The Blue Ridge Parkway

Super-Scenic Motorway is a book by Anne Mitchell Whisnant that was released this month from the University of NC Press. It's a history of the Blue Ridge Parkway. But not the normal history you typically hear: a public works project developed in the 1930s to help combat the unemployment of the Great Depression. While that is true, it's also implies a clean positive process that is quite sanitized.

I bring this up because Eminent Domain is one of my pet peeves. Eminent domain is a power that governments wield to acquire real estate for the completion of public projects such as roads, such as was the case with the Blue Ridge Highway, although sometimes eminent domain is used to facilitate the transfer of property from individuals to commercial developers. You can read about that sort of thing in this CBS 60 Minutes article about the abuses of eminent domain.

In 1991 when Whisnant first began to do research into the formation of the Blue Ridge Highway she was a graduate student at UNC. At first all she found was the typical feel-good type history that you often find in PR material. However from materials archived from the 1930s in various libraries Whisnant began to get a more complete picture of what actually happened. Her book is a description of the economics and politics that were involved in getting 80,000 acres of land out of public and private hands and how the highway was formed.

There's nothing very sinister here. But there was more controversy at the time of land appropriation and highway construction than current histories of the scenic Blue Ridge Highway would have you believe. Some people didn't want to sell their land, others objected to the highway for reasons of safety or Tribal identity. The lands appropriated by the Federal Government went through regions historically populated by the Cherokee Tribe. And there's also the economic storm that naturally occurs when a good deal of Federal money moves into an area that is quite impoverished.

I grew up in a rural area in which a huge highway project came though so this book really hits close to home with me. My Father's family used to run a motel and their business was hit hard by the change in driving pattern and they also had a good deal of land confiscated by means of eminent domain. I can only imagine just how huge an effect the Blue Ridge Highway development and construction would have on rural Appalachian areas. While there were no doubt many people that were benefited by this process--I'm quite sure many others were harmed. This book tells that story.


kenju said…
Dave, I don't know much about this, but I have read of some cases where Eminent Domain was used to great detriment. Thanks for pointing a finger at it.

Michele sent me.
Tracie said…
I have been reading a lot of articles about eminent domain recently....this book looks very interesting.

Here via Michele!
Ravvy said…
Wow, thats kind of crazy... its always interesting to find out the backgrounds on how a place can become a place, or a road becomes a road. And its just not cool when it involves taking a place that belongs to other people.

If i see that book around here in Australia, i'll try and get a preview of it.

Hello from Michelle too by the way!

Take care, Utenzi... :)
carli said…
I believe this was a storyline on a two-part episode of The Waltons.

Eminent Domain is nothing less than government theft. Shopping malls? Basketball stadiums? Total BS.

Michele sent me.
sassyassy said…
I will have to get the book. The parkway has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I never think about eminent domain, etc when I am driving along the parkway looking at the fresh spring flowers or the jewel toned trees. I think the book will help me appreciate all that even more. I like learning about the history of things & places.
Carmi said…
This will sound really juvenile, but as I read your entry - I MUST find that book, BTW...will check out my local haunts for it, because it's an important topic...and I'm digressing, sorry - I couldn't get the movie, Cars, out of my head.

It covers similar themes. Not eminent domain, but the changes wrought on society by the evolution of roadways. Wonderful, thought-provoking entry.
Deana said…
The Blue Ridge Parkway is such a part of our lives here I did actually read a book on it's construction years ago. Of course it focused more on the actual building and not the fight over taking the land. While I hate the thoughts of beautiful land being ripped apart for Walmarts and shopping malls I understand we couldn't have life the way we have it without it. Eminent Domain just isn't black and white for me.
I had also wondered about how devastating it must have been for the Cherokee tribe when they put the road through there.
Now though I am happy to have the parkway. With so many trees and so much nature being destroyed at least that land is protected, for how long though who knows. When we went to the Smokies last week we were discussing how the mountains are being cleared for more and more tourists cabins and we thought how it is only a matter of time before parts of the Smokies will be sold out for more lodging. Ironically they are destroying what tourists originally came to see!
Pearl said…
The government claiming land for mass use is pretty common. All over southern Ontario there are NIMBY signs against the government deciding to seize their lands for dump.

Upper Canada Village is a historical recreation with buildings that were moved because of the government mass relocating people for a project.

Think of Three Rivers Dam in China and how much was shifted for that.

Some of the crookedest back roads around Eastern Ontario are because farmers fought so long and hard to not get their land severanced for a straight road and the local officials gave in.
colleen said…
I live down a little dirt driveway off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I love the Parkway but also know some folks are still mad about it around here. Also, this post is meaningful to me in another way. Our family home in Hull, Massachusetts was taken via eminent domain. It was burned to the ground to make room for a sewage plant, and that still grieves me. My family was compensated with a pittance.
Anonymous said…
The book sounds fascinating -- I'll look for it.

Here from Michele's.
Anonymous said…
eminient domain just makes me so mad sometimes.

here from michele's this time. :)
tiff said…
Eminent domain can be brutal, esp when used to establish a concern designed to be economically profitable. I just don't get that one.
Tracie said…
I do seem to be moving a little slow today, don't I! :)
rampant bicycle said…
Hmm. I never really thought about any of this when I was a kid and we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sobering...

(Hello from Michele's!)
Linda said…
Michele sent me today...I agree with your view on this. I lived in Atlanta, on the south side of the city, near College Park. All the homes north of a road were "taken"...yeah, they were given fair market value, but that didn't mean much to people who had been there all their lives. All this for the sake of progress...they've totally revamped the area - it's now being worked upon to create a 5th runway at Hartfield Airport. I drove there and wondered how life could change so much in 2 years!
Anonymous said…
Here via Michele.

And don't get me thinking about this man. They're building the Texas Super Highway (I think they're calling it something else haha) and it pisses everyone off. GRRROWL
Anonymous said…
A very thought provoking post with no easy answers. I loved the ladybug shot in the post below too.

Michele says hello.
Twist of Kate said…
Hi there from Michele's this morning!

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