The Story: Blue Ridge Parkway Routing and Asheville


"Asheville is a city dependent mainly on its tourist trade. That trade will be ruined if the parkway is routed in another direction."

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Unfortunately for Asheville, the 1920s boom grew out of control and, like all bubbles, eventually burst. As a recent history notes, "[t]he end of Asheville's dreams came on Thursday, November 20, 1930, when Central Bank and Trust Company, with $52 million in assets the largest bank in the region, failed to open its doors for business" (Chase 110). The bank's failure spelled catastrophe for the city, whose leaders had been persuaded in the late 1920s to leave large sums of the city's cash reserves on deposit to conceal the bank's growing instability. Without cash to fund new expenditures or pay back the city's considerable boom-induced debt, Asheville spiraled rapidly downward.

With this economic crisis casting a pall over the city in the fall of 1933, federal officials' announcement that the Blue Ridge Parkway project would be fully funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration came as welcome news. But the final routing of the Parkway was still unresolved. At first it had seemed that Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee would all get pieces of the parkway, but a contentious battle soon erupted between North Carolina and Tennessee for the coveted southern half of the scenic byway. Were Tennessee's preferred route to be chosen, Asheville would be left off the new road. Were Asheville's favored route picked, Tennessee would have none of the Parkway at all. In 1934, the Asheville Citizen-Times noted Tennessee's alarm at that prospect: "Tennessee Aroused Over Parkway Plan". The details of the routing negotiations are described in more detail in Anne Whisnant's Routing the Parkway, 1934 overlook.

As the battle over the Parkway routing raged on, many claimed that the Parkway must go through western North Carolina to alleviate the economic hardships being suffered in that area during the first half of the 1930's. Fred L. Weede, manager of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and Charles A. Webb, president and owner of the Asheville Citizen-Times, campaigned intensely and publicly for the North Carolina route. The Citizen-Times argued in Asheville and the Parkway that "there is no region where a project of this kind is more needed than along the route which North Carolina has urged. It is a region with a very considerable population, dependent in a no small measure upon the tourist business; a business built up in this region over three quarters of a century but which, for the past several years, has been much below normal". Another article by the Citizen- Times editorial board, The Scenic Parkway, claimed that the people of the remote communities in the western North Carolina mountains needed the economic development and connection to civilization which the Blue Ridge Parkway would bring.

"First of all, it is to be not simply a parkway, but a Scenic Parkway. Second, it is a public works project designed to do three things -- (1) create a market for materials (2) create employment for those who need this employment and (3) stabilize population. The North Carolina route meets all these conditions. On the Tennessee side, the federal government is already doing much for the people. It is doing more for them in truth than any other people than it is doing for the people of any other like area."

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