Tennessee as a “Desolated State”

By Antoinette G. van Zelm, Assistant Director, Center for Historic Preservation

Title PageWhile I was in graduate school, a fellow researcher gave me the gift of a nineteeth-century book that I continue to cherish (and use). A Picture of the Desolated States; and the Work of Restoration, 1865-1868, written by J.T. Trowbridge, is one of the most significant of the many travel narratives written about the South after the Civil War. Tennessee is well-covered in the book, so we’ve used some of the book’s illustrations for our Reconstruction-related exhibitions and other projects at the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the faded inscription, “Presented by Francella to Father, Dec. 25, 1868.” The book that passed between Francella and her father on Christmas in 1868 is quite a tome, numbering more than 700 pages, including appendices. First published in 1866 to give northerners a sense of the devastating effects of the war on the South and the ongoing efforts to rebuild society, Trowbridge’s chronicle was reissued two years later. The update included chapters on Reconstruction politics and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

J.T. Trowbridge was no fan of President Andrew Johnson, as suggested by the caption to the illustration above.

J.T. Trowbridge was no fan of President Andrew Johnson, as suggested by the caption above.

The author, John Townsend Trowbridge (1827-1916), was a native of New York who had settled in Boston as a young man and established himself as a writer, eventually specializing in juvenile literature. Influenced by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, he spoke out against slavery and published two antislavery novels, Neighbor Jackwood (1857), considered his best work, and Cudjo’s Cave (1863), which takes place in East Tennessee.

Traveling through Tennessee by train, horse, and foot, Trowbridge described the landscape and the people, giving particular attention to how former Confederates were adapting to defeat and how former slaves were making the transition to freedom. Not surprisingly, Trowbridge’s northern prejudices are evident throughout the book–he lamented not finding New England village greens as he journeyed through Tennessee, for example–as are his Unionist and Republican sympathies. A firm supporter of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Trowbridge praised its schools and temporary courts.

This map includes many of J.T. Trowbridge's stops in Tennessee.

This map of Kentucky and Tennessee includes many of J.T. Trowbridge’s stops in Tennessee.

In East Tennessee, Trowbridge found Greeneville “eminently disagreeable” on a rainy day, relayed that Knoxville had “received rough treatment during the war,” and described Chattanooga as “anything but a lovely town” despite the “strikingly bold and grand scenery” that surrounded it. He assessed East Tennesseans as “a plain, honest, industrious, old-fashioned people” and upheld the region’s unconditional Unionists as model men for the future of the South.

In the Midstate, Trowbridge stopped in Murfreesboro, toured the Stones River battlefield with General William B. Hazen, and noted the skeletal remains of horses still visible on the ground. He described the town and its surroundings as “laid desolate” by the war and occupation. In Nashville, Trowbridge found “the best system of roads I met with anywhere in the South.” He praised the city, using a rather unfortunate metaphor, as “a nostril through which the State has long breathed the Northern air of free institutions.” He took the opportunity to speak with legislators just dismissed for the holidays and made sure to meet Governor William G. Brownlow, “a tall, quiet individual of a nervous temperament, intellectual forehead, and a gift of language.”

Unlike the scene depicted in this illustration, most freedmen's schools had just one teacher, but this image does do a good job of showing the intergenerational nature of these schools.

Unlike the scene depicted in this illustration, most freedmen’s schools had just one teacher. This image does do a good job, however, of showing the intergenerational nature of these schools.

From Nashville, Trowbridge visited Corinth, Mississippi, and the battlefield at Shiloh. Near the battlefield, he stayed with a poor farm family and was overwhelmed by their generosity. In Memphis, Trowbridge discovered a spirit of enterprise similar to that he had observed in Nashville. He confessed that Memphis “surprised me by its beautiful situation and commercial activity.” He then drew for his northern audience a romanticized description of the work of mostly African American laborers loading cotton and other exports onto steamships headed up the Mississippi.

A Picture of the Desolated States is by no means an objective look at postwar Tennessee. It is, however, a fascinating primary source that presents a colorful perspective on the state’s emergence from the trauma of civil war.

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A Zeal for Education: The Story of Cora Bristol Nelson

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

One of the missions of the Heritage Center is to tell the stories of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County. We are always discovering new stories from the past about our community and its residents. I recently stumbled across the story of a woman who believed that all children should be educated, regardless of their mental abilities. Cora Bristol Nelson opened a school for “feeble-minded children” (as they were then termed) in her Murfreesboro home in 1905.

