Chuggin’ Right Along: Two Examples of Successful Railroad Landscape Preservation

By Joseph M. Bryan, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

I may be biased, but I do not think the current generation fully appreciates the role that the railroad played in our nation’s history. Some think it can be summed up with the Golden Spike in 1869 and the rest simply placed under the Industrial Revolution umbrella. This is why I was more than relieved recently to see two communities–Savannah, Georgia, and Smyrna, Tennessee–embracing their rail heritage through landscape preservation.

My friend and colleague Torren Gatson has already discussed on this blog our trip to the first annual Slave Dwelling Project conference in Savannah, and I am going to elaborate on one of our outings. The Georgia State Railroad Museum in the historic district of downtown Savannah is a true gem in the field of transportation history. It is housed in the former shops and roundhouse for the Central of Georgia Railway and is the largest complex of pre-Civil War railroad buildings left in the country.


The roundhouse of the Central of Georgia Railway. The steam engine was built in 1911 and still operates on weekends.

Union General William T. Sherman had no problem tearing up the Central’s tracks between Macon and Savannah during his “March to the Sea,” but thankfully he left the shops (and the rest of Savannah) intact. This gave the Central of Georgia the opportunity to rebuild, and it soon became one of the prominent railroads of the Southeast. What remains is a testament to the former company and a great example of preserved urban railroad landscape.

2. boxcars exterior

Boxcars act as exhibits with interpretive panels.

The museum keeps its assortment of historic cars and engines inside the old roundhouse. Three connected boxcars act as exhibit space and present some of the best interpretation of railroad history I’ve seen yet. They tell the story of the museum, railroad maintenance methods, and the history of refrigerated boxcars that forever changed the perishable food industry. Also on display are Pullman cars and a variety of locomotives that span the history of railroading. One small, century-old steam engine is operational and pulls visitors around on weekends. This is also one of the few railroad museums that allows guests to ride on the turntable. The signage around the site explains the purpose of each building, including the segregated bath facilities for African American workers.

This boxcar has been retrofitted with A/C and video screens.

This boxcar has been retrofitted with air conditioning and video screens.

Adjacent to the museum, other buildings related to the railroad have also been preserved and adapted for other uses. The city uses the old passenger station as its local museum, and the Savannah College of Art and Design uses the old freight station as part of its campus. The 1850s-era viaducts that used to bring the trains into the station and shops now serve as walking trails for locals and students. The whole area shows that Savannah’s history is more than just cotton and picturesque squares.

This railroad viaduct dates to the 1850s and now serves as a walking trail for the community.

This railroad viaduct dates to the 1850s and now serves as a walking trail for the community.

Back in Tennessee, I am working with Dr. Stacey Graham and others at the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) to create interpretive panels for the historic depot in downtown Smyrna. Though it never had the vast facilities of the shops in Savannah, the depot is an excellent example of the rural railroad landscape. The city recently finished a complete renovation of the building and surrounding landscape in order to use the depot as a community space for public and private events. Depots often acted as gathering places, especially in small towns, as people caught up with one another while waiting for their letters, packages, and loved ones to arrive by train. The current depot dates to the early 1870s and served the Nashville, Chattanooga, & St. Louis Railway; this line eventually became part of CSX, and freight trains continue to pass the depot several times a day servicing nearby businesses, including the Nissan plant. The new panels will tell the story of Smyrna as well as its relationship with the railroad throughout the town’s existence. With theses enhancements, the depot will continue to serve the public as a gathering place for the community for many years to come.

Depots Merged

On left, the Smyrna Depot, ca. 1930 (courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, MTSU); on right, the Depot today, as seen from the opposite side of the tracks.

After so much of the railroad landscape has been lost to new construction and “progress,” it is uplifting to see two cities acknowledge their transportation heritage and ensure future generations know the role of the “iron horse.” I commend them both on their efforts and hope others will follow their example.


