Byways 101

Part 2: Intrinsic Qualities & The Byway Story

Historic Intrinsic Quality

FHWA Interim Policy Definition
Historic quality encompasses legacies of the past that are distinctly associated with physical elements of the landscape, whether natural or manmade, that are of such historic significance that they educate the viewer and stir an appreciation for the past. The historic elements reflect the actions of people and may include buildings, settlement patterns, and other examples of human activity. Historic features can be inventoried, mapped, and interpreted. They possess integrity of location, design, setting, material, workmanship, feeling, and association. (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995)

Inventory and Designation Considerations for Historic Quality
Many highway corridors are rich in history and their stories tie closely to the history of the nation in general. Several designated roads in the National Scenic Byways Program have strong historic themes:

  • The Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama) follows a trail used by Native Americans, post riders, soldiers and fortune seekers linking the early United States to the Mississippi Territory.
  • Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway provides an outstanding example of a carefully designed parkway, and also reflects the nation’s concern with public improvement projects during the Great Depression.
  • The Selma to Montgomery March Byway (Alabama) follows the route of a key event during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

The historical stories told by these byways range from specific events to broad movements and illustrate the range of possibilities for byway themes. Note that each of these examples relates to the evolution of the American nation and society.

Historic quality can derive from the byway’s association with a specific set of events, such as the progression of battles along trails or roadways still used today. Byway communities can also use a consistent or an evolving historical story that links together diverse events and time periods. For instance, a byway might interpret the historical development of farming, a specific industry, or a particular social or political movement. Some roads are historically significant because of their place within the development of the national transportation network, such as the Lincoln Highway, the National Road, the Dixie Highway, US 1 and US 66.

A byway’s historic quality depends on the road’s connection among the individual resources along the corridor. The byway must contain enough features to create a coherent story. Although an individual structure or place may have great historical significance, a roadway cannot achieve National Scenic Byway designation based only on the existence of one site. Rather, the historic story should provide a link among resources at various points along the byway and a means of interpreting these resources to the visitor.

In many cases, the historic quality of a byway will be closely linked to its scenic, cultural or natural qualities. For example, traditional architecture and settlement patterns often reflect historical development. They are also, however, expressions of culture and lifestyle as well as being key attractions for travelers. A less obvious example of multiple values is a scenic road through narrow valleys and mountain gaps; travelers appreciate the beauty of these byways but may not grasp as readily their historic importance as transportation routes and vital links among small communities.

Take A Look!
Examples from America’s Byways® of some of the routes designated for historic intrinsic qualities include:

  • Arroyo Seco Parkway Scenic Byway (California), National Scenic Byway
  • Ashley River Road (South Carolina), National Scenic Byway
  • Big Sur Coast Highway, Route One (California), All-American Road
  • Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina), All-American Road
  • Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway (Delaware), National Scenic Byway
  • CanalWay Ohio Scenic Byway (Ohio), National Scenic Byway
  • Colonial Parkway (Virginia), All-American Road
  • Colorado River Headwaters Byway (Colorado), National Scenic Byway
  • Connecticut River Byway (New Hampshire, Vermont), National Scenic Byway
  • Copper Country Trail (Michigan), National Scenic Byway
  • El Camino Real (New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia), All-American Road
  • Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway (New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • Gold Belt Tour Scenic and Historic Byway (Colorado), National Scenic Byway
  • Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway (Colorado), National Scenic Byway
  • Great River Road (Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Wisconsin), National Scenic Byway
  • Historic Columbia River Highway (Oregon), All-American Road
  • Historic National Road (Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia), All-American Road
  • Historic Route 66 (Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • International Selkirk Loop (Idaho), All-American Road
  • Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail (Ohio), National Scenic Byway
  • Lakes to Locks Passage, The Great Northeast Journey (New York), All-American Road
  • Lincoln Highway (Illinois), National Scenic Byway
  • Little Dixie Highway of the Great River Road (Missouri), National Scenic Byway
  • Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route (Illinois), National Scenic Byway
  • Merritt Parkway (Connecticut), National Scenic Byway
  • Minnesota River Valley Scenic (Minnesota), National Scenic Byway
  • Mohawk Towpath Byway (New York), National Scenic Byway
  • Mt. Hood Scenic Byway (Oregon), National Scenic Byway
  • Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee), All-American Road
  • Native American Scenic Byway (North Dakota), National Scenic Byway
  • Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (Idaho), All-American Road
  • Ohio River Scenic Byway (Illinois, Ohio, Indiana), National Scenic Byway
  • Pioneer Historic Byway (Idaho), National Scenic Byway
  • San Juan Skyway (Colorado), All-American Road
  • San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway – Route 1 (California), All-American Road
  • Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway (Colorado, New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • Savannah River Scenic Byway (South Carolina), National Scenic Byway
  • Seaway Trail (New York, Pennsylvania), National Scenic Byway
  • Selma To Montgomery March Byway (Alabama), All-American Road
  • Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway (North Dakota), National Scenic Byway
  • Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike (West Virginia), National Scenic Byway
  • The Coal Heritage Trail (West Virginia), National Scenic Byway
  • Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 – A Journey Through Time (Utah), All-American Road
  • Washington Heritage Trail (West Virginia), National Scenic Byway
  • Wilderness Road Heritage Highway (Kentucky), National Scenic Byway
  • Woodward Avenue (Michigan), All-American Road

Visit for details related to these byways.

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