and more needy people were given jobs the payroll swelled to 1,399 in April 1936. Although pay was only about $20.00 per month for laborers, people were grateful for a job and worked hard.
The first work undertaken on the Natchez Trace Project was soil erosion control. Approximately 250,000 check dams were made of brush, logs, and poles. Improving roads was an important activity, and the main roads in the area were graded and graveled. The cleared land was planted with over 2.000,000 seedlings of loblolly pine, black locust, and yellow poplar. Kudzu was set out in the worst gullied areas. Two fire towers were erected for fire protection.
Recreation planning and development was a big part of the plans for Natchez Trace Project. Three lakes were built-Browns, Cub Creek, and Maple's Creek. The Public Recreation Lodge and 20 cabins were constructed on Cub Creek Lake between 1935 and 1938. The rock for the buildings was quarried nearby, and all the bricks were made on the area. The recreation development also included picnic shelters, a swimming beach, boat dock, and hiking trails. In 1939 the Natchez Trace Project area was leased from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the State of Tennessee Department of Conservation with the Division of Forestry designated as the administrating agency. From 1939 to 1949 all of Natchez Trace was administered by the Division of Forestry. On July 1, 1949, all of the recreational facilities at the Administration Center and Cub Creek Lake were transferred to the Division of State Parks. During the spring of 1950, Browns Lake and Maple Lake were transferred to the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission. On October 14, 1955, the Federal Government terminated this lease and deeded the Natchez Trace Project to the State of Tennessee.
Taking care of the 48,000 acres of what is now known as the Natchez Trace State Resort Park are three separate divisions, which are the Division of Parks and Recreation, Division of Forestry, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.