1931 Sanborn Map (sheet 25) showing the location of the Bristol Nelson School.

1931 Sanborn Map (sheet 25) showing the location of the Bristol Nelson School.

Born in New York in 1870, Cora Bristol was remarkably well-educated and epitomized the Progressive women of her era. She attended the Boston School of Oratory and studied psychology at Columbia University in the early 1890s. Following her marriage to a man from Tennessee, she moved to Lebanon.

After the birth of her second child, Nelson searched for something additional to do. Full of the zeal for reform that characterized the period, she decided to open a school for children with intellectual disabilities. By 1908, Nelson, her family, and her school had all moved to Murfreesboro, where she remained until her death.

The Bristol Nelson School was housed in this building, which no longer stands. (Courtesy of the Rutherford County Archives.)

The Bristol Nelson School was housed in this building, which no longer stands. Courtesy of the Rutherford County Archives.

At that time, Tennessee had more than 7,000 children labeled as “feeble-minded,” and there was no school for them. Articles praising Nelson’s work appeared in the Atlanta Constitution in 1908 and 1911. The article published on October 11, 1911, called her school “the only school in the southern states for the care and training of backward, nervous and feeble-minded children.” Nelson was asked to address the Southern Medical Association in 1908 and the Southern Sociological Congress about her work with the children and her educational methods. She had what was considered a radical notion at the time–tailoring education to each individual student’s needs and abilities.

This was the story I originally came across in the Atlanta Constitution. It was a later article in the Volta Review, however, that deepened the story of this remarkable woman. The Volta Review was established in 1899 as the journal for the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Photograph of Cora Bristol Nelson from the Volta Review article about her life.

Photograph of Cora Bristol Nelson from the Volta Review article about her life.

The piece on Cora Bristol Nelson, “Chronicle of a Successful Life,” published by Lucy Gray Kendall in January 1939, paints the portrait of a reform-minded woman with wide-ranging interests. Following her marriage, she taught oratory to law students at Cumberland University in Lebanon. Over the years at her Murfreesboro school, she educated children from 23 different states, as well as Canada. (The census records for 1930 and 1940 offer insight into Nelson’s school, as they list the names of her pupils and where they were from.) She was also instrumental in opening similar schools in Jackson, Mississippi, and Charleston, South Carolina. In addition, Nelson served as president of the Murfreesboro Garden Club, the Murfreesboro Woman’s Club, and the Ladies’ Hermitage Association. She was also a member of the Nashville League for the Hard of Hearing (now known as Bridges) and organized similar leagues in Murfreesboro and Chattanooga. She traveled extensively all over the world and was a collector of teapots and antiques. While it is not clear how long she continued teaching, Nelson died in November 1952 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro.

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Tales from the Road

By Kira Duke, Educational Specialist, Teaching with Primary Sources

July was another busy month for our Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program. In the span of two weeks, we completed six workshop days and traveled to Washington, D.C., for our annual TPS national consortium meeting. To kick off the two weeks on the road, we started with a three-day institute focused on World War I.

Planning for the World War I workshop started about a year and half ago when Kelly Wilkerson from the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) and I were chatting one day about topics we wanted to explore after we shifted away from the Civil War. We both were very intrigued by the idea of exploring World War I. Fast forward to summer 2014 when I had the chance to travel to Pall Mall and Jamestown to meet with Deborah York, great-granddaughter of World War I hero Sergeant Alvin C. York, and see the various York-related sites in the area. Immediately, I knew that any institute we did on the topic had to include taking our teachers to see and hear from all of the wonderful people working with the Sergeant Alvin C. York State Park and the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation.

Our institute kicked off on Monday, July 13th, at Tennessee Tech University. Sixteen teachers from different school districts from all across the state arrived at Derryberry Hall eager to learn. In addition to partnering with TSLA, Sgt. Alvin C. York State Park, and the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation, we were also joined by Dr. Michael Birdwell from the TTU History Department. Dr. Birdwell served as our content expert for the institute and introduced our group to a wide array of Tennesseans who played significant roles in WWI. As with all of our workshops, the group spent a good bit of time analyzing a variety of primary sources from the Library of Congress collections, as well as items from TSLA.

Teachers created a WWI comic strip during the workshop. Courtesy of TSLA.

Teachers created a WWI comic strip during the workshop. Courtesy of TSLA.

