The 1930s was an interesting period of American history and culture. Certainly, the way that we think as Americans was affected by this decade of turmoil. Part of the uniqueness of the 1930s has to do with the combination of technological advances and the spiritual significance of the natural American landscape. The technological advances necessary to build the Blue Ridge Parkway involved not only the machinery, but also the design and engineering techniques. These advances were essential to a large project like the Blue Ridge Parkway,a 469- mile roadway which took years to build.
As for the other piece of this combination which concerns the American landscape, nature has always played an important part in America's understanding of itself. Our landscape connects to our nation's self-understanding. Nature in America was a kind of proof of our special relationship with God, and also helped America separate itself from Europe.
However, the Blue Ridge Parkway stands as a supreme example of a "piece" of the 1930s that combined technology with nature. The automobile had been invented in the 1920s and was becoming increasingly available to the common man. The Blue Ridge Parkway was the perfect excursion for both American families and individuals. The Parkway was a democratized landscape where every American could go and find out about our natural riches.
Workers from both the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps helped to build the Blue Ridge Parkway during the 1930s. Although President Herbert Hoover initiated the National Recovery Act, it was really FDR who approved the actual funds for the project. As such, the Blue Ridge Parkway was a part of the New Deal.
There was a spirit of patriotic idealism in the 1930s which may have been an outgrowth or a reaction to the Great Depression. The Blue Ridge Parkway not only provided jobs for unemployed American workers, but it also became a kind of roadway "museum" space where Americans could go to relieve urban stress and re-define themselves as Americans by connecting themselves and their identity to the landscape.
Thomas Jefferson, a man of Virginia, describes the Blue Ridge Mountains in his Notes On the State of Virginia :
The passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge is , perhaps, one of the most stupendous scenes in nature..... This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic(pp. 16-7).
The Blue Ridge was also a place to better oneself morally, as all natural places speak to the soul of a person and make them forego pettiness and other vices.
This kind of natural setting found in the Blue Ridge exemplifies Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendentalist vision of America and connects to the "moral" rejuvenation that could and can still be found in our American landscape.
In Emerson's essay "On Nature", he expounds on the moral elevation that nature can provide.
And because ecstasy is the law and cause of nature, therefore you cannot interpret it in too high and deep a sense. Nature represents the best meaning of the wisest man.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was not officially dedicated until September 11, 1987, fifty-two years after the groundbreaking. However, the parkway is "timeless" in a sense. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a public space for every American.