About the Byway

Cumberland Historic Byway in Tennessee

Overview of the Cumberland Historic Byway

Typical Farmstead along the Eastern Highland Rim.


The landscape of the Northern Cumberland Plateau is one of paths, trails, sacred hunting grounds, and rich timberlands. Each area is defined by its own distinctive geologic formation, one giving way to the other as you move from east to west. Drawn to the wildness of this unique land, Americans fulfilled their thirst for exploration and adventure by moving westward.  The rugged terrain, and the isolation that accompanied it, defined a way of life that is truly authentic- a way of life that has become synonymous with early American settlement- that is the life of the Frontiersman.  

The Cumberland Historic Byway provides a glimpse into this hidden frontier- a glimpse that acknowledges the multitude of intrinsic qualities and resources that make the Upper Cumberland Region a true hidden frontier. In the spirit of the renowned landscape geographer, John Brinckerhoff Jackson, the Byway is more than simply a path that connects places within the landscape. It represents the true American spirit, the call for Manifest Destiny, and gives physical form to the legends, traditions, and artifacts that are still embraced by those who live within its bounds. 

Sharing the story of the Cumberland Historic Byway is an exercise in discovering who we are, by understanding the landscape from which we come. The eastern most point of the Byway begins in Cumberland Gap, TN, and reveals how early migratory patterns of land animals paved the way for legendary longhunters, Daniel Boone and Elisha Walden, to forever cement their fate in folklore history. The small “gap” identified by these gentlemen, would later serve as the point of crossing for hundreds of thousands of settlers moving west into the regions that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. Meanwhile, some two hundred miles to the west, in Celina, TN, the convergence of the Obey and Cumberland Rivers would provide the transportation route necessary to supply the virgin timber that would ultimately be used to construct the city of Nashville, TN. The land in between these two places would become the backdrop for the creation of a one of a kind British/American community, Rugby, TN; the home of one of the most decorated soldiers in WWI, Alvin C. York; and the birthplace of the longest serving Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. 

While the advent of the automobile has fundamentally changed the way humans experience the landscape, a new awareness of the environment and a desire to reconnect with nature has spawned a generation of travelers who seek out unique Byways for exploration. Although the roads that make up the Cumberland Byway were not constructed for strictly scenic purposes, they do reveal a multitude of intrinsic qualities and provide a number of experiences that allow its users to connect with the landscape. The road, as it is experienced today, is much more than just a connection between the Cumberland Gap and the Cumberland River- it is a destination in its own right.