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: http://bellemeadeplantation.com/.

To learn more about Glenmore Mansion and its hours of operation, visit the Web site: http://www.glenmoremansion.com/.

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

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Emma Lane’s Journal: Not Your Typical Civil War Diary

By Antoinette G. van Zelm, Programs Manager, Center for Historic Preservation

Emma Lane of Murfreesboro is one of my favorite female diarists of the Civil War years. Her diary in MTSU’s Albert Gore Research Center is a treasure. Why? First, the journal covers the later years of the war and continues into 1866. It’s much rarer to find a diary for those years than it is for the period from 1861 to 1862, when the excitement of war preparations inspired so many women to record their thoughts and activities. Second, the teenaged Emma expressed herself in a matter-of-fact way. She comes across as fairly unflappable, so when she gets stirred up about something, you take notice.

At the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, we have used Emma Lane’s diary to enhance our understanding of occupation and the home front in Tennessee. Quotes from the diary have enriched our Civil War exhibition at the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, as well as our community heritage talks about Murfreesboro’s female wartime diarists (Lane, Alice Ready, and Kate Carney).

A page from Emma Lane's 1864-1866 diary. Courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, MTSU.

A page from the April 1865 section of Emma Lane’s diary. Courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, MTSU.

Lane (1847-1923) was the daughter of William T. Lane, a blacksmith, and Martha Collier Lane, whose family had settled early in the area. Emma supported the Confederacy but used a measured tone when describing the Union soldiers who occupied Murfreesboro from 1862 to 1865. Unlike some other young women in town, she was willing to play the piano for the soldiers when they visited and asked for music. Lane also straightforwardly recorded the growing political awareness among local African Americans, as when she wrote that “the contraband had a large speaking Saturday” on March 22, 1865.

Combining what’s in the diary with photographs, maps, and prints helps illustrate Emma Lane’s world under Union occupation. In her diary, for example, we learn that she and two friends took a walk on May 16, 1864, “to see some southern [soldiers’] graves up by Mr. Carney.” A plat of Murfreesboro drawn by Union engineers in 1863 includes the Carney place north of town.

On this plat of Murfreesboro from 1863,  the Carney place is indicated by the rectangular structure east of Maple and north of Church.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Carney home, which was called “The Crest,” is indicated by the rectangular structure (toward the top of the plat) east of the Lebanon Turnpike and north of Church Street. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

That same plat shows the Rutherford County Courthouse (indicated by “CH”) on the Square. In August 1864, one of Lane’s cousins spent a night in the courthouse after being arrested for borrowing someone’s pass to come into town, rather than applying to Union authorities for her own pass. “Ma sent her a lounge [tonight] to sleep on,” Emma explained. In December 1864, Emma herself applied successfully for a permit so that she could visit Confederate prisoners at Fortress Rosecrans outside of town. “You bring notes away by the doz when you go up there, asking for Clothing and [something] to eat,” she recorded.

Fortress Rosecrans was located outside of Murfreesboro.  Courtesy of Stones River National Battlefield.

Fortress Rosecrans was located west of downtown Murfreesboro, and some remains of the earthen fort can still be seen. Courtesy of Stones River National Battlefield.

Lane’s descriptions of the sounds of war as the bitter conflict drew to a close are particularly poignant. They also underscore how difficult it was to get timely and accurate information about what was happening on the battlefront. Lane expressed her excitement late in 1864 upon hearing the sounds of cannon fire coming first from Franklin and then from Nashville. Her hopes were later dashed when she learned that “Hood has been whipped & is retreating.” In April 1865, Union occupation troops rang bells and set off cannon to mark the milestones of Union victory. “The Yankees had good news, all the bells in town were rung, & 36 Cannon fired,” Lane wrote on April 10th as news of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender arrived.

The use of the cannon changed dramatically when Union forces learned of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Lane subsequently described the memorial service held in Murfreesboro: “President Lincoln[‘s] funeral was preached today at Soule [College], large attendance Citizen & Military.” Despite Lane’s disappointment over the defeat of the Confederacy, she forthrightly made note of an important event that had taken place in her Union-occupied community.

This Currier & Ives print of the death of President Lincoln was published in 1865.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This Currier & Ives print of the death of President Lincoln was published in 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Emma Lane’s equanimity resulted in a wonderful resource for Civil War researchers and history buffs alike. As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War winds down and we begin to commemorate Reconstruction, Emma Lane’s diary will continue to be invaluable.