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Teaching the Trails: Gateways to Historic Landscapes

By Rachael Finch, Research Historian, Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area

As a research historian, I spend the majority of my work days in solitude, researching and writing for the Civil War Trails program in libraries, archives, or my office at the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County. As much as I enjoy my “quiet sanctum of research,” I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I enjoy opportunities for fieldwork and partnering on projects with colleagues. My work with the Civil War Trails program enables me to take part in collaborative partnerships and speaking opportunities.

Informing teachers about the Tennessee Civil War Trails program links primary sources and historic landscapes.

Informing teachers about the Tennessee Civil War Trails program links primary sources and historic landscapes.

Through the Civil War Trails program, heritage tourists, teachers, and students can learn about Tennessee’s multilayered wartime past through educational snapshots situated on the landscape. When approached by my colleague Kira Duke, educational specialist for Teaching with Primary Sources-Middle Tennessee State University, to speak at two workshops last summer, I readily agreed. Delighted to present my work on Tennessee Civil War history and the benefits gained from the Trails program, I stretched my range to relay the Trails information in a manner befitting K-12 teachers. Recognizing that teachers want specific directions on how to obtain online primary sources and related resources for their classrooms, I designed an interactive presentation for teachers that demonstrated the relevancy of connecting Civil War stories to historic landscapes and introduced educators to several of our valuable partnerships in developing the Trails markers.

PPT Story and Place

This part of the presentation combines information about the Civil War Trails map and the Trails markers in the ground.

Throughout each workshop I participated in, I became acutely aware of just how many teachers were unfamiliar with the vast online archival and interpretive resources available for their classrooms. In response to their questions, I reviewed online repositories such as the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture and the Tennessee State Library and Archives (the latter provides clear links to both the Civil War GIS mapping tool and the Civil War Sourcebook, which contains transcriptions of primary sources).

I also briefly explained that the placement of the Trails markers is pre-determined by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development in consultation with local communities. This collaboration also helps determine the storyline for each marker. It is then up to us to research primary sources so as to tell the significant local stories. I stated that we carefully weigh information found through my research against official records and state and local archival sources. For example, a topic such as guerrilla warfare on the Cumberland Plateau and its effect on local citizens requires examining factual evidence in the historical record against folklore and myth before writing the text. Continuing the conversation, I reiterated our goal to provide a well-researched text, complete with proper historical images that depict each individual story within the context of the larger Civil War narrative.

PPT Slide Engagement

I encourage teachers to tell their students about local Trails markers.

At the end of each presentation, I showed a brief clip of the award-winning Civil War documentary Rivers and Rails: Daggers of the Civil War. A collaboration between Nashville Public Television and several partners, the Tennessee Civil War 150 documentaries, such as Rivers and Rails, are another resource that teachers can use in their classrooms to connect stories to place. Several stories discussed throughout the Rivers and Rails documentary are also represented through the Trails program. (The Civil War documentaries are available online through Nashville Public Television’s Web site.)

As I begin each of my presentations, I ask teachers to open up a Civil War Trails map, locate their county, and then count how many markers they find. Almost immediately, teachers are in awe of the enormity of the map and, particularly, the number of markers. While engaged with the Civil War Trails map, teachers usually converse and ask if anyone has stopped to read the markers in their counties.

When Lisa Oakley from the East Tennessee Historical Society brought teachers to a workshop at the Heritage Center about resources they could use to teach the new state Social Studies standards, she made it a point to inform teachers of the multiple Trails markers located in East Tennessee (as well as new ones and slated for installation in the upcoming months). Following up on Lisa’s comments, I encouraged teachers to engage students with their local Civil War history. Teachers consistently need relevant materials to enhance students’ learning, and the Civil War Trails program provides such an experience. I challenged teachers to become “field experts” on their local Civil War Trails markers and history.

PPT Slide Trails in the Classroom

Trails markers can serve as prompts for all sorts of additional research and learning opportunities in the classroom.

