New Appalachian Moments Blog Post by Scott Ballard
The Appalachian Scenic Highway, what we know today as the Blue Ridge Parkway, was meant to be as functional as it was aesthetic…both getting travelers from the Shenandoah National Park to the Smoky Mountain National Park, but also reflecting that the landscape itself was a canvas by taking a cue from the American Realism art movement showcasing what is real and true, and that remains today in full measure.
But to tell you the full story of how the Parkway got started, Let me tell you about social security. “Why?” You ask. Let’s go back in time to around 1935.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was originally due to bypass North Carolina. Congressman Robert Doughton, from Alleghany County, NC was a conservative Southern Democrat who did not support or favor the expansion of government spending of President Roosevelt’s new Social Security program.
And Ol’ Farmer Bob just happened to also be the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful in the US Congress.
In fact, at the time, Bob may have been the most ‘powerful’ North Carolinian ever to serve in Congress…FDR knew that he had to do something to gain Doughton’s support or else the centerpiece of his New Deal legislation might not make it.
FDR figured out that to get Doughton’s support, he had to do something for Doughton, so, he went to Bob and asked him what he wanted.
Bob said: I want the Appalachian Scenic Highway to go through North Carolina, not Tennessee.’
FDR said, paraphrasing here: “Consider it done my good man.”
And in a matter of months in 1935 Social Security was born and so too was the Blue Ridge Parkway, legislative fraternal twins you might say.
The first spade of dirt for the parkway was turned in Alleghany County at Cumberland Knob and the largest recreation area on the entire 469-mile parkway, Doughton Park, sits inside the county’s borders.
Doughton later said that supporting Social Security was one of the best things he ever did and we think pretty highly of the North Carolina section of the Parkway as well! Thanks Bob! Thanks FDR!