See Also:

Diary of Emma Lane, Community Collection, Albert Gore Research Center, MTSU.

In the Footsteps of Notable Women: A Self-Guided Tour of Rutherford County (see #5 on p. 4).

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Surveying the (Almost) Invisible East Tennessee Marble Industry

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

Inspired by Tennessee’s Historic Landscapes: A Traveler’s Guide (University of Tennessee Press, 1995), a pioneering study of historic architectural and industrial remains in Tennessee, I approached its author, Dr. Carroll Van West, nearly ten years ago about a project involving the Tennessee marble in the United States Capitol. Trained as an art/architectural historian and librarian, I had written two guidebooks (Kentucky-Tennessee Travel Smart, John Muir Publications, 1995, and the City Smart Guide to Nashville, John Muir Publications, 1996), both based on my personal explorations of place. I discovered Tennessee’s Historic Landscapes just in time for the second edition of my Kentucky-Tennessee book, which made me appreciate West’s sense of discovery, engrossing writing, and brilliant scholarship all the more.

My parents were great travelers and book-lovers. They often read historic guidebooks prior to leaving home or brought the books with us so they could look things up as we drove. In retrospect, I grew up with an appreciation of the concept of “cultural landscape” long before it was called that.

So, in 2004, while engaged in a research fellowship on Tennessee art and architecture at the U.S. Capitol, I learned that Tennessee marble from Hawkins County in East Tennessee had been used in the 1850s interiors of the building. What? I had grown up in Washington, D.C., driven down through Virginia and East Tennessee on the way to summers spent in Middle Tennessee many times, and yet I knew nothing about Tennessee marble. There had once been a thriving marble industry in East Tennessee, but little had been written about it.

Tennessee State Memorial Stone (Washington Monument interior).

Tennessee state memorial stone (Washington Monument interior).

When I returned to Nashville, I knew exactly whom to contact: Dr. Van West. He offered a short-term fellowship at the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP), during which I gathered enough resources from the Tennessee State Capitol Construction files, which are held at the Tennessee State Library & Archives, to support the beginnings of a long-term research project. I could see that it would have two lines of inquiry: the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings in Washington, D.C., and the Tennessee State Capitol and other state houses, court houses, and federal buildings across the country. And I knew that I wanted to work with the CHP on fieldwork and intensive follow-up research.

Fortunately, my timing aligned with the creation of the Ph.D. program in Public History at MTSU. I entered in fall 2006 and made a poster for presentation at the American Historical Association in January 2007. Meeting another historian at that session prompted me to extend my research into the twentieth century and include the National Gallery of Art, a building whose exterior is clad in marble from East Tennessee.

National Gallery of Art (aerial view).

National Gallery of Art (aerial view). Courtesy of the McClung Historical Collection/Knox County Public Library.

Another early key discovery was that Tennessee has three “memorial stones” inside the Washington Monument. One, bearing the inscription “Hawkins County, Tennessee,” is a close-grained crystalline “pink” marble, which was sent as a sample of Tennessee’s finest stone. The official Tennessee stone, which is inscribed with a quotation from Andrew Jackson, is a slightly darker pink marble, also from Hawkins County.

Hawkins County Memorial Stone (Washington Monument interior).

Hawkins County memorial stone (Washington Monument interior).

Linking the geographic source of marble to its architectural use became a goal of my research going forward. Pouring over geological publications, including maps, was the focus of my “residency” year of the Ph.D. program, and I took a GIS course in order to learn how to attach historic data to place.

Layered historic map showing Asbury Quarry.

Layered historic map showing Asbury Quarry.

Yet, four and a half years later, with the dissertation completed, I began to understand that the real work had just begun. With the CHP as sponsor, I wrote a grant application to the Tennessee Historical Commission, proposing to conduct a historic resources survey of the East Tennessee marble industry. Under the masterful guidance of a field expert (Dr. Van West) and with assistance from two Ph.D. students (Angie Sirna and Lydia Simpson) who had already acquired professional skills in the documentation of historic sites, I conducted a three-county survey of the former marble-quarry districts.

The John J. Craig Company's Marmor Quarry, Friendsville, Blount County, TN, was one of the sources for marble at the National Gallery of Art.

