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OT: Civil War Preservation: Harrison House

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  • lilsteve68@aol.com
    Franklin Preservationists Gain Ally, Search Law for Help The Heritage Foundation, which has been fighting for months to persuade the Williamson County (TN)
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2001
      Franklin Preservationists Gain Ally,
      Search Law for Help

      The Heritage Foundation, which has been fighting for months to persuade the Williamson County (TN) School Board not to build a large new school directly across Columbia Pike from Harrison House, where Gen. John Bell Hood stopped before the Battle of Franklin, gained an ally recently with a group called Citizens for Good Growth Management.

      They are hoping to use a section of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to prompt the board to build elsewhere. The paragraph known as Section 106 requires a review of any project that uses federal funds when it might impact a historic structure.

      The Harrison House is located on the back (south) side of Winstead Hill, high ground that sweeps north into Franklin. It was here that Hood paused to arrange his troops into battle order before sending them on the two-mile march across what was then open land into the face of dug-in Union troops.

      Laura Turner, an activist with Citizens for Good Growth Management, said that the law " provides for a review of any project that involves federal funding and affects historic buildings, view-sheds, battlefields, historic roads, bridges and Indian mounds.''

      The school board's response is that no federal funds are being used for the school project, so the law in question does not apply. The board has previously turned down offers by the Heritage Foundation to find other sites for the school, to buy and donate a strip of land that would be planted in trees to screen the school from view from the Harrison House, and other offers of accommodation from preservationists.

      The law is "not just a warm, fuzzy thing. It's something with teeth it,'' Turner told the Nashville Tennessean.

      According to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act says that a federal agency must ''consult with appropriate state and local officials … and members of the public, and consider their views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions.''

      ''Section 106 applies when two thresholds are met: There is a federal or federally licensed action, including grants, licenses and permits, and that action has the potential to affect properties listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.''

      The interim director of county schools, Rebecca Schwab, said that the new school is badly needed to relieve overcrowding at nearby Oak View Elementary.

      ''There are no federal dollars being spent on that school. Every bit of brick and mortar is county dollars,'' she said.

      Schwab added that the only programs inside the school after it is built that might use federal dollars would be some special education instruction. She added that those funds are distributed to the district as a whole, not to individual schools, and that if necessary the district will structure the budget so that only local money is used in the new building.


      Franklin Officials Race To Destroy
      History Before Preservationists Can Act

      Franklin town officials seem determined to repeat mistakes of the past as they march steadily on a course designed to destroy one of the last remaining open lands relevant to the Battle of Franklin. The town, already guilty of paving over every historic plot they are able to, moved bulldozers across the street from the Harrison House Tuesday and began grading a plot that preservationists have been desperately trying to save.

      On Sunday they held a rally at the Harrison House just south of Franklin, Tennessee. Their hope and prayer (literally) was to preserve the field across the road from the Harrison House where Gen. John Bell Hood directed the Battle of Franklin.

      Representatives of powerhouse preservation and historical groups--including Save the Franklin Battlefield, the Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, various Union and Confederate reenactment groups, The Heritage Foundation, Citizens for Good Growth Management, the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust--along with private citizens and a priest came together for a last stand against the school construction.

      Even these organizations, however, are proving powerless to stop a bureaucracy bent on destroying one of the last vestiges of Franklin's Civil War history. On Tuesday afternoon the bulldozers were fired up and dirt was being moved. The field, one of only two remaining open areas on which battle action occurred near Franklin, is to be buried under a new elementary school . The school district insists it is desperately needed to relieve overcrowding at other city schools, and they further insist it cannot possibly be constructed anywhere else.

      As word of the bulldozers' activities reached preservationists, some dashed south to the site to investigate while others dashed in the direction of the Williamson County Courthouse in hopes of seeking an injunction against the school board. Sources have informed Civil War Interactive that Citizens for Good Growth Management was seeking a last-minute injunction against the construction. We have been unable to determine whether the injunction was actually filed as of press time.

      The land was acquired by condemnation proceedings while groups such as the Heritage Foundation offered suggestions for other locations. Under their plan, the group was willing to make a $350,000 contribution to the district so that it could purchase land just east of the proposed site, behind a treeline that would somewhat block the view of the school from the Harrison House.

      That site would also have put the school, intended for young children, further away from Columbia Pike, a two lane highway which runs between the Harrison House and the proposed school location. Traffic on the road is heavy, speeds are often high and the proximity to the top of Winstead Hill means that drivers' view to the north is blocked.

