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Preservation: Havens: ...And Bulldozing It

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  • lilsteve68@aol.com
    Havens: ...And Bulldozing It By STEVE DOUGHERTY - The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/pages/travel/index.html FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- IT was a horrendous
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2004

      Havens: ...And Bulldozing It

      By STEVE DOUGHERTY  - The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/pages/travel/index.html

      FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- ''IT was a horrendous scene, so many brave boys,''
      Thomas Cartwright said haltingly as he stood on the porch of the Carter House. The two-story brick building was at the center of a battle here that was among the bloodiest of the Civil War. Mr. Cartwright, executive director and resident historian of the Carter
      House Museum, spoke in a voice tight with emotion about the 8,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, who had died within a span of five hours on Nov. 30, 1864, in a battle that rivaled Pickett's Charge in terms of carnage.

      Many of them were killed within a radius of a few hundred yards from where Mr. Cartwright stood, on land that has long since been paved over and developed for commercial use. ''Those boys consecrated this ground with their blood,'' he said. ''And on that ground we build Pizza Huts and parking lots.''

      As the 140th anniversary of the battle approaches, Mr. Cartwright is among a small but active group of residents in Franklin, an affluent bedroom community some 20 miles south of Nashville, that has joined with far-flung preservationists to try to save what is still left of the site. And like the cause for which the South fought, the effort to
      save the battleground from the bulldozers long appeared futile. Last year, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, created by Congress in 1990 to identify battlefields threatened by residential and commercial development, gave Franklin its lowest ranking -- Priority 4.

      Because so much of the battlefield was already lost, saving it looked like a hopeless cause, said Jim Campi, spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust, an affiliated organization based in Washington. The trust, following the advisory commission's decision, added Franklin to its list of the 10 most endangered Civil War sites, which
      also included Chancellorsville, Va.; New Bern, N.C.; and Mansfield, La., where housing subdivisions, strip malls and fast-food spots now stand on former battlegrounds.

      To preservationists like Mr. Cartwright, who tells tour groups that acres of Civil War battlefields are being destroyed nationwide by developers each day, the situation is desperate. ''Here in Franklin,'' he said, ''we have the equivalent of a Wendy's at Shiloh or a KFC at Devil's Den in Gettysburg; we're paving over battlefields just as
      haunted and hallowed as those places.''

      It has been a struggle for preservationists since the turn of the last century, when Congress rejected repeated requests to appropriate money to preserve the battlefield as a national military park, as was done at paces like Gettysburg and Antietam. ''It was such a horrific battle, maybe they simply didn't want to be reminded,'' Joe Smyth,
      president of Save the Franklin Battlefield, said of the lack of a local grass-roots campaign to preserve the battlefield. ''They spent the rest of their lives trying to forget the carnage.''

      Mr. Smyth, a native of Maine who moved to Franklin in 1981 and who plays drums for the country rock band Sawyer Brown, said the fields and pastures and front yards where so many had died were sold off in hunks as the town of 2,500 grew to a city of nearly 46,000 by 2002. Only scattered sites were preserved, including a nine-acre overlook on Winstead Hill, where Gen. John Bell Hood watched his army attack Union
      forces dug in two miles north. ''The field was lost in parcels, bit by bit,'' Mr. Smyth said. ''If we're ever going to succeed in putting it together again, it will be bit by bit.''

      ''THE fighting was vicious at times,'' Victor Andrews said. But Mr. Andrews, a real estate appraiser, was talking not about the battle fought in 1864 but about the more recent confrontations among local business interests and those who he said wanted ''no new development at all.'' The skirmishes -- won by developers -- centered around new
      construction projects on Columbia Pike, the north-south thoroughfare along which Confederate troops charged to their deaths.