The John J. Craig Company’s Marmor Quarry, Friendsville, Blount County, TN, was one of the sources for marble at the National Gallery of Art.

These observations, along with public information-gathering meetings, oral interviews, GPS tracking, GIS mapping, and research in public records, were combined into a National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Submission for the East Tennessee Marble Industry that traces its development over four periods, from the 1830s to the 1960s. This background context was used to support individual property nominations for two former quarries that now belong to an extensive public nature preserve, the Ijams Nature Center, in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Keyhole Tunnel at Ross Marble Quarry, Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville.

Keyhole tunnel at Ross Marble Quarry, Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville.

Pouring over land ownership using property deeds, wills, mortgage deeds or deeds of trust, and other legal instruments, and matching current geography to historic maps and photographs, proved to be a painstaking process. For me, it was akin to lab science, in which one must keep track of one’s information and sources, follow each one to its end result, and prove one’s case by explaining anomalies or discrepancies encountered along the way. The process took many more months than I ever would have imagined. And the experience has given me new respect for the wisdom behind the National Register requirements.

Because this work involved scant remaining architectural evidence, and because a great deal of time has elapsed since active quarrying took place in most of the locations, we had to prove our case using a combination of historical detective work, discerning mapmaking combined with on-the-ground identification of geographic features, and public outreach to find direct human connections to the land. Thanks to new National Park Service protocols, we were able to create the supporting documentation in electronic form. Thus, by overlaying historic photographs and maps onto contemporary geography, we could be absolutely certain of our findings.

The Ross and Mead quarries were listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, and the first steps have been taken for a late 2015-early 2016 exhibition on the marble industry at the Museum of East Tennessee History. My next challenge, as a museum professional, is to help locate and borrow artifacts and objects that will make this landscape-altering industry come alive. How to convey the ear-splitting noise and choking dust of the quarries, along with the dangerously tall cranes, deep quarry pits, enormous pieces of sawing and finishing machinery, and blocks of stone so dense that their weight is much more than one would imagine at first glance?

Not knowing how it will all turn out hasn’t stopped me yet. Looking back, I could never have predicted what would happen when I proposed to study Tennessee-related painting and sculpture at the U.S. Capitol. And, by the way, that project was inspired by an invitation from Dr. Van West to write a long-form research essay on Tennessee sculpture in 200 Years of the Arts in Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press, 2004).

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“Can’t See the History for All the History”: Historic Preservation in a 3000-Year-Old City

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

What does historic preservation look like outside the United States? This is a question I’ve been interested in for a while, and this summer, I got to find out. Six MTSU undergraduates, one graduate student, and I traveled to Rome, Italy, to explore “Cultural Landscapes of the Roman World,” a study abroad course I’ve been developing over the past two years. The goal of the course was to examine cultural landscapes as primary sources for approaching the study of history and culture, with a particular focus on ancient Rome.

By analyzing the built environment and people’s interactions with it over the course of centuries, students learned to see the layers of history, tangible and intangible, that make Rome the city it is today. This approach to the city was complementary to my own agenda of learning about historic preservation there. Discerning the layering effect on the built landscape helped me start to understand how these sites have been preserved and how people make use of the past.

For three weeks, my students and I explored the remnants of ancient, late antique, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and modern Rome. The students were struck by how a single building could show so many layers through its walls and floors alone. For example, underneath the 12th-century basilica of San Clemente is a 4th-century church, which itself was built on top of an ancient apartment building where a mithraic temple was built in the 3rd century. A visitor literally descends stairs and goes down narrow hallways to go further back in time. As the students grew fond of saying, “It’s hard to see the history for all the history!”

San Clemente is not the only example of this indirect form of preservation – i.e., saving the structures of earlier buildings by building around or on top of them. The Pantheon, which is probably the best-preserved ancient structure in Rome, survives because a 7th-century pope converted it into a church dedicated to Mary and all Christian martyrs. The 1st-century B.C. tomb of Caecilia Metella was built into a castle in the Middle Ages, largely because its round, tower-like shape made it a great medieval fort.

Left: Alicia, David, Ethan, Andrew, Michael, Duaa’a, Jay, and MTSU mascot Lightning partake of the cultural landscape of the Piazza della Rotonda, with the Pantheon as the focal point; right, The crown of merlons along the top of the tomb of Caecilia Metella, located on the ancient Appian Way, were added in the 14th century by the Caetani family.

