TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE
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The first white traders drove their pack trains over bison and Indian trails, using light canoes or rafts to cross deep streams. The Wilderness Road, blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775 to open up the Transylvania settlement in Kentucky, was the first road platted by a white man in the Tennessee territory. It led from the North Carolina line into Tennessee, passing near the site of Kingsport and through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. From Kentucky a branch circled southward, reaching the Cumberland River at the site of the present Nashville. The term "trace" was used for trail or road by the Southern pioneer.
In 1785 North Carolina, of which the territory was then a part, ordered a road built from the lower end of Clinch Mountain to Nashville. Blazed by Peter Avery, the route entered the Cumberland Plateau at Emory Gap, near Harriman, and crossed the plateau to the Cumberland River. In 1791 the treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Nation granted that "the citizens and inhabitants of the United States shall have a free and unmolested use of a road from the Washington District to the Mero District."
In 1795 a road from Kingston to Nashville, authorized by the Territorial legislature, was completed. After plans to finance the venture by a lottery had failed, the legislature agreed that the Territory should pay up to $1,000 for the actual construction and establish toll rates for upkeep of the road.
In 1799 a tavern keeper of Knoxville, named Chisholm, advertised a post route between Knoxville and Abingdon, Virginia, with trips made once every three weeks. Newspapers and letters were carried for subscribers for an annual fee of $2.50 each.
In 1801 treaties were made with the Chickasaw and in the same year a similar treaty was negotiated with the Choctaw. As a result of these two treaties the southwest frontier obtained use of the Natchez Trace, the Chickasaw "Path of Peace," which linked long fragments of trails and bypaths into one continuous thoroughfare, connecting Nashville with Natchez on the Mississippi, and ultimately by river with New Orleans.
By the treaty of October 27, 1805, the Cherokee granted the Federal Government a mail route through their territory. Similar agreements were reached with the Creek and Choctaw. The Indians owned and operated all inns and ferries on the intersecting roads, charging a nominal rate for their services.
By 1804 county courts were permitted to build roads and bridges and to establish ferries. At points where building a free bridge would impose too great a tax on the people, the courts had power to build toll bridges and private companies were chartered to build toll roads. The State's first bids for road cutting were received in 1804 for a road linking Tennessee with the "most convenient port in Georgia." The first macadamized road, built in 1831, stimulated the demand for turnpikes of this type. In 1836 an act was passed whereby the State would subscribe one-third of the stock of any properly organized company incorporated for the building of turnpikes. Although several companies had previously built roads in Middle Tennessee, this act of the legislature had a marked effect on transportation in this section. The old roads radiating from Nashville were turned into a system of turnpikes. East Tennessee did not fare as well, for the topography of that section prevented profitable ventures of the kind. By 1840 the building and administration of turnpikes (principal thoroughfares) had almost entirely slipped into the hands of private organizations, who exploited the toll gate system and made few improvements. There were at one time 900 road companies, some of which existed into the twentieth century.
During hostilities between the North and South the marching and counter-marching of armies with their trains of artillery and supply wagons churned the roads of the State into miry, rutted tracks almost impassable for wheeled vehicles. In 1865, county courts were authorized to levy taxes for the improvement of highways. Men from eighteen to thirty were required to pay a three-dollar road tax; or they might work from three to six days a year on the road, if they were able-bodied. In this fashion State roads were maintained until 1907, when the legislature voted surplus school funds to be used for road upkeep. Since no surplus existed, a State commission of public roads was appointed to study the situation. A program of county bond issues and special taxes, resulting from these investigations, transformed the old turnpikes into an excellent system of public roads. Advocates of a property tax to maintain public roads have abandoned the plan in recent years, and revenues from gasoline and motor vehicle fees are used for the purpose.
By the Cherokee treaty of 1791 the Indians agreed to allow the whites free and unmolested navigation of the Tennessee River. One of the earliest commercial river passages was advertised in a Knoxville paper in 1795 by John McFarlane, who notified "all persons who wish to sail with me to New Orleans in one of my boats to be ready within two months." This marked the beginning of a new day for travel and commerce.
As early as 1801, following the passage of laws for freeing the rivers of obstructions, a company was authorized to make the Nolichucky River available for extensive boat traffic. Toll houses were set up to levy one dollar a ton from each craft that passed, and frequently lotteries were employed to raise funds for channel clearing.
In 1807 the Nashville Impartial Review, contrasting land and water transportation, pointed out that a merchant who floated 2,000 tons of produce from Murfreesboro to Nashville (a distance of about 34 miles), at a cost of $9.50, had saved $150.50 by choosing the water route.
Flatboats or keelboats were loaded with goods at Knoxville or Nashville and floated to downriver markets along the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi. These boats, made of heavy timber and steered with long sweeps, were capable of carrying large cargoes and were often "fitted up comfortably with apartments, and in them ladies, servants, cattle, horses, sheep, dogs, and poultry are floating in the same bottom under the same roof."
When the cargo had been disposed of in New Orleans and other southern markets, the larger boats were sold to timber merchants because it was impossible to work them back up the river; the boatmen returned home overland.
In 1819 the first steamboat on the Cumberland, the General Jackson, underwritten by a group of merchants seeking to establish quicker communication with New Orleans, puffed up the river to Nashville, and docked on March 11. Steamboat transportation ushered in a new era, and Nashville became the shipping center of the State. Because the dangerous Muscle Shoals of the Tennessee lay between Knoxville and the Mississippi, much of Knoxville's early commercial importance passed to Nashville. As steamboats increased in size and number, channels became a problem.
