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Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

Cruisin' The "phantom Highway", Part 1day

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A few years back, I was intrigued to find an image of an old map on the net showing US 37 leading out of Chattanooga and heading for Kentucky through Sequatchie Valley. After more web searching I discovered Robert D. Vroz's web page listing all the US highways, past and present. And there was US 37! (A big tip of the BabyBoomer bucket hat to you, sir!) A search on Wikipedia revealed a bit of its history.


The highway was proposed by AASHO sometime between 1934 and 1944, with the idea to eliminate the split in US 31 between Louisville and Nashville. US 31E would have been decommissioned. The routing was developed, but for some reason, political, I suspect, it was never approved. So it became something of a "phantom" highway.


I couldn't help but think that such a route, so close to me bore exploring. Especially since I was familiar with the southernmost part. So a few weeks back, Susan and I spent a day driving from Valdeau, TN, near Chattanooga, to Crossville, seeking out what would have been the ill fated US 37.


Once again, my pictures are at http://community.webshots.com/user/babyboomerbob


The route *presumably* began at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road (aka William Howard Taft Highway). <Valdeau 01, 02> This was a major Dixie Highway intersection in the 20's, the DHW heading west towards Jasper and the Tennessee Connector heading north toward Dayton and Knoxville.


We drove out Signal Mountain Road which became US 127 after the interchange with the US 27 bypass, then went left on Suck creek Road (TN 27). As we drove along the Tennessee River, I noticed smoke on Elder Mountain. The weather had been dry, and forest fires were a problem. I stopped to take a picture <Fire on the mountain>, then noticed an old bridge across Shoal Creek nearby.<Old Shoal Creek Bridge> I missed it last time we were here:)


Something else I missed earlier was a massive piece of rock that had separated from the side of Suck Creek Canyon. Nasty looking:) <Landslide area>


At Powell's Crossroads, we left the DHW and headed north on TN sec 283. We were now on the Alvin York Highway, named for the famous WWI hero born in Pall Mall, TN. <Alvin York Highway>. We were also in Sequatchie Valley, one of our favorite places. The Sequatchie River has carved out a broad, peaceful valley within the Cumberland Plateau. The York highway runs the length of the valley, climbing to the top of the plateau at its head.


A few miles north, 283 intersects with US 127. We turned left and headed towards Dunlap. It was a wrong turn, but we didn't know it at the time. We crossed the Sequatchie River and stopped to get pictures of an old bridge <Abandoned bridge..., Old bridge...> and a place that rents canoes <Canoe rental 01, 02>.


When we got to Dunlap, I was surprised to find a road marked "Old York Highway" heading east! We headed out that way, then went south on East Valley Road until we returned to the north end of 283. That was the way we should have gone:) Incidentally, East Valley Road also runs the length of Sequatchie valley, bypassing both Dunlap and Pikeville.


Back in Dunlap, We headed for the Dunlap Coke Ovens State Park. In the early part of the 20th century, coal was mined at the top of Fredonia Mountain on the west wall of the valley, sent to the coke ovens at the foot of the mountain by cable railway, and converted to coke to ship off to the iron and steel foundries in Chattanooga and South Pittsburg, TN. Sadly, we were too early in the season for the museum to be open, so I contented myself by exploring some of the oven ruins<Museum... Entrance... Dunlap Coke Ovens 01-04>. Good pictures of the coke ovens when they were in full use can be found at http://www.cokeovens.com/


US 127 has been straightened out throughout it's route through Sequatchie Valley, leaving plenty of well maintained pieces of old road.<Old York Highway, "West Wall"...>


On to Pikeville. It's not a spectacular town by a sight, but there's one pretty old house there that caught my eye <Pikeville, TN>.


Now for the find of the trip. A few miles north of Pikeville on US 127 is a restaurant called the Rockhouse Cafe. It's a much an eclectic museum as restaurant and both of us went crazy with the camera:) Sad to say, we had eaten a big breakfast and only got sandwiches, so we can't really comment on the food. Maybe next time:) Note the scooters, kiddie cars, cereal boxes on the ceiling, and ads painted on auto hoods:) A real road icon!

<Rock House Cafe 01-20>


We took some more stretches of old road beyond Pikeville, then it began climbing up the plateau towards Crossville. Here's a picture of the road up the mountain <Hairpin Curve>. After a most delightful and traffic free drive on the old road, we rejoined US 127 and headed to Crossville. On the way, we made a brief stop at the water tower in Homestead. Homestead was a WPA project during the Depression that created jobs for the local populace. Much Crab Orchard sandstone was used for the facings of the houses, schools, and this water tower:) <Homestead Water Tower>. I have good memories of this place, since it was where I first met Denny Gibson about a year and a half ago.


Crab Orchard sandstone figures prominently in the architecture of Crossville as well. No surprise there:) <Palace Theater>. And I suppose it's a safe assumption to say Crossville was named for the crossing of two main roads, now US 70 and 127. Especially considering the signpost on the courthouse grounds:) <Cumberland County Courthouse 01-03>


One more find this time. We stopped to get gas for Jack and found this marvelous old 53 Chevy as the station:) The owner said he had put 54 tail lights on it because he liked them better:) <53 Chevy 01, 02>


We followed another pices of old road bypassing much of Crossville's "strip", rejoining US 127 just before the I-40 interchange. We figured that was enough for the day and headed on home. We're planning to resume our phantom highway cruise when we drive up to Cave City, KY next month. We're looking forward to meeting a whole bunch of fellow road warriors then!

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  • 11 months later...
Sounds like an adventure, following old highway like this, I wished the canoe rental was still working as I always enjoy exploring new sites to take my canoe to.

Loved your story



My blog




Welcome! I followed your blog link, but got to the front page of the entire community site. Is that what you intended?


Here in the northwest it is fairly common to see someone driving along one of our two lane roads with canoe or kayak on top the car. There are plenty of rivers and lakes to explore, and I think some try the ocean.


Anyway, welcome to the forum!


Keep the Show on the Road!





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  • 1 year later...

Crossville, Tennessee is very familiar to me. My father lives in a retirement community called Pleasant Hill, which is just a short ways from there on US 70. Crossville is the closest town of any consequence, so he drives there frequently. If you drive west on US 70 for a ways, there is a look-out point with a very dramatic vista of the valley from up on the plateau.

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I've been to Crossville; spent a week in Cumberland Mt. State Park in a rented cabin several years ago. This was before my roadgeekery had fully bloomed. I traced Old State Hwy 28 in Google Maps along the corridor you followed and if I were to make a return trip I'd want to drive it! I was right by it in that park all those years ago. There's a great old bridge in that park.




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