We have studied the embryonic development of the transverse nerve (TN), an unpaired segmental nerve of the moth Manduca sexta. Two identified motor neurons and 16 identified neuroendocrine neurons project axons within the larval TN; therefore, the TN is both a peripheral nerve and a neurohaemal organ. At 33% of embryogenesis, and prior to the arrival of any neuronal growth cones, the position, shape, and trajectory of the TN are anticipated by two groups of nonneuronal cells that we call the strap and the bridge. At this time the strap and the bridge together consist of approximately 100 cells, all of which express a cell surface epitope recognized by the monoclonal antibody TN-1. As development proceeds, both the number of nonneuronal cells within the strap and the bridge and the fraction that expresses the TN-1 antigen(s) decrease. Moreover, individual cells within the strap become morphologically identifiable before the arrival of the neuronal growth cones. Most of the axons that project to the TN also express the TN-1 antigen(s) during their period of outgrowth. The two motor neuron growth cones are the first to reach the environment of the strap and the bridge, doing so at approximately 37%; having encountered these cellular structures, the growth cones restrict their navigation to this preexisting scaffolding, until they reach their muscle target. The neuroendocrine growth cones arrive later and also grow within the confines of the strap and the bridge (J.N. Carr and P.H. Taghert, 1988, Dev. Biol, 130, 500-512). In this first paper we describe the development of the strap and the bridge, and the interactions of the motor neuron growth cones with these structures. The observations are novel in documenting the extent and precision to which a peripheral nerve pathway is prefigured by a contiguous assemblage of nonneuronal cells.