Old Natchez Trace deserves dedicated preservation efforts | Opinion
Together, we must preserve Tennessee history—we owe it to our past, our present, and our future generations.• Laura Turner, Guest Columnist, President of Citizens for Old Natchez Trace.
More than 400 miles of the original Natchez Trace footpath went through Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez territories by the late 18th century, connecting Middle Tennessee to Southern Mississippi.
Over time, much of the original trail became local roads, but the Old Natchez Trace and its modern-day counterpart, the Natchez Trace Parkway, are so much more than a trail guiding one of the most scenic drives in America – it’s an historical and cultural landscape.
Old Natchez Trace Road is covered with water from the Harpeth River Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, after days of rain hit Middle Tennessee.
Citizens for Old Natchez Trace was started in 2013 to protect and conserve this historic trail from being devastated by a road widening project which would have erased the Trace.
As a result, the county adopted a sensitive template for this historic road preserving the tree canopy and protecting the 182 stone box graves under the roadbed in front of Old Town on the Old Natchez Trace. And now, a new challenge arises.
Alice Hooker was a celebrated land conservationist who dedicated much of her life to preserving land in Tennessee. One property she owned and passed down to her children is located along the original footpath of Natchez Trace, which is rich in scenic beauty with wide swaths of open fields and trees meandering along the Harpeth River.
According to National Park Service, 1935 maps show the roadbed of the original 1801 Natchez Trace run directly on the Hooker property. And it is for this property that, in 2020, Lisa Hooker Campbell and her two brothers used the cover of COVID-19 and a series of loopholes to revoke their late mother’s restrictive covenants on her land with rapacious avarice.
The Natchez Trace rural landscape in Williamson County was placed on the endangered list again in 2016 under the threat of development, according to the Tennessee Preservation Trust.
From the first filing, the Hooker’s development application with the Williamson County Planning Commission was riddled with problems. The Planning staff’s denial points to several deficiencies: traffic impact analysis, hydrological analysis, failure to comply with existing zoning laws, and the natural resources plan.
Archaeological studies of land within a three-mile radius of the Hooker property have identified 77 recorded archaeological sites, so the likelihood for Indigenous remains and evidence of Native American settlements on the property is extremely high.
Without the necessary archaeological and environmental studies done on the Hooker property, any development will permanently erase the cultural significance of this land from Tennessee history. The history of this land and the people who have lived here is worth learning – some who own culturally significant land see themselves as stewards of it, others only see dense development dollar signs.
In Williamson County, our historic, scenic, and culturally significant resources are being destroyed. County leaders voted unanimously to adopt a one house to 5-acre land use plan to protect rural landscapes in 2020. Traffic is abominable and getting worse. Residential growth does not pay for itself, taxpayers pay for it. Our tax dollars pay for the new schools, widened rural roads and infrastructure needed for developers’ dense subdivisions. Our ‘Town and Country’ lifestyle fuels the economic development engine of the County. When the ‘country’ part of the County is gone, this engine will choke and stall.
The Old Natchez Trace is a literal path that allows us to almost transcend time, giving us a deeper understanding of the past, a renewed sense of place in our present, and a hope that future generations will be able to appreciate this historic landscape for years to come. But once paved over, it is gone forever.
We need rural preservation, not density devastation.
Together, we must preserve Tennessee history—we owe it to our past, our present, and our future generations. “And when I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its bounty and goodness, you defiled my land and corrupted the possession I had promised you.”-Jeremiah 2:7
Laura Turner is the President of Citizens for Old Natchez Trace.