      Mary Pearce, Executive Director of the Heritage Foundation told told Civil War Interactive that "That site [proposed for the school] is one a few green spaces still left that played a role in the Battle of Franklin. And it is being acquired from an unwilling seller, for a price that hasn't even been settled by the court yet. This is supposed to benefit our kids, but children and those after them are the ultimate losers if all that is special is lost or compromised."

      Pam Lewis, owner of Harrison House, one of those opposed to building at Franklin's southern gateway, still has hope that they can convince — or force by court action — the school board to find a site that does not have such historical significance. A preservationist herself, she opens the house to visitors for special events such as tours of historic buildings and candlelight tours held on the anniversary of the battle. A regular contributor to the Carter House and the other Franklin sites that sit like islands in a sea of "development", she is strongly opposed to the school construction.

      "The school board can gather good, positive PR by moving the school," Lewis told local media. "And then we hope to proceed in securing the land, either by convincing the landowner to preserve property for land trust or conservation easement, or agree to sell it to us for a passive park which we would give to the city or county as a gift."

      Larry Westbrook, President of the Heritage Foundation, listed a number of other facts that make the school board's actions appear questionable. In a letter to the Franklin Review-Appeal he cited:

      --The School Board refused to delay awarding the grading contract on the new school site for 30 days which would have allowed the Heritage Foundation the opportunity to find other suitable sites.

      --The Heritage Foundation has been working since November 2000 to convince the School Board to find another site. The foundation requested, but were never given site criteria to allow them to effectively search for alternative sites.

      --The stated they did not want to pay more than $20,000-$25,000 per acre for land for this school. However, their own appraisal of this property came in at $30,000 per acre. The School Board has already paid $600,000 (nearly $30,000 per acre) into court in the condemnation proceedings.

      --Without knowing the final costs of the land, the School Board is planning to break ground in the next few weeks. After the condemnation hearings, the final cost per acre could go to $40,000+ per acre.

      --The School Board has said they don't want to condemn property from unwilling sellers. This property belongs to an unwilling seller.

      --The School Board backed off a different, non-historic, property because it was too expensive ($30,000 per acre). Yet that is the figure they have already paid into Court for this property [across from Harrison House.].

      --Overcrowding at Oakview Elementary, which the new school is intended to solve, could be relieved by temporarily transferring students to Bethesda school, which was built for 800 students, but at present only has 480 students.

      --School board member Mike Cherry made the comment that the people who don't want the school on this site have their kids in private school anyway which is without any basis in fact, as well as being rude.

      School officials said at the time of their last public meeting May 21 that time had run out. ''We need to be moving dirt by July. With this, you'd lose about seven months,'' was the way schools architect David Thayer of Gresham Smith Partners put it. The architect's alternative was to redesign the entranceway of the high school with a two-story portico with columns that would be similar in architecture to the Harrison House. The board's stated concern is that any delay would force the school to open in January 2003 instead of its planned date of fall 2002.

      The fact that work has already started in June gives the appearance that the board is in a race against the forces of preservation.

      The new school is to be built in a valley that slopes down from the south side of Winstead Hill. From the north side of the hill Hood and his staff had a commanding view of the town of Franklin two miles away. It was over those two miles that the Army of Tennessee was sent in a late November afternoon charge at the Union troops of Gen. John M. Schofield.

      The Harrison House was finished around 1848 by William Harrison, Sr., who came to Tennessee from Virginia. An older portion of the structure, now located in the rear, may have been built as early as 1810, according to National Register Properties of Williamson County, Tennessee, a book compiled by the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County and others. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

      The two-story structure is considered a prime example of the architectural style of pre-Civil War Tennessee upper classes. An interesting feature is a "secret room" which was not discovered until later owners went to cut connecting doors between two upstairs bedrooms. The purpose of the room, which was found in an unfinished condition, has never been determined.

      Much of the interior of the house remains unchanged. A cherry staircase with newel posts is one of the attractions. Minor adaptations for modern necessities have been made.

