By Mike Steely
When TDOT Commissioner John Schroer visited Knoxville recently to officially open the new Powell Drive he spoke of Tennessee’s First State Road. Schroer and other officials had been taking a bus tour of what is left of the state’s original road that, at one time, stretched from Bristol to Memphis.
What’s left of First State Road, or State Route 1, begins in Memphis on Interstate 55 and stretches across the state along various modern routes. When the old route enters Sparta that portion is actually designated as State Route 1 briefly before disappearing into US 70 and State Route 26. Entering Knox County it follows State Route 168.
Through Knox County the old route follows US 70 and US 11 and follows Kingston Pike to become Cumberland Avenue, then turns north on Henley to become Broadway Street. From there it runs east to Magnolia and then north onto Hall of Fame Drive, then back to Magnolia. The old route then splits from Magnolia or US 70 and follows US 11 as Rutledge Pike.
The original highway then follows US 11 all the way to Bristol, where it leaves the highway at the state line and flows along State Street, turning south at US 11E and ending two blocks later at Broad Street, or State Route 34.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is highlighting the old “First Road” as part of the department’s 100th anniversary. Here and there along the way, signs of the “First State Road” are being established along the route. The original Highway 1 stretched some 538 miles across the state.
Actually the road was the first designated state route to stretch across the state. In Tennessee’s early history, before the settlement of West Tennessee, the Walton (or Avery Trace) and Emory Roads took horseback and wagon travelers from Knoxville to the Nashville area. These were not paved or even graveled roads but mostly dirt routes that followed, for the most part, old Native American routes. The popularity and use of the automobile prompted the development of paved routes.
TDOT plans to officially celebrate its 100th anniversary on July 1st at the State Capitol. A time capsule and granite marker will be established to mark the occasion.
By Mike Steely