One of the original east-west routes in the United States took advantage of a natural “low gap” in the Cumberland Plateau escarpment. A few of the original inns along that route still stand, one is located just outside of Sparta TN and is known as the Rock House Historic Shrine. The seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, purportedly used this inn for lodging as he made trips to and from Washington. The Rock House would have been four days from Nashville along that trail, Pleasant Hill, would be yet another day’s travel from here.
It is said that the wealthy took refuge in the Rock House, the poor sought shelter under the bluffs along the old road. If you look closely, you will still find hand-scrawled names and dates along these cliffs, some legible, some faded – – all tell part of a pioneer’s life story.
Eventually, the first paved road from the east to west coast carved it’s way through the same low gap as the Old Stage Road. This highway has been deemed the “Broadway of America”, and is still labeled as such on many maps. Spanning eight states and over 3,000 miles US 70 resulted in several cities being built along its path; they flourished until Interstate 40 was completed in the 1960’s. Sparta Tennessee was one of those sizeable towns with many mills, stores and the intersections of major east-west and north-south corridors. Sparta was nominated as the first capital of Tennessee, in fact, it lost by only one vote. Perhaps it is mere coincidence that the winner of that ballot, Nashville Tennessee, was later dubbed “The Athens of the South” – – and it lies about 90 miles from Sparta.