      Joe Smyth III, president of Save The Franklin Battlefield, Inc. went into some detail in another letter to the editor about the historical events that took place on the Harrison field:

      "Just prior to the main fighting of the battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, a sharp skirmish broke out between the Federal rear-guard and the Confederate cavalry advance, just south of Winstead and Breezy Hills. This affected both the properties now known as "The Harrison House," as well as the proposed school site property across Columbia Pike. This action resulted in perhaps the first casualty of the battle. The following quotation from page 171 of the eminent Wiley Sword's Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, & Nashville deals directly with that action:

      "Wagner's two reserve brigades then were east of the road, on a separate knoll, Breezy Hill, preparing breakfast. Nearby, Walter C. Whitaker's brigade of Kimball's division lolled along the slopes of Winstead Hill eating breakfast. At the sharp crack of small arms fire, Whitaker's men hastily rushed to the summit of Winstead Hill facing south. Lieutenant J.M. Stephenson's section of battery M, 4th U.S. Artillery, fired about forty rounds at Confederate skirmishers near the stone wall at the foot of the ridge. As Whitaker's men began fashioning a barricade of rocks and logs, incoming fire from Forrest's cavalrymen struck Martin Effinger of Company C, 96th Illinois Infantry, in the shoulder. It was perhaps the first casualty of the battle of Franklin."

      "Of this incident, Lieutenant Samuel Canby, Battery M, Fourth U.S. Artillery, reported in The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion that, "The right section, Lieutenant J.M. Stephenson commanding, moved with the rear guard; it was placed in a position on a hill two miles south of Franklin, where Lieutenant Stephenson fired twelve shot, sixteen cases, and twelve shell at the enemy's cavalry on our right and in rear, driving back their skirmishers."

      "Finally, Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox, 23rd Federal Corps, in his book The Battle of Franklin, reported, "A distant cannon shot now and then told us that Wagner's Division of the Fourth Corps, the rear guard, was checking the enemy's advance on the other side of the [Winstead and Breezy] hill."

      "Clearly, the fighting on both the eastern and western sides of the Columbia Pike, south of Breezy Hill and Winstead Hill, played a significant role in buying further time for the Federal troops to complete their fortifications near the Carter House, and thus played a significant role in the battle."

      Filling In the Scorecard

      The interim director of county schools, Rebecca Schwab, who is also the wife of Franklin mayor Jerry Sharber, is one of those who is pressing hard to get the new school constructed on her timetable despite all opposition and the interests of history. Some board members, however, have opposed the majority that seems determined to slap buildings and concrete over the Harrison House field.

      Sources tell CWi that at least two board members, George Badon ( georgeb@... ) and Jean Keith (jeank@...) , have struggled mightily to persuade their colleagues on the board to build elsewhere and spare the Harrison House field and view.

      The other board members are:
      Horace Spoon ( horaces@... )
      Joe Johnson ( joej@... )
      Ralph Ringstaff ( ralphr@... )
      Charlene Kimmel ( charlenek@... )
      Gary B. Anderson ( garya@... )
      Leslie Pippin ( lesliep@... )
      Sina Miller ( sinam@... )
      Phil Luckett ( phill@... )
      Michael Cherry ( mikec@... )
      Debra Marler ( debbym1@... )

      According to the agenda of the last public school board meeting, ( http://www.wcs.edu/FYIAgnd/agmay2101.htm ) the only vote taken on the Harrison field matter was to approve the general management plan (GMP) for the grading for "New South Elementary School." No mention was made of authorization for actual construction to start at that point.

      According to their website, the following policies apply at board meetings:

      The School Board meets the third Monday of every month beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Administrative Complex. The Board may, through public notice, meet in special called session or reschedule a regular meeting place or date. An agenda will be posted as soon as possible prior to the meeting.

      A 15-minute time period will be set aside for public comment at each regularly scheduled meeting of the Williamson County Board of Education. Those interested in participating should sign up to speak prior to the meeting. A sign-up sheet will be placed on the podium in the auditorium from 6 p.m. until preparations for the meeting begin. Requests to speak will be honored in the order in which they appear on the sign-up sheet.

      Comments should be limited to three minutes per person or group. In addition, if there is more than one person speaking to the same subject, they should designate a spokesperson for the group. The Board will take any comments under advisement.

      Harrison House Field Reprieved
      As Board Votes More Time

      When bulldozers started digging up dirt across Columbia Pike from the Harrison House (left) where Gen. John Bell Hood prepared for the Battle of Franklin, preservationists feared the fight to save the land was lost.

      But one school board member, Ralph Ringstaff, managed at the last minute to persuade his colleagues to pass a motion giving the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County two weeks to find another site for the proposed elementary school. The board had voted down a similar resolution just weeks earlier.