Left: Alicia, David, Ethan, Andrew, Michael, Duaa’a, Jay, and MTSU mascot Lightning partake of the cultural landscape of the Piazza della Rotonda, with the Pantheon as the focal point. Right: The crown of merlons along the top of the tomb of Caecilia Metella, located on the ancient Appian Way, were added in the 14th century by the Caetani family.

Adaptive reuse is not a modern concept. It has been a necessity in a city like Rome, where almost three thousand years of continuous human habitation within a compact space has meant that anything you build that is new is almost assuredly built on top of something old. And when older structures crumble while you’re building something across town, why not reuse the perfectly good, already-quarried marble that’s just lying around? (Hence, parts of Vatican City were constructed with rubble from the collapsed southern side of the Colosseum.)

This process of layering and of reuse presents many challenges, however, for modern Roman preservationists. A grad school professor of mine used to say that there is no dirt in Rome. When you dig down, you will inevitably hit something—an item of material culture, perhaps, or a building or road—which may lead to a new archaeological excavation. How does a city manage to keep growing and remain vibrant when it’s constantly bumping into remnants of its past?

Furthermore, how do you decide what to preserve when you’re surrounded by archaeological debris hundreds or thousands of years old? Italy is responsible for more historic sites and monuments than just about any other country in the world—including the largest number of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List—despite being the size of Arizona. The sheer volume of projects makes it a mecca for conservationists, including the international experts at ICCROM, the International Centre for the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. With respect to the great needs for excavation, conservation, and maintenance, the Italian government, like many national and local governments in the post-recession era, does not have sufficient funds to devote to such projects. The result: difficult times for historic sites in need of maintenance. One solution has been to welcome the support of private individuals and corporations who choose to focus on particular projects, such as the cleaning of the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain.

Scaffolding surrounds the lower half of the Pyramid of Cestius, a first-century B.C.-era tomb that now stands partially within the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome (http://www.cemeteryrome.it/).  When touring the cemetery with Dr. Nicolas Stanley-Price, he explained that the monument’s cleaning was being funded entirely by a wealthy Japanese businessman.

Scaffolding surrounds the lower half of the Pyramid of Cestius, a first-century B.C.-era tomb that now stands partially within the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome (http://www.cemeteryrome.it/). When touring the cemetery with Dr. Nicolas Stanley-Price, we learned that the monument’s cleaning was being funded entirely by a wealthy Japanese businessman.

The phenomenon of private sponsorship of the preservation of public monuments makes me think about the global attraction of historic sites in Rome and what the Eternal City means to people who wish to preserve it. How do you choose which layers to preserve and which to dig through? What “history” do you preserve when everyone has his own idea of what “Rome” means? My three-and-a-half-week visit was barely enough time to scratch the surface of some of these quandaries. I plan to return, of course, as millions of pilgrims and tourists have before me. All roads lead to Rome, after all, especially for proponents of international historic preservation.

All roads lead to Rome: A segment of the Appian Way, originally constructed in the 4th century B.C., is remarkably intact, despite constant foot and car traffic.  Photo courtesy of Michael Fletcher, the graduate student teaching assistant for this study abroad course.

All roads lead to Rome: a segment of the Appian Way, originally constructed in the 4th century B.C., is remarkably intact, despite constant foot and car traffic. Photo courtesy of Michael Fletcher, the graduate student teaching assistant for this study abroad course.

 

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Following Every Pig Path

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

When I was a child, we visited my grandparents’ farm in Montgomery County every summer. It was an opportunity for my Minnesota-born father to marvel at what he called “Tennessee Talk.” His insight encouraged me to appreciate the many information-laden, and often poetic, sayings that represent a way of life based on closeness to the land.

On a recent trip between Memphis and Murfreesboro with Kira Duke, my colleague who serves as the educational specialist for the Teaching with Primary Sources–MTSU program, we stopped for lunch in Brownsville. Turning off I-40, we also had to exit the modern by-pass, onto what looked for a moment like a country road, in order to reach central Brownsville. From previous visits, I had an image of the town’s layout in mind, but it was not quite linking up with our GPS, so we used our natural sense of direction, following what looked like the nearest “pig path” (as my Aunt Jane, from Spring Hill, Tennessee, used to say), to find Helen’s Barbeque.

