Landmarks of American Nature Writing

17. Modern Travelers

As a glance at these titles will tell you--new roads, highways, and byways--when the automobile arrived in force in the early twentieth century, the landscape of Virginia changed forever. The Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, begun in 1931 and 1934 respectively, are two of this region's most prominent examples of the cultural creation of nature.


Agnes Rothery. New Roads in Old Virginia. Rev. ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1937. Shown: "Skyline Drive, as Seen from Stony Man Mountain."

Although Virginians are "personally hospitable," writes Rothery in her foreword to New Roads in Old Virginia, first published in 1929, "they are not eager to exploit their State--its beauty or its history--to a touring public. Privacy and leisure, have always seemed more desirable to them than the money such exploitation might bring to the general treasury." But, she adds, seemingly without irony, "the automobile is no respecter of either privacy or leisure."

Clifton Johnson. Highways and Byways of the South. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1905.

In his introductory note to Highways and Byways of the South, which includes a visit to western Virginia, Clifton Johnson explains that he "scarcely touch[es] on the town life, or the progress of manufacturing; nor do I deal with the South as a land of romance and sentiment, the home of beautiful women and chivalric men--that has been amply done by the novelists. My rambling has been in the fields and woodlands, my stopping-places in the little villages and scattered farmhouses, and I write almost wholly of rustic life and nature as I saw them in my desultory journeyings."

William Oliver Stevens. The Shenandoah and Its Byways. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1941.

The sixth in his series of travel books, The Shenandoah and Its Byways offers a leisurely travel guide for the mid-century automobile tourist. "For two generations after the ruin of the Civil War--during which the Valley was a corridor for both armies--the region was forgotten," Stevens notes in his introduction. "It is only in recent years, with the completion of fine highways, the development of certain sections as national parks, particularly the Skyline Drive, that American travelers have awakened to the beauty as well as the historic importance of this Great Valley."


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