      Mary Pearce, executive director of the Heritage Foundation, said Wednesday that her group already had a list of possible sites and that she was confident about finding a "workable new location" for the school.

      Franklin is often held up as an example of a town that has wasted its opportunities to save its Civil War sites and gain the economic benefits "heritage tourism" offers. The most famous example is the marker which notes the site where Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne was killed in the battle. The site was covered by a franchise pizza shop and the monument to Cleburne sits in its parking lot.

      Preservation groups are now working to reconstitute places thought lost, slowly buying up sites as money becomes available in hopes that a connected whole can one day be reassembled. Franklin, along with nearby Spring Hill, is often bypassed entirely by Civil War tourists who proceed on to Stones River National Battlefield Park and spend their dining and hotel money in Murfreesboro. Unfortunately, stories like this tend to make people forget that Franklin is also the home of one of the premier Civil War sites in the country - The Carter House. CWi will be running a feature on how to tour Franklin in the near future. In addition, History Channel will be airing a "Save Our Civil War Battlefields" program featuring Franklin on Saturday, June 23.

      The mayor's wife, Rebecca Schwab ( beckys@... ), who happens to also be the interim school board director, appears to be the main stumbling block in this issue, sources tell CWi. The e-mail listed for the town of Franklin is irmae@... .On the other hand, Ringstaff ( ralphr@... ) now joins the list of school board members who have shown support for historic preservation. Sources tell CWi that at least two board members, George Badon ( georgeb@... ) and Jean Keith ( jeank@... ), have struggled mightily to persuade their colleagues on the board to build elsewhere and spare the Harrison House field and view.

      The other board members are:
      Horace Spoon ( horaces@... )
      Joe Johnson ( joej@... )
      Charlene Kimmel ( charlenek@... )
      Gary B. Anderson ( garya@... )
      Leslie Pippin ( lesliep@... )
      Sina Miller ( sinam@... )
      Phil Luckett ( phill@... )
      Michael Cherry ( mikec@... )
      Debra Marler ( debbym1@... )

      ========================================================Franklin Preservationists Cling
      to Thin Thread of Hope for Field

      July 4, 2001--Preservationists in Franklin, TN, went into a meeting Monday night with the Transportation and Facilities Committee of the Williamson County School Board hoping against hope for an agreement that would move a proposed new elementary school off a field south of town where Gen. John Bell Hood rested his troops before launching a doomed charge across two miles of open land.

      They didn't get it, but they didn't get completely wiped out either. The committee looked at the seven alternate sites the Heritage Foundation suggested for locations for the new school, and agreed to further study of two of them. They warned, however, that if it would cost additional time or money to move the school to the new location, they probably would not do it.

      Committee members have said in the past that construction on the new school, wherever it is located, must begin by July 2001 in order for the school to open in the fall of 2002. Their main concern, they say, is to avoid the disruptions that would be involved in a mid-year opening at semester break.

      Preservationists surprised observers by making a presentation for a concept not previously discussed in news reports. Their idea is to combine the field where the school would have been located with adjacent parcels of land as well as the historic Harrison House across the road to create an entity they are calling "Battlefield Park." Details on this project were not immediately available.

      Board member Mike Cherry appeared unenthused about any relocation of the school. "My position is that we've had the best site...we've got the best site" at the present location on the historic land, he told an interviewer from WKRN-TV in Nashville.

      Bulldozers have been in operation at the present site for about two weeks now doing site preparation work. The land has been scraped down to bare dirt but no significant excavation or resculpting of the area appeared to have taken place when Civil War Interactive visited the site on July 1. No one has commented publicly on why the site preparation work, originally scheduled to start in July, was moved up to the middle of June.

      The battle over the school site is not the last that preservationists will have to wage to save, or in some cases restore, Franklin's Civil War historic sites. Future opportunities are anticipated on at least two fronts:

      -- county officials have announced plans to build a new library and arts center at the site that formerly housed a private school called Battleground Academy, which covers the area where the heaviest fighting took place in the center of the Franklin battle;

      -- another county agency is seeking to buy a large parcel of now open land further south on Columbia Pike which will be operated as a rock quarry and then as a trash landfill. Both uses, it is feared, will so distort the land as to make future reclamation efforts impossible.

      A special meeting of the full Williamson County School Board will be held next week to issue a final determination on the location of the new elementary school.

      From Civil War Interactive
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