Natchez Trace Parkway is Rehabbing the Meriwether Lewis Site

Charles Wilson Peale portrait of Meriwether Lewis, ca. 1807.

The Park Service is using economic stimulus funds to make extensive, long-overdue improvements to the Meriwether Lewis Park (aka Meriwether Lewis Historic Site), a component of Natchez Trace Parkway.

Famed explorer Meriwether Lewis, then Governor of Upper Louisiana Territory, died of gunshot wounds while overnighting at Grinder’s Stand, a crude cabin inn along the old Natchez Trail near Hohenwald, Tennessee. Although Lewis’ death was ruled a suicide, many people believe that he may have been murdered. Lewis’ descendants are pressing for further investigation, including an exhumation and re-examination of the remains. The Park Service has thus far steadfastly refused, citing the agency’s mandate to preserve historic resources in its care.

The Park Service is a key player in this drama because the agency is the custodian of Meriwether Lewis Park, a component of Natchez Trace Parkway. The historic site honoring Lewis was proclaimed Meriwether Lewis National Monument in 1925, transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service in 1933, and added to the Natchez Trace Parkway on August 10, 1961. This parkway component is now dubbed the Meriwether Lewis Site, though it is still commonly known as Meriwether Lewis Park or Meriwether Lewis Park and Monument.

Today the site occupies a 900-acre tract that contains Lewis’ grave, a monument that the State of Tennessee erected in 1848, a “reasonable facsimile” of the Grinder’s Stand tavern/inn that the CCC built in the 1930s, and other visitor use facilities, including restrooms, a picnic area, hiking trails, and a beautifully wooded no-fee campground with 31 no-hookup sites.

Over the decades, the park’s visitor use facilities and infrastructure, including the Grinder’s Stand replica, became badly deteriorated due to wear and the elements. The backlog of too-long deferred maintenance, repairs, and upgrades added up to millions of dollars that the parkway just didn’t have.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to the rescue! The Park Service was recently able to dip into the ARRA economic stimulus well and come out with $3.2 million for the Meriwether Lewis Park upgrade. That kind of money will fund some pretty extensive improvements. In addition to renovating the interpretive cabin and providing universal access to visitor facilities, the project will modernize utility systems, improve roads and parking, and create new interpretive exhibits.

According to a Natchez Trace Parkway press release, some of the preliminary work has already been completed "with full project work beginning by spring of 2010."

Comments

I am so glad to hear that there is rehabilitation in the works for the Meriwether Lewis site. Captain Lewis was truly a great American and a wonderful human being. We traveled on the Natchez Trace Parkway several years ago in a combination vacation/research trip for the book To the Ends of the Earth, a novel about Lewis's violent death along the Trace. The beauty and history of the Natchez Trace are without parallel in the United States. I look forward to a return visit and to the improvements. This is great news.

I haven't read your book yet, but To the Ends of the Earth is on my "some day" list. BTW, Mary/Liz, how did you come up with the "Frances Hunter" pseudonym?

you should see what 3.2 million dollars bought for upgrades. I think .2 went to the upgrades and the 3 million went into someones pocket! pitiful how the government works

I am sorry to see the old style restrooms at Meriwether Lewis be torn down. The new "improved" restrooms have inadequate ventilation and are always damp inside. The high ceiling make them impossible to heat in winter. There was no consideration of the historical value of the old style "National Park / CCC" era rest rooms. Hopefully the very unique round restrooms at Pharr Mounds will never be changed. Same goes for the remaining CCC era facilities.