As a professional, I remain committed to speaking in classrooms, presenting at conferences, and collaborating with colleagues and professionals to ensure that Tennessee’s Civil War stories are well represented. Another collaboration on such topics took place earlier this month. Dr. Katie O’Bryan, educational outreach coordinator at Glen Leven Farm (and former graduate research assistant at the Center for Historic Preservation), and I presented at the Tennessee Council for History Education Conference in Nashville. Our session, “Utilizing Historic Landscapes as Primary Sources in the Classroom,” merged our collective topics of civic engagement, education, and the Civil War to inform educators about the continued need to use historic landscapes, such as Glen Leven and the Trails program, as gateways for connecting Civil War stories to places.

As many more Trails markers are erected throughout the state, I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with the Trails program and highlighting how engaging students and teachers in the classroom leads to a better understanding of our primary sources and our past.

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Two Weeks Behind the Wheel: Preservation and Presentations

By Torren Gatson, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

The past few weeks have been a labor of love. I was given the opportunity to travel to Savannah, Georgia, and Memphis, Tennessee, to give two separate presentations. I ventured to Savannah with fellow graduate student Joey Bryan and Leigh Ann Gardner, interpretive specialist for the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. We presented at the first annual Slave Dwelling Conference. An initiative of Joseph McGill and the Slave Dwelling Project, the conference focused on the various dimensions of preservation and interpretation of slave dwellings throughout the United States. Our presentation focused on the Center for Historic Preservation and its ongoing efforts to locate, document, and interpret slave dwellings in Tennessee.

We enjoyed wonderful seafood in Savannah.

We enjoyed wonderful seafood in Savannah.

Savannah was astonishing on many levels. Of course, the food was amazing; we ate seafood on the river and joked about hitting the lottery and never returning to Tennessee. While in Savannah we also ventured out on several memorable excursions. The first was a trolley tour of the historic downtown area, where we learned the history of Savannah from the Colonial period through the twentieth century. We also took a tour of the Davenport House Museum. The Davenport House was instrumental in Savannah’s preservation movement. I was elated at their progressive interpretation of slave dwellings and their consistent incorporation of slave life on the tour. We also visited the Georgia State Railroad Museum. This museum was a refreshing, eye-opening experience on how to reuse materials and create an excellent interpretive exhibit using digital technology, artifacts, and exhibit panels.

Joey Bryan and me at the Georgia State Railroad Museum.

Joey Bryan and I try one of the hands-on exhibits at the Georgia State Railroad Museum.

Perhaps the most fulfilling tour for me was the haunted hearse tour. I could feel the presence of the hundreds of thousands of spirits that have riddled the streets of Savannah. Our tour centered on the hot spots of paranormal activity and was actually insightful. I learned that one reason for Savannah’s massive paranormal activity could be attributed to the many battles fought over the land and the two large cemeteries that the city sits on.

With Joey Bryan and Leigh Ann Gardner at the Savannah riverfront.

R to L: Leigh Ann Gardner, Joey Bryan, and I toured the historic Savannah riverfront.

Upon returning from Savannah, I was immediately preparing for my next presentation at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. This year, the annual conference was held in Memphis, which meant great presentations and excellent barbeque. I presented on Middle Tennessee State University and the three-year period from 1967-1970 that in many ways highlighted the university’s racial climate and shed light on a few specific people who fought for change. While at the conference, I got to meet distinguished professors V.P. Franklin (UC Riverside) and Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA). After my presentation, I treated myself to barbeque from B.B King’s restaurant, where I had the privilege to eat and listen to excellent live music.

My two-week venture helped further cement for me the understanding that professional development can be, and usually is, fun. Oftentimes people assume that conferences are dull; yet both of these conferences urged attendees to get out into the respective cities and engage with the landscape. I look forward to my next conference, although that won’t be for a while.

