Monthly Archives: September 2013

On the Trail of Tears in Tennessee

One of the most important projects launched this decade at the Center for Historic Preservation is the partnership with the National Park Service, the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears Association to document buildings and structures along the various routes of the Trail of Tears.  There are more buildings and structures than you would expect, and we have come up with such internal designations as “witness houses”–places that exist directly on a route, that the residents witnessed the removal–and “points of origin”–places where Cherokees left established homes, walked out of the front door, and by those steps began their own individual journey on the trail.



The Shamblin Cabin, just north of Calhoun and near the Hiwassee River in McMinn County, was documented as a possible point of origin.  Exact official documentation of the age of the building has been difficult to find, but Cherokee tradition as well as physical evidence in the log construction, makes us think that here was a point of origin cabin.



Detail of have-dovetail notching



Partially exposed side wall–the window and remnants of board and batten siding came probably c. 1900.  A frame addition was made to the dwelling at that time.



The location of the house near a spring also hints at its early date of construction, but water run-off, caused largely by the modern construction of a two-lane highway, has undermined the foundation of the cabin, and threatens its preservation.


Lawrenceburg’s forgotten monument

The town square in Lawrenceburg has one of the state’s rarest memorials–the Mexican War monument, one of only two such monuments in Tennessee built soon after hostilities ended in 1848. Over 20 years ago Jennifer Martin worked with me to place this unique obelisk and rest of the town square into the National Register as the Lawrenceburg commercial historic district.


Two Houses in Hendersonville

Yesterday I was honored to participate in the Civil War Trail dedication events for two antebellum houses in Hendersonville, which is a Cumberland River (now a lake) northeast of Nashville in Sumner County.  The two houses are known as Hazel Path and Monthaven.  Hazel Path is a two-story brick house, while Monthaven is a two-story frame house.  But both sare that defining characteristic of late antebellum Tennessee domestic architecture–a two-story Greek Revival style portico that dominates the building and gives it a sense of gravity, style, and class.


Hazel Path, Hendersonville



Monthaven, Hendersonville

Today it is difficult to see even imagine the rural landscape that both houses belonged to for most of their existence.  Only with the onslaught of suburban growth and sprawl in the last 4 decades of the 20th century did the homes lose their essential sense of ruralness.  Today a 1980s/early 1990s office park, designed in colonial revival style, surrounds Hazel Path on both its north and south sides.  The house itself was restored into offices, and is well maintained by its owners.  Monthaven’s conversion and restoration is much more recent story.  It is now part of a city park, on the southern outskirts of Hendersonville, and has a public use as an arts center.  There is still space to breathe at Monthaven but recreational structures are already in place and one wonders how long the open space around the house will remain.  Both houses of course are divorced from the many outbuildings that would have served them in the 19th century.

What struck me about both houses was the historical narrative both represent.  The area is so changed it is difficult to even see a mid-19th past.  But both houses are reminders of that, and both reflect the impact of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad on the region in the 1850s and especially during the Civil War.  Monthaven stood near the railroad’s Mansker Creek bridge, a structure that became a place of conflict throughout the war for to knock out the bridge was to cripple the communication and transportation (even for a brief time) of the occupying Federal army.  No battle was fought here, but men were often in conflict and house served both sides as a hospital at different times in 1862-1863.  

Hazel Path witnessed even more fundamental change.  It too prospered as a plantation served by the railroad but those same tracks brought destruction during the war.  The spot was such a good location, and the owner Daniel Donelson was such a prominent Confederate, that Federal officials designated it as a contraband camp and later a local headquarters of the Freedman’s Bureau.    It became a place where freedom became a reality for many former enslaved Tennesseans.

Too often we tell the story of the Civil War years solely through battlefields but Hazel Path and Monthaven are two significant survivors that tell a more basic truth–the war changed families, black and white, and changed the very nature how Tennesseans look at a place and recalled what it was and what it had become.

Milan’s Polk-Clark School

A quick post on the weekend about the recent preservation progress does not do this remarkable property justice.  Polk-Clark School was a 2011 National Register project of the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, and since the listing we have continued to work with the community on the slow but steady progress into turning the school into a multi-purpose community center.



Initially constructed in 1926 with support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the school was named the Gibson County Training School and served as the high school for black kids not just from Milan but from throughout the county and surrounding counties as well.


For the next 40 years additions were made on a regular basis to the school, most as the white school board reacted to expanding number of children in the community due to the Milan Arsenal (which began in World War II) and federal requirements that military impact money be spent on the black high school.

The school was closed in 1996 and left abandoned until a community effort to preserve it took shape in the 21st century.  The latest wing of the school from the 1960s is the most heavily used today and the community is working on restoring the remainder of the building.  Two rooms have been set aside as a heritage center, where trophies, band and sports uniforms, and other mementos can be displayed.


Engel stadium, Chattanooga


This new blog hopefully becomes an effective way of sharing my new fieldwork across Tennessee. I begin with Engel Stadium in Chattanooga. This 1930 structure with various changes since then is listed in the National Register. Katie Randall, Aleia Brown, and I met with the Engel Foundation and UTC leaders, along with a dozen others (including Cornerstones) to begin the dialogue about vision and next steps.