Tennessee State Parks and Trail of Tears


For over 40 years Tennessee state parks have been central to telling the story of the Cherokee Removal. For most of that time, the focus was at Red Clay State Park in Bradley County, shown above.

But in the last year, officials at David Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg have marked extant sections of the trail and with the help of the National Park Service and the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation have set up interpretive panels, shown below.



This new effort, also found at Port Royal State Park, help to show the impact of the Trail of Tears, then and now.

Mt Zion Missionary Baptist church and cemeteries, Sumner County

Mt Zion, south of Bethpage, is a Reconstruction-era black community that dates to 1868, the year that the church was established.

The building is a replacement from the current century and cemetery burials date from 1970.


But high on a hill, within thick brush, lies the roots of this community, an almost forgotten cemetery where small stone triangles greatly outnumber grave markers.


One grave marker, for Addie Carter who died November 1900, gives us the first clue in the deeper history of this evocative African American placel. More is to come from this field visit.



Hortense, a forgotten black community in Dickson County


Hortense is north of Dickson and I had never heard of it until my colleague Leigh Ann Gardner brought it to my attention and we went looking for the place last week. Leigh Ann’s research found that it was originally a planned segregated community for blacks. In its day it had a depot, school, churches.

The Missionary Baptist church remains to mark the Hortense name.

But the primary marker is the huge black cemetery behind the church, which the congregation is patiently clearing. Hortense is a neglected place in history but with a story worth exploring and a place and story worth celebrating.


Sneed Acres Farm in Brentwood

Sneed Acres Farm on Old Smyrna Road in Brentwood has been known to me for about 20 years when Vance Little first emphasized the significance of the farms along the old road and then my graduate student Mary Allison Haynie conducted her county-wide survey of historic rock walls in Williamson County a few years later.

Yesterday, the family invited us to visit the property and to start discussions of its long overdue listing as a Tennessee Century Farm.  As Mary Allison had reported the farm has a remarkable set of stone walls dividing the farm from the road but also dividing fields.



The barns are ingenious adaptations of earlier 19th century structures into the almost standardized look of Tennessee barns from the progressive era of the early twentieth century.  Presently the farm fields livestock: swine, cattle, horses and rich pastures are everywhere.

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The farmhouse too is an ingenious update of Tennessee’s Frontier Revival period in domestic architecture, finished in 1977.  The earlier c. 1796 log house is exposed on the inside but the exterior has that more finished contemporary look of the revival.

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The family cemetery is among the county’s oldest and contains slave burials and the graves of War of 1812 and Civil War veterans. We are just getting this new Center for Historic Preservation project underway, with the hard work coming this fall but certainly Sneed Acres Farm will be a distinguished addition to the Tennessee Century Farms program.



Freed House, Trenton

Few Victorian houses in West Tennessee speak more strongly to their time and place than the Julius Freed House in Trenton.

Listed in the National Register, the house documents the impact of Jewish merchants in the post Civil War South. It even served as a synagogue for the tiny Jewish community in the region.

The house needs our help–repairs are needed at several places–but it needs our embrace more. It is often forgotten or neglected but it really is a jewel.

Trenton Rosenwald School

Two weeks ago, as Hollis Skinner and others introduced me to key heritage resources in Gibson County, we stopped at the Trenton Rosenwald School. Located where the Rosenwald Fund sop ported a new black school in the 1920s, the current building dates to the 1950s and 1960s.

Here is a category of buildings and a period of our history that need greater attention. Only when the end of Jim Crow segregation neared did Tennessee communities give more than lip service to the legal concept of separate but equal. Local African American communities took the new buildings, embraced them as community centers and continued their fight for civil rights. The clock was not going to be stopped or turned back.
The last photo is Dr Rachel Martin, the assistant director of the MTSU Center for historic Preservation speaking at a community gathering in the school gym,


Mt Zion CME Church and School, Gibson County

A week ago a group of African Americans in Gibson County gave me the great honor of sharing the historic Mt Zion Church/School. What a great property. There is a sign stating that deed for the land was transferred in 1855.

When the building was actually constructed will be determined by research but whatever that date may be, the significance of this sacred place is clear.


Gibson County Courthouse, Trenton

The Gibson County Courthouse, built in 1901, is one of the state’s most distinctive. The creative use of multi-colored bricks mimics High Victorian style as does the short turrets and high cupola. The architect was W. Chamberlin of Knoxville.

By the turn of the century Jim Crow segregation ruled Tennessee’s public spaces as the theory (never a reality) of separate but equal gave inferior, secondary spaces to local African American citizens in the new building. A late 20th century remodeling obscures original interior designs and spaces but it also allowed the building to speak to and serve all residents. The historic building finally became a point of pride for all of the county’s residents.