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Schoolhouse Rock: The Adaptive Reuse of the Flagg Grove School

By Denise Gallagher, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

In the 1973 hit song “Nutbush City Limits,” American singer Tina Turner describes “a little old town in Tennessee” located “on highway number nineteen” where “people keep the city clean.” If you know the song, the music should be flooding into your head by now. For others not so familiar, the song’s funky beat and history-minded first few lines will surely grab your attention. Turner sings, “Church house, Gin house, Schoolhouse, Outhouse.” Right away, Turner sets the scene of a Southern agricultural landscape and keeps on providing details related to the social and cultural life of her birthplace. A welcome hit for Ike and Tina Turner, the song also sanctified Nutbush as sacred ground in rock-and-roll history. Tourists from around the world flock to Nutbush to take a photo under the welcome sign and, if they are lucky, see the inside of the nationally registered Woodlawn Baptist Church, where Turner sang in the choir.

Nutbush Welcome Sign CroppedSoon, another historical landmark will thrill Tina Turner fans and, at the same time, offer the chance to learn about African American schoolhouses. On Friday, September 26, at 10:30 a.m., the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center (WTDHC) in Brownsville, Tennessee, will celebrate the grand opening of the Tina Turner Museum at the Flagg Grove School. The event will be the culmination of more than two years of fundraising and planning to preserve the one-room schoolhouse once attended by Tina Turner (then known as Anna Mae Bullock) and founded by her ancestors.

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In February 2014, I visited the Flagg Grove School with fellow graduate student Amanda Barry and Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP), at the request of Sonia Outlaw-Clark, the WTDHC’s director. Our task was to produce interpretive panels about the building’s history, to be installed along with a collection of Tina Turner memorabilia.

Interior of the Flagg Grove School during its transformation into a museum, with panels awaiting installation.

Interior of the Flagg Grove School during its transformation into a museum , with panels awaiting installation.

The Flagg Grove School is a one-room schoolhouse erected near the Nutbush community in Haywood County. The school’s founder, Benjamin Brown Flagg, was born in 1856 on a farm in North Carolina. After the Civil War, Flagg migrated with his family to West Tennessee, where the Flaggs acquired large parcels of land. Flagg married and became an ordained Baptist preacher (his brother, George Flagg, was Turner’s great-grandfather). In 1889, Flagg sold one acre of land to seven trustees for the purpose of building a school to educate children from the 1st through the 8th grade. In order to operate, the community-funded school required parents to pay $1.00 a month and an additional $0.25 in the winter for wood to heat the school.

Flagg Grove adheres to the typical characteristics of African American schoolhouses in the South during the time of segregation. They were overwhelmingly rural, small (one or two classrooms), and privately operated. Teachers faced high student-teacher ratios, irregular attendance, uneven grade distributions, and the general “overagedness” of students, who were often pulled away from their studies to do farm work. In addition to the general chaos of one-room schooling, the early Flagg Grove teachers may have faced hostility from white citizens threatened by the linkage between education and political rights. Haywood County is one of Tennessee’s two predominantly African American counties in a seven-county region that was home to nearly one half of the black population in Tennessee. Despite the challenges, approximately fifty African American schools were constructed in Haywood County in the years after the Civil War.

The Flagg Grove School served the Nutbush community for more than seventy years. Students wishing to attend high school traveled twelve miles to the Haywood County Training School (later called Carver High School) in Brownsville. As late as the mid-1950s, Flagg Grove was surrounded by trees and several sharecropper shacks. In 1967, as part of federally mandated school desegregation, twenty-three African American schools in Haywood County were closed, probably including Flagg Grove. In 1968, the school and surrounding one-acre lot were sold at auction.

The preservation of the Flagg Grove School is a unique story of fortuitous adaptive reuse and community activism. The school’s new owner, Joe Stephens, made use of the building as a barn and corncrib, inadvertently preserving the school. This reuse left the schoolhouse intact and relatively unmodified except for the addition of two sheds on either side. Forty years later, Outlaw-Clark recognized the potential of moving the school from Nutbush to her facility, located off Interstate 40, and began asking Stephens if he would donate the school. She believed that the historic structure could “become an integral part in telling our story, especially where education and music are concerned in Haywood County.” Eventually, Stephens offered the school if Outlaw-Clark could find a way to move it.

