Professional Residency: Providing a New Perspective on Historic Hotels

By Ginna Foster Cannon, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

Walking Horse Hotel (1914) in Wartrace, TN.

Walking Horse Hotel (1914) in Wartrace, TN.

Doctoral students in the Public History Program at MTSU are required to do a nine-month professional residency, as well as participate in a monthly colloquium. In my cohort of six students, residency projects include developing a digital collection on a textile mill community in Rome, Georgia, for the Southern Places database; interpreting and developing signage for Fort Granger, a Civil War site in Franklin, Tennessee; and designing an online exhibit for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in addition to teaching an undergraduate course in Public History at MTSU. The diversity of our residencies speaks to the breadth of both the practice of public history and our individual interests.

For my residency, I am writing a “white paper” study of National Register-listed hotels and inns in Tennessee for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. This heritage development plan will provide an updated inventory of the twenty-five identified properties to assess their potential as heritage assets.

National Register-Listed Hotels and Inns in TN.

National Register-Listed Hotels and Inns in Tennessee.

Because African Americans were not allowed to stay at inns and hotels that served white travelers in Tennessee during the era of segregation, I will do additional research on properties listed in the guidebook for African American travelers known as the Green Book, published by Victor Green from 1936 to 1964. The “Colored Hotel” in Union City is the only African American hotel property listed on the National Register in Tennessee (2008).

To date, I have visited nine of my targeted sites, logged thousands of miles, and gained a deeper appreciation for how landscapes of all types–historic, built, political, and cultural–contribute to significance, a key element of National Register-eligibility. Fieldwork is giving me a feel for the unique personalities of Tennessee’s historic travel establishments and their communities. While these hotels and inns are historic, they are very much grounded in the present. How they are used and developed matters to more than just those who have a financial stake in them. Regardless of state of repair, current operating status, or official historic designation, the establishments are often sources of pride for community members. The buildings are a tangible link to the past and speak to a community’s longevity. Many of them also seem to speak to the promise of the future–a well-maintained and marketed historic hotel can be a destination and bring heritage tourism dollars to the community. They also can be rehabilitated into offices (such as the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville), nursing homes (Guest House/Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge), and individual residences (Watertown Bed & Breakfast), thereby contributing to a community’s tax base.

Going into my residency, I viewed importance and National Register-listing as synonymous. As a born-and-bred New Yorker, Nashville transplant, and academic, I privileged large, urban hotels listed on the National Register over small, rural establishments that are not listed (see photos below). How mistaken I was! Regardless of their official status, historic hotels and inns provide inspiration for communities, linking the past, present, and future in wood, brick, and stone. If you would like to follow my travels across the state, please visit my blog, “Reflections on Historic Hotels in Tennessee.”

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Public History: History at the Grassroots Level in the Hard Bargain Community

By Marquita Reed, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

At the end of my first three weeks of classes in the Public History Program at MTSU, I understood two important maxims of public history: one, the audience is first, and two, the community should be engaged in the production of public history. These two principles proved themselves true when I started my first project for the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP).

The McLemore House in Franklin, TN.

The McLemore House in Franklin, TN.

As part of my practical fieldwork with the CHP, I was assigned to the McLemore House Museum. Built in 1880, by ex-slave Harvey McLemore, the McLemore House is one of the first residential homes in the African American community of Hard Bargain, in Franklin, Tennessee. The end goal of the CHP project this semester is to develop and install an exhibition that focuses on the members of the McLemore family. Other colleagues working on this project include CHP staff members Laura Holder and Leigh Ann Gardner, as well as fellow CHP graduate research assistant Torren Gatson.

On my first visit to the McLemore House, our group met with members of the museum’s board, who were eager to get the museum running. What I gathered from the meeting and tour was that the board wanted the McLemore House Museum to tell not only the story of Harvey McLemore but that of the Hard Bargain community as well. Looking over my notes after the meeting, I realized that although I had information about Harvey McLemore and his family, I knew nothing about Hard Bargain. I started to wonder about what was important to the community and how the McLemore House could tell that story.

This picture shows Maggie McLemore, granddaughter of Harvey McLemore.  Courtesy of Thelma Battle.

This picture shows Maggie McLemore, granddaughter of Harvey McLemore. Courtesy of Thelma Battle.