The second day got off to an early start when we loaded everyone up into MTSU vans and headed to Fentress County to visit the York historic sites. Our morning was spent at the state park, where our group toured the farm house where Sgt. York lived after returning from WWI, the general store which serves as a visitor center, and the Bible school that York built in the 1940s. At lunch, we were joined by Andrew Jackson York, son of Sgt. York, who shared with us stories of his family and childhood.

Andrew Jack York joined the group for lunch.  Courtesy of TSLA.

Andrew Jackson York joined the group for lunch. Courtesy of TSLA.

It was during one of Mr. York’s stories that Mother Nature decided to make the day a bit more interesting by bringing some wicked thunderstorms with threats of tornados into the area. We quickly loaded up our group and headed over to the historic York Institute high school in Jamestown to find a sturdy shelter to ride out the storm. Once the storm passed, we walked through the original school building and listened to Michael Birdwell and Deborah York share their vision for the future of the building. After our tour and yet another tornado warning for the area, we headed back to Cookeville and called it a day.

Our final day with the group focused on sharing online resources with the teachers and allowing them time to begin creating lesson plans to use with their students. The group was given a special glimpse into a new program at TTU, the iCube, which incorporates virtual reality. Teachers were able to experience two simulations that are currently under development that can be used to teach WWI. The first is designed around the two-person tanks used in the war, and the second centers on an airplane used in combat. Each of these simulations allows an individual to get a sense of the size of the vehicle and a real sense of the terrain of the battlefield.

Virtual reality--the future of teaching history? Courtesy of TSLA.

Virtual reality–the future of teaching history? Courtesy of TSLA.

The institute was a great way to kick off our marathon of July workshops and meetings. Now, it is time spend a few days in the office and prepare for our next wave of workshops while Tennessee teachers head to the classroom to kick off another school year.

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A Forgotten Monument Campaign

By Antoinette G. van Zelm, Assistant Director, Center for Historic Preservation

Monuments to women are few and far between on the historic landscape. Surprisingly, early in the twentieth century a group of Tennessee women began an initiative to erect a monument to women who had remained loyal to the United States during the Civil War. I made this intriguing discovery while researching the activities of the Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC) in Tennessee. Currently, I am still following leads to learn more about this unique monument campaign, which apparently never came to fruition.

The WRC was the national women’s auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans organization that wielded significant political power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded in 1883, the WRC became a force in its own right, quickly developing into the second-largest women’s organization in the United States (behind the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union). By 1900, the WRC had 118,000 members working through 3000 corps (or local chapters) in 36 states, including Tennessee.

The WRC had gained a foothold in urban areas of Tennessee during the 1880s and 1890s. By 1900, 183 women belonged to nine corps (five white and four black), with the white corps concentrated in East Tennessee and the African American corps located in the cities of Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. True to the goals of the WRC, Tennessee’s members assisted aged veterans and commemorated Union victory. Though small in number, Tennessee’s WRC women were viewed by national WRC leaders as important representatives of the organization within the former Confederacy.

The proceedings of the WRC's national convention in 1901 listed four African American corps in Tennessee, along with the names and addresses of each corps' president.

The proceedings of the WRC’s national convention in 1901 listed four African American corps for Tennessee, along with the names and addresses of each corps’ president.

In 1896, Tennessee’s Lookout Corps (one of three WRC corps in Chattanooga) proposed to build a monument to loyal women as “a perpetual reminder to all posterity of woman’s devotion to and love for her country.” The women hoped the monument could be placed in the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which had just opened the year before as the first Civil War national military park. Local and state GAR leaders supported the idea, but state and national WRC leaders were more hesitant. WRC national president Lizabeth A. Turner believed the initiative would take too much attention away from needy veterans and their families.

A 1918 view of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A 1918 view of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Tennessee women persisted in advocating the monument in honor of loyal women, however, and by 1900 they had received the endorsement of the national WRC. The next year, the “Loyal Woman’s Monument Association,” under the auspices of the Lookout Corps, received a charter from the state of Tennessee. Fascinatingly, the organization had multiple, diverse goals–including the support of scientific endeavors and promotion of the fine arts–but its overriding purpose was “the erection of a monument or monuments to the memory of the loyal women in the war of 1861 to 1865 between the states.” The association, which had both female and male members, had the power to purchase real estate or receive it as a gift. The news of the founding of the Tennessee monument organization made its way into The New York Times, which carried a short blurb in its July 14, 1901, edition.

Several of the white women who served as officers for the WRC in Tennessee were founding members of the the Loyal Woman's Monument Association.

Several of the white women who served as WRC departmental officers in Tennessee (listed here in the proceedings of the WRC’s national convention in 1901) were founding members of the the Loyal Woman’s Monument Association.

My next steps are to discover what the monument association did and how its goals changed between the turn of the century and the Great Depression. According to a 1933 historical sketch of the Tennessee WRC written by the group’s historian, the monument campaign had raised more than $3000, which had been invested in two city lots near the Chattanooga National Cemetery. World War I and the depression had stymied progress on the project, but when the economy improved the Tennessee WRC hoped to build a meeting hall there for the GAR, WRC, and other patriotic groups, a building that would also serve as a memorial.

The entrance to the Chattanooga National Cemetery in about 1902.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The entrance to the Chattanooga National Cemetery in about 1902. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Additional research avenues to explore include the relationship between the creation of the Loyal Woman’s Monument Association and the activities of Confederate organizations in Tennessee. In 1895, the United Confederate Veterans had suggested that monuments to Confederate women be erected throughout the southern states. Might this have motivated the Unionist women of Chattanooga to propose their own monument? Additionally, did the white WRC women who spearheaded the monument campaign ever consider reaching out to their African American sisters for assistance?

The existence of the monument association reflected the desire of a group of Tennessee’s Unionist women to honor women’s contributions to the conflict. Turning this goal into a reality proved to be fraught with difficulties, however, as I continue to discover. Taking the historical view and understanding how shaping the public memory of the Civil War has engaged (and divided) citizens for more than a century provides much-needed perspective on today’s discussions about the Civil War memorials in our midst.  

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And You Thought Teachers Took the Summers Off!

By Kira Duke, Education Specialist, Center for Historic Preservation

Most folks think that summer vacation for teachers is a time to kick back, sleep in, and enjoy a two-month vacation. For the vast majority of teachers, however, summer is a time to continue their own learning through the variety of professional development opportunities offered during their “down” time. For TPS-MTSU, we look at summer as a chance to offer some of our most in-depth workshops and as an opportunity to get teachers out to some of the wonderful historic sites in our state.


A great group of educators at our TPS–MTSU Civil War Institute on Reconstruction, with community leaders from the George Clem Multicultural Alliance in front of the George Clem School in the Wesley Heights neighborhood.

During the month of June, we offered two multi-day sessions, one on labor history and the other on Reconstruction. For each of these, our participants were asked to read selected articles on the topic in advance of the workshop. We also incorporated the relatively new TPS Teacher Network into each of these sessions as a way to engage the participants in conversation prior to the workshops and to continue conversations within the groups after the workshops.

In each workshop, we explored some of the wonderful primary sources available from the Library of Congress and discussed how these sources fit into the new, rigorous state social studies standards. These workshops also gave us a chance to highlight some of the excellent lesson plans created by our TPS-MTSU graduate assistants. These included “Fights, Freedom, and Fraud: Voting Rights in the Reconstruction Era,” written by Ethan Morris, “Industrial Revolution,” by Brian Stinson, and “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,” by Ashley Armstrong.

The labor history workshop featured guest speaker Dr. Bob Hutton from the University of Tennessee’s History Department. Dr. Hutton addressed labor history through the lens of the Appalachian experience. Rebecca Byrd, a teacher from Sevier County and the teacher-in-residence with the East Tennessee Historical Society, highlighted some of her favorite exhibition items related to East Tennessee’s labor history at the East Tennessee History Center. Bringing together these local stories and resources inspired many of our participants to create lesson activities that would help their students draw connections to their own community’s labor stories.

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The next week our TPS-MTSU crew, Dr. Stacey Graham, Dr. Antoinette van Zelm (who we have drafted into service for many of our Civil War-related events), and I, headed to Greeneville for the final Civil War Summer Institute of the Sesquicentennial period. Our focus was the tumultuous Reconstruction era. Through our advanced readings and Dr. van Zelm’s remarks on the first day, our group was given both a national and state context for the Reconstruction period.

During our second day of the institute, our group visited the Doak House Museum and the Andrew Johnson Museum and Library at Tusculum College, where we met with Dollie Boyd, director of the Department of Museum Program and Studies. Next, our group ventured over to the Wesley Heights neighborhood, where community leaders from the George Clem Multicultural Alliance discussed the history of this African American community, which dates back to the Reconstruction period. We ended the day at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, where our group saw Johnson’s tailor shop, his home, and grave site. We also had the opportunity to vote on Johnson’s impeachment at the visitor center. Our institute concluded with our participants drafting ideas about how they would use primary sources to teach students about the complicated and often contentious issues of the Reconstruction period.

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We thoroughly enjoyed working with these two wonderful groups of educators. Now we are taking a collective breath as we ready ourselves for the next wave of summer workshops. This month, TPS-MTSU will be partnering with the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a multi-day institute on World War I, and we will also be working with Tennessee History Day to offer a series of one-day sessions throughout East Tennessee. So, as you cruise around this summer, be on the lookout for our TPS-MTSU crew as we head to our next summer workshop. Oh, and take a moment to tell your local educators how much you appreciate their dedication to continued learning.

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Who Were the Artisans? Mining Material Culture

Dr. Susan W. Knowles, Digital Humanities Research Fellow, Center for Historic Preservation

When I first began my research on the Tennessee marble industry, I was engaged primarily in architectural history. Architects choose building materials according to durability, appearance, and function. My focus was originally on civic architecture—public buildings and their purpose and symbolism. These buildings are usually attributed to known individuals, such as Alfred Mullett, the U.S. Treasury architect who designed Knoxville’s Custom House and Post Office and who became a national champion of the local marble.

Custom House, Knoxville, Tennessee, circa 1904. Courtesy of  the Library of Congress.

Custom House and Post Office, Knoxville, Tennessee, circa 1904. From the Detroit Publishing Co. Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Through my research, I followed several individuals in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Tennessee, who had seen the future and gotten involved in the marble business–the venture capitalists of the day—but I could only go so far in the historical record. Much of what has been published is in the geological literature. Having used GIS (a geographic information system) to overlay historic maps onto contemporary geography, I sensed that more could be done on the ground to bring this history to light.

The methodology of historic preservation offered additional avenues. Dr. Carroll Van West and I proposed a survey of extant structures and markers in the cultural landscape. I combed through public records, casting a wide net in order to understand which properties had once been used for marble quarrying or production. I gathered property deeds, wills, and contracts that might be relevant.

I also reached out to the descendants of marble families. Some, like Priscilla Moore in Hawkins County, Jeff and John Craig in Knox and Blount counties, and Harmon Kreis in Knox County, took us to see former quarry lands. They shared stories, documents, ledgers, and photographs still in their hands.

Hobbs Store, Concord, with Jeff Craig.

Hobbs Store, Concord, with Jeff Craig.

With the help of local historians, preservationists, and interested community members, we held community information-gathering days at the East Tennessee History Center, Ijams Nature Center, and Friendsville City Hall. We interviewed people who had once worked for the marble companies or whose relatives had. The various connections began to reveal both specific events and more general effects of the marble industry involving communities, individuals, and neighborhoods. A Tennessee Pink Marble Trail has since been developed for Knoxville.

South Knoxville Marble House.

South Knoxville Marble House.

From my research, I learned that the property deeds of someone who lives on land that was once a quarry might contain references to contiguous properties, lending institutions, wills, and even a lawsuit over a failed partnership between a quarry man and a banker. (The depositions show that they had hoped to attract outside investors and possibly even offer shares to Wall Street.)

Knowing whose hands actually touched the marble leads us more deeply into the history of the marble industry in Tennessee. Recently, I was invited to speak at Belmont Mansion’s 3rd Annual Decorative Arts Symposium. Objects in historic houses are usually thought to furnish evidence of the taste of their inhabitants. But perhaps it was local house builders who decided on similar Tennessee “cedar”-colored mantle pieces out of convenience, since the interiors of Tennessee’s State Capitol (which also featured brown variegated marble) were being sourced in Knoxville and furnished by a Nashville marble company.

Mantels at Belmont Mansion, Nashville, left (courtesy of Belmont Mansion), and the Mabry Hazen House, Knoxville, right

Mantels at Belmont Mansion, Nashville, left (courtesy of Belmont Mansion), and the Mabry Hazen House, Knoxville, right.

More research beckons. Who were the quarry men? The expert stonesetters? The carvers and other artisans who knew how to get the best out of the material? A piece of East Tennessee-made furniture in the Tennessee State Museum collection, signed by  cabinetmaker Jeremiah Bond in Jonesborough, which features a custom-fitted Tennessee “cedar” top, opens the door just a crack wider to finding the answers to these questions. What other piece might he have made, and from whom he did he obtain the finished marble top? Continuing this research at the local level promises exciting answers, as well as encounters with fascinating individuals, both historic and contemporary.

Table by Jeremiah Bond, Jonesborough, 1866, Tennessee State Museum Collection.

Table by Jeremiah Bond, Jonesborough, 1866. Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum.

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