To accomplish her vision, Outlaw-Clark collaborated with the Stephens family, former students, Nutbush community members, the City of Brownsville, and Tina Turner herself. A non-profit group called Friends of the Delta Heritage Center was created to facilitate fundraising. In April 2012, the city of Brownsville funded the relocation of the school to the WTDHC because the schoolhouse tied directly to the goal of promoting regional heritage and increasing tourism in rural West Tennessee. A few months later, local preservationists helped strip the school of its barn encasement and prepared the structure for transport. The Flagg Grove School was loaded on a truck and moved to the parking lot of the WTDHC.

Exterior of the Flagg Grove School after its move to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center.

Exterior of the Flagg Grove School after its move to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center and before its transformation into a museum.

The challenge facing Outlaw-Clark was how to interpret the building both as a museum dedicated to the musical legacy of Tina Turner and as a historic school. In January 2013, Tina Turner’s staff began fieldwork in much the same way the CHP operates. One of Turner’s long-time assistants traveled to Brownsville and spent a week touring the area, meeting with family and friends, and planning for a museum. In the April 2013 issue of German Vogue magazine, Turner (age 73) was featured on the cover and talked about the Flagg Grove School project. She said, “I’m involved in the project and will be even more so, since I found out that it is really connected to my background, to my family. I’m very proud that I’m the one in my family, who can conserve this history.”

Turner’s team produced a design plan that involved major changes to the architectural features and historic materials yet still provided for a rural, one-room schoolhouse experience. Changes included replacing the windows, repairing the ceiling, altering the exit door, reinstalling the interior beadboard, and other modern updates. The team was led by world-renowned designer Stephen Sills, who created a memorable display of costumes, gold records, and memorabilia in tall glass cases, fitted with museum lighting. Because the display cases are glass, visitors will be able to see the objects as well as the wall behind, which helps uphold the experience of being in a one-room school.

Interior of Flagg Grove School (view of wall with color-blocked paint).

Interior of the Flagg Grove School during its transformation into a museum (view of wall with color-blocked paint).

The CHP’s task was to produce interpretive panels that blended with the established design and expanded the visitor experience to include historic information about the school itself. We produced four panels that explore the architecture of rural African American schoolhouses and honor the experiences of Flagg Grove’s teachers and students. The size and overall design of Flagg Grove reflected the philosophy of the Progressive reform movement that aimed to standardize and improve rural schools.

The simple rectangular shape, gabled roof, location of the doors, and banks of evenly spaced windows strongly resemble those in the Community School Plans guide produced by the Rosenwald Fund after 1921. Many of the Rosenwald design concepts were adapted to suit the needs and budget of the Nutbush community. Flagg Grove exhibits many details included in the Rosenwald plan I-A for one-room schools facing north or south. One side of the building features two sections of evenly spaced windows, which was a significant design innovation to improve air-flow and light levels. On the interior, the upper section of the walls was painted white to accentuate the natural light, while the lower section was painted dark green to reduce the glare for seated students. This type of color-blocked paint treatment was explicitly dictated in Community School Plans.

Interior of Flagg Grove School during renovations (platform on left and cubbies on right).

Interior of the Flagg Grove School during its transformation into a museum (platform on left and cubbies on right).

Instead of cloak rooms near the entrance door, Flagg Grove has simple cubbies for storage. Instead of an industrial room behind the teacher’s desk, Flagg Grove has a raised platform to elevate the teacher from the class. Remarkably, several desks were found in the Flagg Grove School, which illustrate a significant design change. Rosenwald officials mandated the use of mass-produced “patent desks” made of wood and cast iron, but because buying new desks was not always possible, many communities continued to use the “Tuskegee-style” wooden desks, benches, and pews. Flagg Grove’s inventory reflects both styles.

To experience the transformed Flagg Grove School and to learn about the experiences of its teachers and students, be sure to visit the WTDHC located at Exit 56 on Interstate 40. To learn more about the African American history of Haywood County, visit the Dunbar Carver Museum in Brownsville, Tennessee.

Flagg Grove School interior during renovations (desks of different design).

Interior of the Flagg Grove School during its transformation into a museum (desks of different design).

See Also:

Granberry, Dorothy. “Black Community Leadership in a Rural Tennessee County, 1865-1903.” The Journal of Negro History 83, no. 4 (Autumn 1998).

Hoffschwelle, Mary S. The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. New Perspectives on the History of the South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

The Stephen Sills Blog (Oct. 15, 2013, entry on Flagg Grove School).

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From Cabins to Mansions: Rambling Through Tennessee’s Civil War Landscape

By Leigh Ann Gardner, Interpretive Specialist, Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area

One of the missions of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area (TCWNHA) is to provide assistance to organizations and property owners in preservation planning, heritage development, and the documentation of historic properties. As part of that mission, the TCWNHA is working with two very different properties this Fall: the Harding Cabin and Glenmore Mansion. Both buildings are excellent representations of the particular period in which they were built.

The Harding Cabin in 1940, from the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Harding Cabin in 1940, from the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The first project is the Harding Cabin at Belle Meade Plantation, which provides a great example of settlement patterns in Middle Tennessee. This log, dog-trot cabin, located beside Richland Creek in Davidson County, dates to c. 1807 and was the first home of John Harding. He initially built the cabin on the site when he settled on the land he had purchased from Daniel Dunham. As Harding acquired more capital over the years, he built a larger, more substantial home in the 1820s. When this home was damaged by fire in the early 1850s, the mansion we know as Belle Meade was built. As for the cabin, after the Civil War, Robert “Bob” Green, the African American horse expert, made the cabin his home.

The Harding Cabin as it appears today.

The Harding Cabin as it appears today.

Graduate research assistant Noel Harris and I have begun the process of documenting the site and trying to dig into the history of the building. Combing through archival collections, written histories of Belle Meade and its various owners, and historic photographs, we hope to produce a thorough history of the cabin that the site’s staff can use in their interpretative planning.

At the other end of the state, in Jefferson City, is Glenmore Mansion. Built in 1868-1869 for John Roper Branner and designed by architect William H. Clyce, this home has been called “perhaps the grandest Second Empire country house remaining in Tennessee” by architectural historian James Patrick. Branner, the president of the East Tennessee, Virginia, & Georgia Railroad, sadly enough never lived in the mansion, dying before it was completed. His widow, Deborah, did live there following the death of her husband, and during the 1870s, his brother, Joseph Branner, operated the Branner Institute for Young Ladies in the home. The family sold the house to Milton P. Jarnigan in 1882. In addition to Glenmore, W.H. Clyce also designed the Jonesborough Presbyterian Church, built in 1846. Clyce is noteworthy in that he is one of the few architects of the period who continued to design after the Civil War.

Glenmore Mansion as it appears today.

Glenmore Mansion as it appears today.

This stunning, 27-room mansion, sitting on a hill overlooking Jefferson City, is open seasonally. Graduate research assistant Joey Bryan and I will be looking into the history of the building and its owners, plus working on a heritage development plan for the site.

The Library at Glenmore Mansion, as it appeared in 1983 when photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Library at Glenmore Mansion, as it appeared in 1983 when photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

While the two buildings and their histories are very different, they are both representative of their owners and of the different periods in which they were built. The Harding Cabin represents the humble dwellings early Middle Tennessee settlers built as they sought to establish themselves in the region. Glenmore Mansion, on the other end of the scale, represents the type of house built as the culmination of a long, successful, and prosperous career. In future blogs, we look forward to sharing with you more of what we learn about these two properties.

Glenmore Mansion in 1983, from the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Glenmore Mansion in 1983, from the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To learn more about Belle Meade Plantation and the tours that are offered there, visit the Belle Meade Web site:

To learn more about Glenmore Mansion and its hours of operation, visit the Web site:

To learn more about Tennessee architecture, read James Patrick, Architecture in Tennessee, 1768-1897 (reprint ed., 1990).

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