I got my answer a few weeks later when we sat down to talk with Thelma Battle, a local historian and Hard Bargain native. Meeting her was an enriching experience and affirmed for me that public history starts at the grassroots level in a community. As Thelma Battle shuffled through her collected research, including maps, deeds, pictures, and newspaper articles, she also told stories about the McLemore family and Hard Bargain.

As she spoke, the details of the family and neighborhood became more than just an oral history; they became a lived experience. As I listened and took notes as fast as possible, I began to comprehend the importance of the McLemore House in the Hard Bargain community. Thelma Battle helped me to see that education, the church, and entrepreneurship were, and still are, important themes in Hard Bargain. The values, structure, and history of the community add context to the significance of the McLemore House.

A marker identifies this historic African American community.

The public historian must always take time to talk to members of the community. It is only through dialogue that a historian can begin to understand how to best interpret a place and its inhabitants. The CHP strives to make sure that the students practicing public history understand that a good public historian always puts the audience first and engages the community in the production of public history.

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The Headless Horseman, Halloween, and History: Talking with Tennessee Teachers about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

By Ethan Morris, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

In October, Teaching with Primary Sources-MTSU hosted a teacher workshop at the East Tennessee History Center in downtown Knoxville. The workshop focused on America’s Early Republic, 1800-1850. I had the opportunity to lead a session on using Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the classroom. (Follow this link to view the TPS-MTSU October newsletter and the inspiration for my session–see page 3.) As I facilitated teacher discussion, the teachers and I realized that there was more relevancy and life to Irving’s 1820 text than we had expected. The story provided several opportunities to discuss both social and educational change in America and popular culture.

Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving (1783–1859). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899. Courtesy of the Margaret Armstrong Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows schoolmaster Ichabod Crane’s short stay in Tarrytown, New York, and his disappearance after an encounter with the headless horseman. The session gave teachers an occasion to analyze society and education in 1820 and comment on the changes over the past two centuries. The story’s emphasis on paddling students was immediately noted as unacceptable today, and the fact that Crane boarded, worked, and attended social functions with his students’ families was discussed with humor. Several teachers commented on their students’ shock upon running into them at the local grocery store. The teachers, however, did notice that Crane’s 1820 school had commonalities with rural schools today but would be entirely foreign to many inner-city school children. The discussion frequently shifted to broad social changes and inspired comments about families, work, farms, religion, discipline, and generational change–all issues that resonate with both teachers and students, and can help students actively engage with historical texts.

TPS-MTSU education specialist Kira Duke discusses primary source maps with teachers.

TPS-MTSU education specialist Kira Duke discusses primary source maps with teachers.

The most interesting portion of the session was an analysis of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in popular culture. We looked at clips and trailers from Disney’s 1949 animated musical adaption, the 1999 feature film adaption starting Johnny Depp, and the current Fox television series. Moving from the forties to the present, the adaptions became increasingly darker, action-packed, and conspiratorial. Most fascinating was the development of Ichabod Crane from a lanky schoolteacher in 1949, to a suave constable in 1999, and finally to a spy with a supernatural mission. Crane’s character development opened up the floor for an analysis of the changing qualities of heroes in American society. Teachers also brought up students’ changing gaming, movie, and book choices. The discussion once again moved beyond Irving’s text and created conversation pieces that could be used in the classroom to engage students in historical analysis.

Teachers participate in a gallery walk exploration of primary source material.

Teachers participate in a gallery walk exploration of primary source material.

After only an hour, I was pleased with the number of interdisciplinary ideas teachers had suggested for possible uses of the classic Halloween story in the classroom. It was surprising how discussion could inspire so many diverse ideas. My session on Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as well as the entire Early Republic workshop and a short talk by University of Tennessee lecturer Dr. Kyle Stephens, were designed to present teachers with new resources from the Library of Congress, different perspectives on commonly used documents and pictures, and strategies to help Tennessee’s students learn.

Check out the Teaching with Primary Sources-MTSU Web site for upcoming workshops.

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

By Joseph M. Bryan, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

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

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


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

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

2. boxcars exterior

Boxcars act as exhibits with interpretive panels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depots Merged

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

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


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Teaching the Trails: Gateways to Historic Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

PPT Story and Place

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

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

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

PPT Slide Engagement

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

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

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

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

PPT Slide Trails in the Classroom

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

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

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

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Two Weeks Behind the Wheel: Preservation and Presentations

By Torren Gatson, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

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

We enjoyed wonderful seafood in Savannah.

We enjoyed wonderful seafood in Savannah.

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

Joey Bryan and me at the Georgia State Railroad Museum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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