      Now lined by strip malls, car washes, auto repair shops, fast-food stores, nondescript warehouses and a ribbon factory, Columbia Pike bisects the western portion of the battlefield. Near the crest of a rise where a deep trench and earthworks protected the center of the Union lines, the pike now intersects Cleburne Street, where the
      fighting ''was brutal and at such close quarters, the dead were left standing, with no room to fall,'' Mr. Cartwright said.

      Today, the same ground is occupied by pizza shops and parking lots; a cluster of simple signposts identify the spots where five Confederate generals died -- including Patrick Cleburne, for whom the street is named, and a commander with the telling name of States Rights Gist.

      ''We're dumb not to preserve our heritage,'' said Mr. Andrews, a fifth-generation resident whose grandparents were sharecroppers on  land north of town where the Cool Springs Mall and the familiar logos of Starbucks, Borders, T.G.I. Friday's and Marriott have replaced pecan trees and cotton fields. ''But we have to do it intelligently,
      with preservationists and developers working hand in hand.''

      Mr. Andrews points to the Cool Springs development as an example of the kind of tax-generating managed growth that Franklin and surrounding Williamson County need to prosper in the face of soaring property values and a population boom that is expected to bring 35,000 new homes within 10 years. ''No growth means no prosperity,'' he  said.

      ''If you kill growth, you kill the goose that laid the golden egg.''

      But many preservationists see it as ''Cool Springs Sprawl,'' an example of what the community would look like if growth were to continue unchecked. ''People don't want to live in Anywhere U.S.A.,'' said Mary Pearce, president of Franklin's Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit preservation group. ''They don't want to wake up in the
      morning confused whether they're in Denver or Nashville. People want to move here and to visit because of those things that make Franklin unique -- its downtown historic district, its heritage and its beauty.''

      (Recently the local debate over preservation has also included Harlinsdale Farm, a place hallowed by Tennesseans not as a battleground but as the birthplace of the famed breed of Tennessee Walking horses. A $10 million bond issue has been proposed to turn the farm's 200 acres into a public park. Opponents of the bond issue have
      argued that some of the property should be preserved, but that a portion of it should also be developed for housing.)

      Prominent in the preservation camp is Robert Hicks, a Nashville music publisher and native Tennessean, who joined a migration to Franklin that now includes other transplants like the country singer Alan Jackson and the songwriter John Hiatt ''One of the reasons I moved here in 1974 was that there was still plenty of green space,'' Mr.
      Hicks said. ''Here was a town that respected its history; or so I

      Mr. Hicks helped raise financing to restore the Carnton Plantation house on the east edge of the battlefield. The much-scrubbed floor planks of the house are still stained with the blood of Confederate soldiers.

      ''This is not only about battlefields,'' Mr. Hicks said over breakfast at Dotson's, a popular downtown restaurant housed in two converted double-wide trailers and where the ''meat and three'' menu includes Jell-O among its long list of vegetables. ''It's about preserving the quality of life that draws people here to live.''

      It wasn't until after national groups like the Civil War Preservation Trust decided last year that the battlefield was a lost cause that Mr. Hicks scored a coup for preservationists. Heading a campaign to buy a golf club next to the plantation property where the owner planned to build 250 homes, he convinced a former president of the trust, Rod Heller, a Virginian who is a descendant of the family that owned Carnton during the Civil War, to buy the property for $5 million and hold it until Mr. Hicks's informal coalition of preservation groups could raise the money to buy it back.

      ''I'm very confident that that's going to happen,'' said Mr. Campi of the preservation trust, adding that there has been a turnaround in Franklin. ''So much of the core battlefield had been lost in the past few years that a lot of people are determined to protect what is left.''

      Mr. Campi said that there were economic factors, too, and that public officials were beginning to realize that heritage tourism can be a real boon.

      Preservationists like Mr. Hicks say they believe that what many had considered a lost cause may now actually be within reach. ''Scattered Civil War sites with a few historical markers are not enough,'' he said. ''We need a battlefield where you can walk where men fought and died. People don't want to take their families to Franklin to see a
      parking lot.''

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