During the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped to provide jobs for the unemployed and shore up the economy of Appalachian communities by building a scenic road that would link two national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina and the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Originally called the Appalachian Scenic Highway, Congress formally renamed it the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1936. Built in piecemeal as land became available, it took 52 years to complete.
Throughout the decades of building the road, herculean efforts were made to preserve the area's natural beauty as much as possible. The result is today's 469-miles scenic road that travels the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Twenty-seven tunnels, carved through solid rock, create picturesque framing for the two-lane road where the highest point is over 6000 feet and the highest speed limit is 45 m.p.h. No billboards or commercial signs are allowed nor are commercial vehicles, except tour buses. Essentially, the road is itself a national park with visitor center exhibits, restored historic structures, 264 scenic overlooks and amenities such as picnic areas, campgrounds and trails. Billed as "the longest, narrowest National Park in the world," it is certainly the most visited of all U.S. National Parks, attracting 20 million people a year.
Learn About... Mabry Mill
The Blue Ridge Parkway embraced many existing Appalachian structures over the decades as it cut through various communities on its long path. Mabry Mill is one of the most popular structures, and certainly one of the most photographed on the parkway. A short trail around the mill connects historical exhibits about life in rural Virginia. In season, a working miller demonstrates the milling process at the gristmill. The grounds include other exhibits describing mountain industry, architecture and workmanship, including tanning, blacksmithing, shoemaking and a whiskey still. Ed Mabry had no children, but his homestead remains intact to help children of the future imagine the past.