In 1830 the legislature voted $150,000 to be divided between road-making and channel clearance. East Tennessee improved the channels of the Tennessee River and its major tributaries. The building of a portage railway past Muscle Shoals in Alabama made this waterway to the Mississippi accessible to commerce. The Cumberland remained, however, the main water artery into Middle Tennessee until the Illinois Central Railroad was built. The lower Tennessee River and the Mississippi were immediately accessible to the cotton-growing region, and here the steamboat was an important link in the plantation system. On March 3,1828, the first steamboat, the Atlas, reached Knoxville. By 1831 there was fairly regular steamboat service on the upper Tennessee and Holston Rivers during the periods of high water in autumn and spring. Not until 1890, however, when the Federal Government built two canals at Muscle Shoals, was the upper Tennessee navigable the year round. Wilson Dam, completed in 1925, solved some of the remaining problems, though Colbert Shoals, between Florence and Riverton, Alabama, was troublesome until the Tennessee Valley Authority began its program of river control in 1933.
After 1900, use of the State's waterways declined rapidly. Though long-haul freighting was still, in some cases, cheaper by water, the railroads became the chief carriers. However, waterway traffic is today reviving somewhat because of improved methods of mass freight-hauling by tug and barge fleet.
In 1936 more than two million tons of freight were handled on the Tennessee alone. A flotilla of 218 barges was operating on the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi Rivers, mostly between Tennessee ports and New Orleans. The TVA is now building dams and developing other projects for a nine-foot low-water channel on the Tennessee through its entire length, and on the Cumberland for a distance of 516 miles.
The wave of railroad building which swept the country in the 1830's met at first with little response in Middle and West Tennessee, served as they were with an adequate system of waterway communication. East Tennesseans, however, were fervent advocates of railroad construction. Hemmed in between the Alleghenies on the east and the Cumberland Mountains on the west - over which it was then impossible to build good highways - the people of East Tennessee were at a tremendous economic disadvantage. The railroad was the only solution. The Railroad Advocate, said to have been the first paper in the United States devoted exclusively to railroad promotion, began publication at Rogersville on July 4, 1831.
In 1836 the legislature voted that any railroad company which raised two-thirds of its stock should receive the remaining third from the State. The LaGrange and Memphis, the only company eligible for aid under these terms and the first line in the State, sent its first train on an exhibition run at Memphis in 1842. The road extended only ten miles out of the city and the company soon failed. This and the collapse of various promotion schemes in East Tennessee, where construction work had begun as early as 1837, led to a short-lived reaction against railroads. But as a result of the Southern and Western Convention held in Memphis in 1845 to foster railroad construction, the State issued bonds to grant loans for railroad building.
Rail communication was completed between Knoxville and Dalton, Georgia, by way of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad in 1856. This road is now known as the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis. The east coast and the Mississippi were linked together by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, completed in 1857. Ten years later the Louisville and Nashville Railroad connected the State directly with the North.
Like the highways, railroads were heavily damaged during the War between the States. Legislative efforts to restore adequate train service by loans to the railroads were largely frustrated through loss of these funds by speculation. With three-fourths of the State debt represented in railroad bonds, large sums were voted to encourage railroad development, but only a small amount of the money was actually used for this purpose. When large foreign loans were floated to meet the interest on the public debt, a number of railroads combined to refuse interest payments to their stockholders in order to force due coupons into the market at lower rates. These were bought and later used to discharge their obligations.
In East and Middle Tennessee, railroad branch lines reach into mining, forest, and farming regions; and most of the State's enormous soft-coal production comes over lines from the coal fields of the Cumberland Mountains. Main lines of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway connect Chattanooga, Nashville, Memphis, and Paducah, Kentucky, each on a different large river, separated by hundreds of miles. Connections between these cities have been established only by surmounting many and varied natural obstacles - badly drained swampland in West Tennessee and high plateaus and rivers in other sections.
Through passenger trains connect the principal cities of Tennessee with St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati; Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as Miami, New Orleans, and all principal points in the South and Southwest. Transcontinental service is operated from Memphis westward.
Despite the excellent railroad system many communities are more than twenty-five miles from a railroad, and eight counties are entirely without rail service. For this reason the development of motor transport service was encouraged, and today this form of transportation reaches virtually every point in the State. Motor coaches are operated by 50 companies, and trucks by more than 300. During 1935, 507 coaches covered a total of 13 million miles, and 987 trucks carried freight for approximately 10 million miles.
As early as 1877 Tennessee had - for one day at least - an air mail service. On July 17 of that year mail bearing the specially engraved "Balloon Stamp - Five Cents," was dropped from the balloon Buffalo two miles from Nashville, picked up, and carried back to the city post office, to be delivered through the regular channels. Forty-five years later, in June 1922, the first official Government air mail in the South was dispatched from Nashville to Chicago in a wartime "Jenny."
The first scheduled airline operations in Tennessee were inaugurated December 1, 1925, between Atlanta and Evansville, by way of Chattanooga and Louisville. The second line started April 27, 1930, with terminals at New Orleans and St. Louis. The next year Fort Worth was connected with Cleveland by way of Nashville and Memphis, and in 1934 the Nashville-Washington section opened to complete the Southern Transcontinental line.
Tennessee had twenty-three airports and landing fields in 1932. At this time the Civil Works Administration undertook seventeen airport projects, later continued by the Works Progress Administration. Five have been completed, at Cookeville, Jackson, Jellico, Lebanon, and Milan.
The WPA program is responsible for five additional major airports. These are at Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, and McKellar Field, a point equidistant from Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City.
Tennessee is situated where the main commercial lines cross the region south of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi. The transcontinental air route between New York and Los Angeles traverses the entire length of the State; the through passenger planes make their first stop at Nashville. There are two main north-and-south Continental lines, the Chicago-Miami route by way of Nashville and the Chicago-New Orleans route via Memphis.
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TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE