Log Architecture on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

By Amy Kostine, Trail of Tears Project Historian, Center for Historic Preservation

Brown’s Ferry Tavern, Hamilton County, Tennessee.

Brown’s Ferry Tavern, Hamilton County, Tennessee.

In my last blog post, 175 Years Later: Documenting the Historic Buildings of the Trail of Tears, I introduced an exciting new project that the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) is working on to survey buildings associated with the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Arguably, some of the most iconic examples of early vernacular architecture located along the Trail are the hewn-log buildings that stand as testaments to the skill of the early craftsmen who built them. Some are former Cherokee homes and mark the beginning of the Trail of Tears, while others were built by European Americans and bore witness to the removal.

The Trail’s historic log structures are the result of a variety of log-building techniques born from a “melting pot” of European influences but rooted in Scandinavian and German traditions. At a time when pioneers had little but natural resources at their disposal, building with logs was an ideal and efficient construction method. Trees that needed to be cleared from the land to make way for agricultural production could be turned into sturdy homes with minimal labor and tools.

Although some of the first log homes in the present-day United States appeared in the Delaware River Valley in the 1630s, the tradition of log building quickly spread into the Southeast with the migration of pioneers into the frontier. According to Patricia Irvin Cooper, author of “Cabins and Deerskins: Log Building and the Charles Town Indian Trade,” deerskin traders in South Carolina introduced the Cherokee and other native peoples to log buildings. Soon, many Cherokee abandoned their traditional wattle-and-daub dwellings and replaced them with log homes. In 1838, some of the Cherokee carried their knowledge of log-building techniques with them on the Trail of Tears and built their new homes in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) using hewn logs.

Born in Tennessee, Sequoyah, the creator of the Cherokee syllabary, built this single-pen, hand-hewn log house in 1829 in present-day Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.

Born in Tennessee, Sequoyah, the creator of the Cherokee syllabary, built this single-pen, hand-hewn log house in 1829 in present-day Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.

Today, a number of log buildings survive along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. These buildings have endured on the landscape for more than 175 years and represent a variety of different log-house types. The most basic type consists of four log walls notched in the corners and is known as a single-pen (or single-crib when referring to barns and outbuildings). These small houses typically measure 20 by 18 feet, rest on a stone-pier foundation, and have a chimney on one of the gable ends. More complex log dwellings, such as the dogtrot or saddlebag, evolved from the single-pen house with the attachment of additional pens.

One of the most distinctive features of a log house is its corner notch, which locked the logs in place, thus ensuring the structure’s stability. The most commonly seen notch types on log buildings along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail are square (left), V (center), and half-dovetail (right).

One of the most distinctive features of a log house is its corner notch, which locked the logs in place, thus ensuring the structure’s stability. The most commonly seen notch types on log buildings along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail are square (left), V (center), and half-dovetail (right).

Time has not always been kind to log houses. Many suffered from neglect, fire, and environmental threats over the years, leading to their destruction and collapse. The log buildings that remain along the Trail of Tears today represent only a fraction of those standing in 1838. These log buildings are not just tangible reminders of the Cherokee removal landscape but are also important examples of the vernacular architecture of the American frontier and visual representations of the turning point in the traditional architectural practices of the Cherokee.

The Wolf House in present-day Norfork, Arkansas, was built in 1829 and is an excellent example of a two-story dogtrot. It was the first permanent courthouse for Izard County in Arkansas Territory. Those Cherokee traveling with Benge’s detachment would have seen this building on their way to Indian Territory.

The Wolf House in present-day Norfork, Arkansas, was built in 1829 and is an excellent example of a two-story dogtrot. It was the first permanent courthouse for Izard County in Arkansas Territory. Those Cherokee traveling with Benge’s detachment would have seen this building on their way to Indian Territory.

To help owners become better stewards of this architectural legacy, the CHP is partnering with the National Trails Intermountain Region of the National Park Service to develop a restoration guide for log buildings on the Trail of Tears. Scheduled to be available in early 2015, the guide will offer advice and solutions regarding the restoration and preservation of historic log structures by addressing common problems faced by homeowners and preservation professionals.

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Stay tuned for more blog entries on the Trail of Tears. In the meantime, download any of the Trail of Tears brochures, and visit one of the Trail’s many log buildings.

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Construction Zones

By Dr. Rachel Martin, Assistant Director, Center for Historic Preservation

My office at the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) has become a construction zone. I don’t mean that there are guys in hardhats tearing out sections of the Harrison House. All this chaos is my own doing.

In a recent post on my personal blog, I reflected on how much has changed in the last year. To briefly recap: twelve months ago, I was moving back to Tennessee from Massachusetts. I hadn’t yet been hired as the assistant director at the CHP. I had no idea where I would be or what I would be doing. All I knew was that I needed to be nearer to my family in Tennessee, and I wanted to get back to doing public history.

I’ve been in my job since mid-September, and it’s been a challenge to figure out what my role here will be. Caneta Hankins, the previous assistant director, did a brilliant job. It’s been intimidating to fill her shoes. Before I could create a place for myself, I had to figure out what we did. For those of you I haven’t yet met, I first worked at the CHP as a research fellow back in 2005. The CHP today is drastically different from the place I knew back then. The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area has grown, especially during the sesquicentennial of the war. We’ve also added programs like Teaching with Primary Sources–MTSU and the Trail of Tears National Historic Site Survey.

My first six months back at the CHP were spent getting settled.

Cleaning the closetDuring this period, I sent 35 years of files to the archives, spoke at the 2013 Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Signature Event, lectured on the history of slavery for a TPS-MTSU workshop, helped teach the spring graduate seminar in historic preservation, and worked with the students on a new heritage development plan for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s historic Engel Stadium.

Speaking to teachers about the history of slavery.

Speaking to teachers about the history of slavery for a TPS-MTSU teacher workshop in partnership with the Tennessee State Museum.

It’s time to create my own space to further enhance our programming. As I discussed in my first post on Southern Rambles, I’ve decided that my experience in oral history is the most valuable addition I can make to the work we do. This will be the subject of many future entries on this blog. I’m beginning an oral history initiative where we will train community partners and offer digital archival support. The goal is to enable local communities to take control of their own oral history projects. But more on that later.

I’ve also been figuring out who I am as a writer. I’m having to decide if I really mean it when I say that I want to write for a general audience. I’m taking a class in creative nonfiction down at the Sewanee School of Letters this summer. It’s the first time since graduating college in 2002 that I’m in a writing workshop. It’s been exciting and a little brutal.

The workshop has forced me to reevaluate how I approach historical narratives. Many pieces of nonacademic nonfiction are written as first-person accounts. I find myself wanting to run away from that idea. The approach goes against my training as a historian, and I’m not sure how much I want you to know about me. But it’s time to get over that. I need to find a way to write that includes me without being a memoir.

For me, using the first-person will be more honest. I am invested both in the work I do here at the CHP and in my research. I need to acknowledge that these projects aren’t about arcane knowledge. They are of great importance to me. This is especially true of my ongoing work on the story of Clinton High School in East Tennessee, where in 1956 twelve African American teenagers proved that desegregation could succeed in America.

Clinton, TN. School integration conflicts.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Clinton, TN. School integration conflicts. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I’m also realizing that I like reading other people’s personal accounts. I’ve been going back through earlier posts here on Southern Rambles. It’s compelling and powerful when my colleagues invite us along on their travels. I love hearing about the new and unexpected things they learn about the places they thought they knew.

So, I’m in my office building things this summer. I’m trying to build a place for myself here at the CHP. I’m trying to build a new identity for myself as a historian and a writer. I’m also trying to build a giant corkboard, where I can start pinning ideas and outlines. This could start to get messy.

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“Agriculture and Commerce”–and Manufacturing?

By Amber Clawson, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

Tennessee’s state motto, “Agriculture and Commerce,” popularizes two of the state’s economic endeavors. Based on the state seal developed early in Tennessee’s history, the motto overlooks an economic imperative critical since the twentieth century– manufacturing. The economic stimulus of manufacturing is readily apparent as we live surrounded by products created in places like Kingsport, Memphis, and Columbia (to name but a few).

Sometimes day-to-day life in the modern world obscures the people of the past who shaped our world. Enter the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP)! Partnerships with grassroots preservationists and local, non-profit organizations enable CHP researchers (staff and students) to uncover forgotten layers of history in Tennessee. As a CHP doctoral resident over the past year, I worked on a grant funded by the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) Foundation with the East Tennessee Historical Society (ETHS) to develop an 8-panel traveling exhibition that explores Tennessee’s manufacturing history.

It was exciting to uncover the stories of factory workers…

1a35373v Vultee Plant

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a “Vengeance” dive bomber, Tennessee [1943]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

and to explore the factory buildings that still exist and contribute to the state’s landscape….

Marathon Motor Works

Marathon Motor Works, Nashville, TN. Courtesy of the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, University of Tennessee Press.

My primary responsibilities were twofold: research statewide stories of manufacturing and draft exhibition text. The manufacturing history of Tennessee is complex because it’s divided by region and industry. So, how did factories arrive in Tennessee? Often, entrepreneurial residents of the state began businesses on a small scale, which later grew, thanks to successful production methods and increasing consumer demand.

The exhibition team at ETHS decided to tell these stories through the promises of enthusiastic economic supporters. Politicians, businessmen, and factory workers promoted the growth of manufacturing to develop the state’s infrastructure and provide opportunities for employment. Improved modes of transportation enabled speedy delivery of industrial products and popular goods like metals, chemicals, and automobiles.

What, then, is the best way to tell such diverse stories to multiple audiences? Products created by Tennesseans…

Musgrave

Musgrave Pencil Company, 1938. Courtesy of the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, University of Tennessee Press.

Visitors to the exhibition will learn how agriculture and commerce affected manufacturing. They will see objects created by Tennesseans; visitors will encounter some objects that they may have never seen before and others that they are very familiar with. Together, the objects, images, and stories of Tennesseans illustrate the lasting influence of manufacturing on the state and region.

“Agriculture, Commerce, and Manufacturing” may be a mouthful, but the economic and social histories of Tennessee demonstrate how manufacturing reinforced agriculture and industry statewide. This year, ALCOA celebrates its centennial. Volunteers from the factory floor will be available at some of the exhibition openings to answer questions and share their stories. ETHS and the CHP are excited to present an exhibition that integrates the accomplishments of the state’s three regions, the past innovations of its citizens, and the manufacturing field’s economic potential for the future.

See Also:

Delfino, Susanna, and Michele Gillespie, eds. Technology, Innovation, and Southern Industrialization from the Antebellum Era to the Computer Age. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008.

West, Carroll Van, ed. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture. Nashville, TN: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998. Also available online at http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/

 

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Food: The Perks of Fieldwork

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

When you think of food and Tennessee, you often think of barbecue, biscuits and gravy, grits, peach cobbler, and banana pudding. While you can find a lot of this good, southern/soul food across the state, Tennessee is also home to a number of really outstanding international restaurants. As Tennessee’s population has become more diverse over the years, so too have the types of restaurants that dot the landscape.

Last month, our director Van West launched our first “fieldwork and food” blog, and we plan for this topic to be a regular theme on Southern Rambles.  Truly, one of the perks of fieldwork (besides seeing cool places and meeting new people) is food. Our work often takes us all over the state, and we get the chance to try local restaurants. Across the state, I have found many great little spots like diners, coffee shops, and ice cream shops (not that my waistline is appreciative of this). This post, however, is about three ethnic restaurants I stumbled across over the course of a summer project in Johnson City.

Johnson City is located in Washington County, the oldest county in the state, and is home to East Tennessee State University and the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site. With a population of roughly 63,000, it is a bustling small city packed with an interesting history. The project I was working on was a report for Tipton-Haynes that provided a history, conditions assessment, and maintenance recommendations for the site. The site is named for the first two men who owned it: Colonel John Tipton, a Revolutionary War soldier, opponent of John Sevier, and early East Tennessee politician; and Landon Carter Haynes, a politician and member of the Confederate Senate. From May through August of 2011, I made many trips to Johnson City for fieldwork and research, often staying overnight in order to accomplish more.

The main house at the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site.

The main house at Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site.

In addition to being a historian, I am the mother of two kids who may be the pickiest eaters on the planet. Foods they hate include macaroni and cheese, most potato products, sandwiches, casseroles, soups, peanut butter (unless there is chocolate involved), and any spice that they can taste. So, overnight field visits are my chance to eat all the food that my kids hate. Some of my favorite foods that they hate include any food that they cannot pronounce. Therefore during the summer I spent visiting Johnson City on a regular basis, I resolved to try as many of their ethnic restaurants as I could, armed only with Urbanspoon reviews and an appetite for food that did not include the word “chicken nugget” or “hot dog” anywhere in the description.

When I pulled up to Sahib Fine Indian Cuisine (2312 ½ Browns Mill Road), I hesitated before I entered. Located in a Days Inn, I was not reassured that I would find authentic or delicious food. Reminding myself that this was a rare opportunity to have lamb rogan josh without someone making a face at me, I ventured in. It was the best decision I made that trip: wonderful naan bread, helpful waiters, and some of the best Indian food I had ever had.

On a different trip, I located Babylon (2122 North Roan Street), a Middle Eastern restaurant located in a strip mall. Overlooking appearances, I traipsed in, ready to enjoy hummus or baba ghanouj. The food was fresh and delicious, and the waitress (daughter of the owner) was friendly and welcoming. I ate there several times and never experienced a terrible dish.

One day, I was accompanied on my trip by Michael Gavin, our preservation specialist at the time. When we arrived in Johnson City, we decided we should eat before we started our work at the site. We spotted a Mexican grocery/restaurant on the way to Tipton-Haynes, and decided to go in. With that, I was introduced to the deliciousness of La Perla 3, located at 2508 South Roan Street. With Spanish-language television and radio playing in the background, and sitting at a table surrounded by the grocery aisles, I felt transported away from Tennessee. The salsa was fresh, the chips warm, and the refried beans were to die for.

Marker at the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site.

Marker at the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site.

Fieldwork changes our perceptions, and it shows us the resources and stories valued by local communities. I approached Johnson City thinking I would find a small town with few local restaurants, a lot of barbecue, and vegetables cooked with bacon. What I found instead was a friendly, warm city with a lot of small, local restaurants cooking really good food. So when you get a chance, join us on the road–I can guarantee you that the food alone will be worth the trip.

See Also:

Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site; Kenneth Fields, “Tipton-Haynes Historic Site,” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture; Leigh Ann Gardner, with Carroll Van West and Michael T. Gavin, “Tipton-Haynes Historic Site: History, Conditions Assessment & Maintenance Recommendations,” Center for Historic Preservation, MTSU.

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Forging a New Path: The American Democracy Project Joins the Center for Historic Preservation

By Amanda Barry, Graduate Research Assistant

Hello!  I’m the newest addition to the Center for Historic Preservation’s group of graduate students. When I was assigned to be the graduate assistant for the American Democracy Project (ADP) in 2013, I never envisioned that we would move under the umbrella of the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP)! Now, in the midst of our big move, I am seeing more and more how the missions of the two organizations align. Indeed, with each box and poster board I transport, it occurs to me that perhaps this is where the ADP should have been all along.

The ADP is a “multi-campus initiative focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.” So, much of the ADP’s mission overlaps with the mission of the CHP. At the root of both of these programs are practices of civic engagement. The CHP works with the public through community-based projects to foster the advancement of historical awareness and the need for preservation. The ADP is also focused on civic partnerships and collaborative problem-solving with diverse peoples and groups.

L to R: Spencer Sherrill, Dr. Mary Evins, Justice William Koch, Justice Janice Holder, Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark, Justice Sharon Lee, Amanda Barry, and Josh Moore. The justices heard three cases on MTSU’s campus in October 2013 as a part of Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students (SCALES).

The justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court heard three cases on MTSU’s campus in October 2013 as part of Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students (SCALES). L to R: Spencer Sherrill, ADP director Dr. Mary Evins, Justice William Koch, Justice Janice Holder, Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark, Justice Sharon Lee, Amanda Barry, and Josh Moore.

The CHP builds healthy relationships with communities; its faculty, staff, and students listen and respond to community needs. It develops working partnerships across the state and the nation. The structures and achievements of the CHP will strengthen the work of the ADP by providing an on-campus facility, personnel, public relationships, and programs that will immediately expand and promote the outreach of the ADP. The CHP will be an energizing framework within which the ADP will increase its influence. Similarly, the ADP will further the work of the CHP through the ADP’s civic-learning and civic-engagement agendas. These offer a broad range of areas within which the CHP will be able to expand its heritage initiatives.

I have seen these initiatives firsthand with my work in Bradford, Tennessee, which is located in Gibson County. Work with Mt. Zion Negro School, or the Old Mount Zion as it is known in Bradford, began in Fall 2013 when Hollis Skinner, a graduate of Mt. Zion and community leader, contacted the CHP. The initial site visit consisted of three stops: Mt. Zion Church in Bradley, Trenton-Rosenwald Middle School in Trenton, and, finally, Mt. Zion Negro School in Bradford. CHP director Dr. Van West, assistant director Dr. Rachel Martin, and fieldwork coordinator Katie Randall toured the sites, interacted with the community, and acquired valuable information with which we began our research. The second site visit to Mt. Zion occurred in February 2014 with Dr. West, fellow graduate student Denise Gallagher, and me. The project at Mt. Zion Negro School is in its infancy, with the goal of placing the school on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mt. Zion Negro School is located in rural Gibson County and sits adjacent to Mt. Zion Worship Center and an African American cemetery.

Mt. Zion Negro School is located in rural Gibson County and sits adjacent to Mt. Zion Worship Center and an African American cemetery.

My work this semester was focused on researching the necessary information to complete the Tennessee Historical Commission’s National Register of Historic Places information packet for Mt. Zion. The CHP will continue to assist the Gibson County community in this long and arduous process. While valuable information has stemmed from our research, the most worthwhile input will come from the citizens themselves. I am looking forward to the development of this relationship, eager to discover what I can learn from this engagement with the Bradford community, and excited to bring such work into the fold of the ADP.

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A Cemetery Restoration Success Story

By Dr. Stacey Graham, Research Professor, Center for Historic Preservation

All across Tennessee, rural family cemeteries are gradually succumbing to neglect, development, and vandalism. Because the resources available for saving these cemeteries are few, a solution can seem overwhelming and out of reach. However, no one should underestimate the power of a small group of people to make a big difference. This is what happened for the Templeton Grove Cemetery of Smyrna, Tennessee.

Just a few short months ago, this tiny family cemetery, unused since 1915, was barely visible in the dense underbrush. Many tombstones were fallen, broken, cracked, lost, or in danger of becoming so. Today, the tombstones are restored, the cemetery is cleared, a new fence stands around it, and a sign proclaims its name and importance to all visitors. The story of what happened during those few short months is the subject of this blog, and is meant to encourage other communities out there that are interested in preserving historic graveyards.

From the initial clearing (left) last summer, to the thorough clearing, gravestone restoration, and fence installation this winter and spring (right), the Templeton Grove Cemetery has been transformed into a visitor-friendly space.

From the initial clearing (left) last summer, to the thorough clearing, gravestone restoration, and fence installation this winter and spring (right), the Templeton Grove Cemetery has been transformed into a visitor-friendly space.

The cemetery rests in an overgrown, wooded area beside Florence Road and near the West Fork of the Stones River, on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, adjacent to Nissan property. Templeton Grove contains twenty-four known graves, most of them descendants of John Nash Read and his wife Mary Barksdale Read, both of whom are also buried there. John Nash Read (1763-1826) came to Middle Tennessee from Virginia to claim a Revolutionary War land grant and settled near Jefferson, the original seat of Rutherford County. He established Templeton Grove plantation, one of the largest landholdings in the area; Enon Springs Baptist Church, the predecessor of Smyrna’s First Baptist Church; and a successful tavern in Jefferson. No trace of these sites remains today, leaving the family cemetery as the only site associated with this important early settler.

John Nash Read’s tall, imposing tombstone records his birth in Charlotte County, Virginia, and his migration to Rutherford County, Tennessee, in 1806.

John Nash Read’s tall, imposing tombstone records his birth in Charlotte County, Virginia, and his migration to Rutherford County, Tennessee, in 1806.

I first heard about the Templeton Grove Cemetery when Frances Victory, a Smyrna citizen, sent information and photographs to the Town of Smyrna, which Dwayne Lawson, environmental technician, then sent to Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP). Because I often field inquiries into historic cemeteries, I was keen to find out more information and corresponded with both Ms. Victory and Mr. Lawson.   I met with them for the first time on September 27, 2013, when Leigh Ann Gardner, interpretive specialist with the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, and I conducted a site visit to the cemetery. There we also met with Lindsey Houchens of the Army Corps of Engineers and representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Sons of the American Revolution, and Rutherford County Historical Society.

When Ms. Victory formed a committee of interested citizens to focus on the cemetery’s physical preservation, I quickly joined, both as a resident of Smyrna and as a preservationist. Other members are Toby Francis, former president of the Rutherford County Historical Society; Anne Odom of the Stones River chapter of the DAR; and Robert Stevens, a county commissioner and Smyrna attorney. In a few short months, the committee achieved its key goals: raising funds for the cemetery’s restoration; hiring a cemetery restoration specialist, Dan Allen, to survey, repair, and reset the tombstones; working with Mr. Lawson to arrange clearing of underbrush; and reaching out to a local developer, Jeff Hollingshead, to donate funds for a metal fence to protect the newly restored space.

To celebrate the cemetery’s restoration, and to debut its new sign, Ms. Victory and the committee organized a rededication ceremony. On May 9, 2014, about forty people gathered in the rain beneath a tent donated by the Smyrna Fire Department. Ernest Burgess, Rutherford County mayor, and Mary Esther Reed, Smyrna city mayor, made remarks, as did two members of John Nash Read’s family, Hugh Nash and Nathaniel Read. I was thrilled to see so many people in the community rally around a historic site that had previously been unknown to most of them, including myself.

Nat Read, of Pasadena, California, a 3x-great-grandson of John Nash Read, recounts how Ms. Victory (right) brought his ancestors’ cemetery to his attention.

Nat Read, of Pasadena, California, a 3x-great-grandson of John Nash Read, recounts how Ms. Victory (right) brought his ancestors’ cemetery to his attention.

Due to the perseverance of Frances Victory, and the time and effort of the preservation committee, the Templeton Grove Cemetery has been restored–not only to physical stability and proper appearance, but also to its place in the history of Smyrna and Rutherford County. The story, however, does not end there, as the committee is currently planning for the cemetery’s ongoing maintenance, which will require more fundraising and community participation. If you are interested in more information about how you can help support this or other historic cemeteries, please contact me at Stacey.Graham@mtsu.edu.

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Trading Spaces

By Aleia Brown, Graduate Research Assistant

At its essence, learning and writing about history is a conversational process. The questions we ask shape the kind of answers we receive in return. My inquisitive core always searches for different questions that can yield new and interesting insights.

Working at the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) continues to give me different ways to think about how we as Americans use our space. Understanding who uses a certain space and how they use it can give us insight that may not be accessible through other sources.

Prior to working at the CHP, I did not give much attention to how we choose to use our built environment. This new approach has taken me down a journey of reviewing past projects and trying to understand how examining the structures associated with a project could have further enriched the final product. I am presenting on New Prospect Baptist Church’s legacy with the Jewish community in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the American Democracy Project National Conference this week. This presentation provides me with the chance to delve into how preserving structures shapes how we conceptualize people of different races and religions working together during critical points in history.

In 1919, Deacon E. A. Bentley founded New Prospect Baptist Church in Cincinnati. It started with just nine members but eventually flourished into a powerhouse, heavily engaged with the community. Less than twenty-five years after opening the doors, New Prospect moved into the old Motion Picture Theatre on Elm Street in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. From its outset, the church leadership made community and civic engagement a high priority. In the 1960s, Pastor T.L. Lane led New Prospect to work on a more national level. He worked with Fred Shuttlesworth to strengthen the Civil Rights Movement in Cincinnati. He led voting rights campaigns both locally and nationally. Also working in the struggle were some rabbis and students from Hebrew Union College, the main seminary of Reformed Judaism.

Rabbi Joshua Heschel, 2nd from right, marches with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Selma Civil Rights March. Photo Courtesy of American Jewish Archives.

Rabbi Joshua Heschel, 2nd from right, marches with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Selma Civil Rights March. Photo Courtesy of the American Jewish Archives.

Now, under the direction of the Reverend Damon Lynch III since 1990, New Prospect recently completed its move into the Old Jewish Community Center in the Roselawn neighborhood. The new facility offers the space New Prospect desperately needed to continue all of its ministries and community outreach. The church in Over-the-Rhine was landlocked and shackled by limited parking. Neither of these two situations accommodated the growing congregation, or Lynch’s expanding vision. Rev. Lynch, who was also chairman of Cincinnati’s chapter of the Black Jewish Coalition, wanted to create something that acknowledged the Black-Jewish relationship in the city and to recognize the original heritage of the building before it was going to house a historically black Baptist congregation.

New Prospect is not the only predominately African American church that has moved into a formerly Jewish worship or community space. In fact, through completing the exhibition for New Prospect, I learned that the elementary school I had attended, Zion Temple Christian Academy, was an annex of the former North Avondale satellite of the Jewish temple on Plum Street. I had absolutely no idea of the building’s history until I was in graduate school, nearly a decade after I attended Zion Temple!

The exhibition that I developed for New Prospect focused mainly on the strength of Black-Jewish relations in the 1960s and also served to initiate a reconciliation process. Based on what I have learned at the CHP since then, I would have delved further into commemorating the building’s complete heritage. How do you go about acknowledging a different group that occupied a space before you? And, if you decide to recognize people who occupied a space before you, how do you do it without feeling like you relinquished an opportunity that should have been used for promoting your own identity and history?

I think New Prospect had it right with honoring the original Jewish heritage of the building, as a part of the church’s evolving history. It has opened so many doors to reconcile relationships and start joint community initiatives. After all, the congregation initiated a shared story that reflected a shared history.

I often wonder how my perspective would have altered if I had known that my elementary school was once an extension of a Jewish synagogue. More specifically, this synagogue was a major landmark for Reformed Judaism. If we do not share a building’s complete history, are we missing the opportunity to help people imagine how different races and religions can successfully work together for positive change?

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