A traveller wishing to take a sightseeing journey through the Mid-South region of the United States might do well to consider US Highway 431. No boring road, this – US 431 takes drivers through some of the finest scenery to be found in the states of Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
US 431 is a relative latecomer to the federal highway system. It was commissioned by the American Association of State Highway Officials in 1954 as the fourth branch of US Highway 31. Unlike some other federal highways, US 431 was made up of new construction; rather, existing state highways were used, with the 431 designation replacing the old state numbers.
The highway begins in Dothan, Alabama, at a junction with US Highway 231. As one-fourth of the US peanuts crop is harvested in and near the city, Dothan calls itself the Peanut Capital of The World. One suspects that the peanut farmers of Georgia might have something to say about that boast. US 431 heads northeast out of the city carried on a marvelous four-lane boulevard.
Soon, the traveller arrives at the historic city of Eufaula. US 431 enters the city as Main Street, and a well-deserved name it is. Eufaula's residents have turned Main Street into an attraction unto itself, and the street is lined with many outstanding examples of well-preserved Southern Antebellum houses. Many visitors find themselves making multiple trips up and down the street just to take in all the sights.
Leaving Eufaula, US 431 meanders along the shore of Lake Eufaula, itself a popular recreation site. The highway proceeds, still in a northeasterly direction, to Phenix City. Here, across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Georgia, the route turns to the west and shares pavement with US Highway 280. The two routes are multiplexed until they reach Opelika. While US 280 turns south to Auburn, home of Auburn University, US 431 resumes its northward path, though reduced to a standard two-lane configuration.
The highway calls next at Anniston. Once the site of a large US Army ordnance depot, Anniston is today regarded as a cultural center and styles itself "The Model City". In Anniston, US 431 resumes its four-lane status and, after some 30 miles, arrives at Gadsden. There, the highway crosses US Highway 11, and passes near the interestingly-named Noccalula Falls, said to be named for a Native American maiden who threw herself into the falls rather than obey her father's demand that she give up her true love.
Travellers need not give up on US 431, however, and may continue on to Huntsville, passing over Lake Guntersville and the nearby state park on the way. Huntsville has long been in the public eye, due to being the home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Space Camp. US 431 proceeds due north out of Huntsville, now multiplexed with its relative, US Highway 231.
Crossing into Tennessee, US 431 separates from US 231 at Fayetteville. The highway winds through the hills of southern Tennessee, through Lewisburg and Franklin, and soon reaches Music City USA, the grand old city of Nashville. World famous as the home of Country Music and the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville also boasts a full-scale replica of the Parthenon and was once known as the Athens of the South. The Hermitage, home of 7th US president Andrew Jackson, is also a popular Nashville attraction.
Leaving the music behind, the route continues to the north and enters the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, known far and wide for its way with fried chicken. The highway arrives first at Russellville. It was there, in 1868, that the notorious outlaw Jesse James included one of the local banks in his famous career. Today, in a popular site called Historic Russellville, travelers can learn about the city's role in the American Civil War, including its brief stint as a regional slave trading center.
Next along US 431 is a junction with the Wendell H. Ford Western Kentucky Parkway, once known simply as the "Western Kentucky Parkway" before governor Paul Patton's controversial renaming scheme of the 1990s. That junction is just south of Central City, another city steeped in Country Music history. Guitarist and singer Merle Travis was born there, and the Everly Brothers (one of whom was born near Central City] maintain an entertainment complex in the city.
After just under fifty miles through the rolling hills of western Kentucky, US 431 comes to its northern terminus in Owensboro, at a junction with US Highway 60. Owensboro numbers many famous persons among its natives, including entertainer and "Brady Bunch" star Florence Henderson; movie star Johnny Depp; and NASCAR driver and TV commentator Darrell Waltrip. On a more somber note, Owensboro was also the scene, in 1936, of the last public hanging in the United States. In recent years, the tri-cities of Owensboro, Henderson, and Evansville, Indiana have established themselves as an important region of industry and tourism.
US 431 has remained relatively unchanged over the years, aside from a 1997 truncation in Dothan. It today spans some 556 miles from end to end.
Droz, Robert V., "Sequential List of US Highways", US Highways From US 1 to US 830
. July 2003. <http://www.us-highways.com/us1431.htm> (July 2006)
Sanderson, Dale, "US Highway Ends", End of U.S. highway 431
. March 2006. <http://www.geocities.com/usend3039/End431/end431.htm> (July 2006)