Helen's Barbecue in Brownsville, TN.

Helen’s Barbeque in Brownsville, TN.

Helen’s is all-business: a plain wooden building with a paved parking lot. Inside, there’s barely enough room for two tables and a stand-up refrigerated display case for soft drinks. Helen, who took over the business from its previous owner, is the rare female pit-master in a traditionally male culinary realm. While she credits her husband with rising before dawn to build her fire as he passes by the shop on his way to work, she not only tends the cooking, she takes the orders, supervises two assistants, and waits on the cash register, extending congenial greetings to a steady parade of customers every day at lunchtime. Through an oral history and a short video produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance, as well as a 2012 feature in Southern Living magazine, many barbeque seekers–including two African American women from Alabama just ahead of us in line–have found Helen’s.

Kira Duke and the menu at Helen's.

Kira Duke and the menu at Helen’s.

Just as a point of clarification, Helen Turner is not related to Tina (born Annie Mae Bullock in nearby Nutbush), Brownsville’s most famous former resident, whose rural elementary school has been moved to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center off I-40 and will soon be open to the public with special displays about Tina’s career and local history. We decided to save the rags-to-riches tale of Tina Turner for another day.

With our pulled-pork sandwiches, pickles, and potato chips in hand, Kira and I headed to another of Brownsville’s major cultural attractions: The Mindfield, an enormous folk art environment that takes up a whole city block just off the main downtown square. This assemblage of welded metal, painted battleship gray and reaching several stories into the sky, is the masterful creation of Billy Tripp, another creative Brownsville native whose roots go back generations. While Tripp certainly has his own cult following, it’s only a fraction of the support for “slow” and “artisan” food around the world.

The Mindfield, Brownsville, TN (courtesy of BIlly Tripp).

The Mindfield, Brownsville, TN (courtesy of BIlly Tripp).

As we munched, using our paper lunch bags as placemats to catch the delicious drippings, our eyes traced Tripp’s jungle-gym-like creation against the sky, noticing what appeared to be stylized human figures at the top of some pinnacles and spelled-out words between the three-dimensional grid of metal bars. The title signs at the base of the sculpture offer a dedication to Tripp’s parents, and, while he has the viewer’s attention, also extend a plea for tolerance.

The Mindfield, Brownsville, TN (courtesy of Billy Tripp).

The Mindfield, Brownsville, TN (courtesy of Billy Tripp).

Note to travelers: Brownsville is not the only hotbed of authentic culture awaiting those who choose to explore Tennessee’s small towns and side roads. Next time you are driving one of the many interstate highways that cross through our state, start scanning the road signs and billboards for interesting place names, search your GPS for “home cooking” or “restaurants near here,” or just keep your eyes out for unusual built structures—and then exit to the nearest pig path! You never know what might be nearby….

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What Remains: The Quest for Juvenile Justice in Tennessee

By Katie Sutton Randall, Fieldwork Coordinator, Center for Historic Preservation

Prior to the reform movements of the Progressive Era, American youth who committed crimes or were otherwise labeled “wayward” by society were often imprisoned alongside adults. Through my Masters thesis research, I discovered the story of an 11-year-old boy who was imprisoned with adult men and forced to work in the mines near Birmingham, Alabama. His plight and his mother’s plea on his behalf prompted a well-meaning clubwoman to act, and the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School was born a few years later.

The historic water tower (c. 1900), Bush Chapel (1926), and Graves Mechanical Arts Building (1929) at the Alabama Boys' Industrial School.

The historic water tower (c. 1900), the Graves Mechanical Arts Building (1929), and Bush Chapel (1926) at the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School.

In Tennessee, we have a similar story. In 1908, a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy were sentenced to two to three years each in the state prison. Their crime was larceny, or stealing. For this, they were imprisoned with grown men, a common practice at the time. There were no juvenile courts or institutions for youthful offenders.

Within a few years, however, the state of Tennessee opened the Tennessee Reformatory for Boys in Jordonia, near present-day Bordeaux in Davidson County. Shortly thereafter, the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs spearheaded an effort to establish a similar institution for girls in Tullahoma in Coffee County (a facility that now serves as a training site for the state Department of Correction). Because of Jim Crow laws in the South at this time, both schools were strictly intended for whites only, but in 1918, the state opened the Tennesseee Reformatory for Negro Boys near Pikeville in Bledsoe County.

