Roane Fleming Byrnes was instrumental in the creation and development of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Born in Natchez on 11 August 1890 to James Stockman Fleming and Anna Metcalfe Fleming, Roane Fleming had all the family lines to classify her as a member of southern aristocracy and to qualify her for admission to the Colonial Dames of America, Daughters of the American Revolution, Order of the First Families of Mississippi, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In 1917 she married Charles Ferriday Byrnes, a Natchez lawyer.
For almost twenty years Roane Byrnes pursued the goal of becoming a writer but published only two children’s stories. However, her carefully honed writing skills served her well in her other pursuits. A charter member of the Natchez Garden Club, organized in 1929, Byrnes led efforts to restore the historic Connelly’s Tavern on Ellicott’s Hill and played a significant role in establishing the Natchez Pilgrimage. In 1935 she was elected president of the Natchez Trace Association and immediately threw herself into efforts to establish the Natchez Trace Parkway, the project that became a major focus for the rest of her life.
Byrnes worked with the members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation to attract support in Washington, D.C., for parkway appropriations and with the Mississippi legislature to get rights-of-way funds. When Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 1938 bill making the Natchez Trace Parkway a permanent part of the National Park Service, Byrnes received the pen he used.
But Byrnes’s work had only barely begun. She spent the remainder of her life writing hundreds of letters and dozens of articles emphasizing the parkway’s importance, lobbied state and national legislators for appropriations, and led members of the Natchez Trace Association in their efforts to keep the public informed and the project on track. On 9 November 1951 the first segment of the Natchez Trace Parkway opened—a sixty-four-mile section extending from Jackson to Kosciusko. The parkway continued to face major obstacles, including lack of adequate funding at both federal and state levels and difficulty obtaining rights-of-way. Each time a problem arose, Byrnes provided leadership that helped to ensure the project’s continuation.
In 1968 Byrnes traveled over approximately three hundred miles of completed parkway, and a National Geographic article brought national attention to the Natchez Trace Parkway and emphasized Byrnes’s role in its development. Natchez mayor John Nosser acknowledged her contributions by naming her Mother of the Natchez Trace, while the Mississippi legislature proclaimed her Queen of the Natchez Trace and parkway officials designated her the first Honorary Post Rider.
In her later years, Byrnes often proclaimed, “I want to ride on the Natchez Trace all the way before I have to ride on the golden streets.” Although she never realized that dream, by the time of her death on 3 October 1970, the Natchez Trace Parkway had become a major US park system, with more than ten million visitors every year.
- Roane Fleming Byrnes Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi
- Natchez Trace Association Papers, Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters, Tupelo
- Verbie Lovorn Prevost, “Roane Fleming Byrnes: A Critical Biography” (PhD dissertation, University of Mississippi, 1974)