Having witnessed similar institutions in other states, J. Frankie Pierce, a reformer and founder of Nashville’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, tirelessly lobbied the state for a similar institution for African American girls in 1921. Her efforts were successful, and the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls opened in Nashville, near present-day Tennessee State University, in 1923. Pierce served as the school’s superintendent from its founding until 1939.

These places have complicated pasts and complex landscapes related to racial discrimination, gender stereotypes, reform, education, and punishment. Most of the reformatories saw modernization in the 1950s, and all were affected by integration in the 1960s. Over the course of the next year, I hope to learn more about these places and begin to explore their present landscapes. I plan to blog about my findings here and look forward to hearing from any of you who may have insight into these places or knowledge about them and their inhabitants.

1930s-era images of the Tennessee Reformatory for Negro Boys near Pikeville, TN. Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

1930s-era images of the Tennessee Reformatory for Negro Boys near Pikeville, TN. Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The history of these facilities has not been studied very extensively, but theirs is an important part of Tennessee’s story. As most of these campuses were closed and repurposed in the more recent past, I think it will be interesting to learn what historic fabric remains and what that fabric has to tell us about the quest for juvenile justice in Tennessee throughout the twentieth century.

See Also:

Katie Sutton Randall, “‘A Reformatory, not a Purgatory!’ The Alabama Boys’ Industrial School, 1899-1975,” M.A. Thesis, MTSU, 2011.

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Coincidence or Fate: The Intersection of Research and Family

By Brittany Wickham Walker, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

I’ve recently joined the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) as the newest graduate research assistant. While my duties this summer revolve primarily around the Teaching with Primary Sources–MTSU program, I have been encouraged to explore other initiatives run by the CHP. I came across Southern Places, the CHP’s digital humanities partnership with MTSU’s Walker Library. Staring at me from the home page was this image:

E.T. Wickham roadside park and Wickham Cemetery: angel. Photo by Dr. Carroll Van West, 2002. Courtesy of Southern Places.

E.T. Wickham roadside park and Wickham cemetery: angel. Photo by Dr. Carroll Van West, 2002. Courtesy of Southern Places.

This cemetery sculpture was made by Enoch Tanner Wickham, a self-taught artist who created dozens of concrete works during the last twenty years of his life, using only the materials around him. Although his formal education ended in the sixth grade, his knowledge of American history and politics inspired his work. His sculptures included politicians, religious figures, wildlife, American presidents, and soldiers.

Along with being an important folk artist in the Montgomery County area, E.T. Wickham was my great-grandfather.

In 2002, Dr. Carroll Van West and the CHP documented Wickham’s sculptures in Palmyra, Tennessee. Dr. Susan Knowles, who is now the digital humanities research fellow at the CHP, was heavily involved in E.T. Wickham: A Dream Unguarded, an exhibition at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center in Clarksville. Even though I was a teenager when this exhibition was on display, my family visited the museum several times to see the research that had been done on my great-grandfather and his work.

E.T. Wickham standing beside “Tecumseh.” Courtesy of the Wickham Family Archives.

E.T. Wickham standing beside “Tecumseh.” Courtesy of Wickham Family Archives.

I never met E.T. Wickham, but his interest in art and history inspired me from a young age. In a high school art class, I made a sculpture of an angel similar to the one in our family cemetery, using papier-mâché and chicken wire. While sculpture never turned out to be my artistic calling (I’m pretty sure the angel ended up melting in a rainstorm), Wickham’s work inspired me to pursue a degree in art and architecture. As I’ve continued my studies, my artistic interests and practices have drifted toward historic preservation.

Newspaper article, 1965. The Leaf Chronicle.

Newspaper article, 1965. The Leaf Chronicle.

Since leaving Montgomery County after high school, my studies have taken me all over the country, from western Massachusetts, Santa Fe, Chicago, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. As I enter the Ph.D. program in Public History at MTSU, I realize that I’m being drawn back to my Tennessee roots, perhaps to continue the research on E.T. Wickham started by the CHP and to one day restore the sculptures that mean so much to my family.

Research can often take you down roads you’ve never discovered, but it can also bring you back home.

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