Development Threat to Nashville’s Civil War Fort Negley

 

 

Dear fellow CWRTs,

Fort Negley, just south of downtown Nashville, TN, on St. Cloud Hill, is the largest limestone fort built during the Civil War.  The Union engineers that designed it were heavily influenced by the 17th Century French military engineer Sebastien Vauban; the fort remains a classic example of that style.  It was the anchor of the Union defense lines built to protect the city after its capture on February 25th, 1862 by the Army of the Ohio under Gen. Don Carlos Buell.  The lines ran in a curve with both flanks being anchored on the Cumberland River.  Fort Negley was filled with numerous heavy cannons, along with other forts and redoubts built for the defenses and it is the only such fort remaining from the entire double line of fortifications.

The crucial Battle of Nashville was fought just south of the fort on December 15th and 16th, 1864.  The first Union shots fired in the battle came from the fort, which had also fired on the first Confederate defense lines prior to this while they were being built.  Additionally, the labor of hundreds of former slaves was used to build this fort along with the rest of the defenses of Nashville and a Freedman’s Camp was close by.  The fort fell into disrepair until the WPA era of the mid-20th Century when it was rebuilt.  However, Nashville let it get grown over with trees and brush again until the 2000s when it was cleaned up and became a unit of the Nashville Metro parks Department.  An interpretive center was also built onsite and today Civil War tourists from all over come and enjoy walking through the fort and seeing the amazing views of downtown Nashville and the Brentwood Hills to the south, where the first day of the Battle of Nashville was fought.

Like many Southern cities, Nashville is booming thanks to a great Tennessee economy.  Construction cranes dot the skyline as one high rise after another goes up in downtown.  The projections for growth for the next 20-25 years calls for 1 million new residents in Middle Tennessee, centered around Nashville.  This massive growth has already created large scale problems like traffic and housing shortages and developers left and right have been drawing up plan after plan to hopefully solve that.  One such developer has his sights set on Greer Stadium, the old home of the minor league baseball team the Nashville Sounds (who have a new stadium).  Built just east on what is technically Fort Negley property with a large parking lot, the city has been trying to decide what to do with the stadium for three years.  Green space, mixed use developments and more have been brought forward.  Naturally, the historic preservation community prefers green space which would allow for a greater interpretation of Fort Negley’s large footprint.  Some Civil War trenches remain behind the stadium as does a historic cemetery.  No archeological survey of the grounds of Fort Negley has ever been done for either the fort , the Freedman’s Camp site nor remaining earthworks.

In a recently revealed plan, one developer seeks to use part of Greer Stadium and turn it into an open air market as the centerpiece of a new mixed-use development with condos, allegedly low cost housing, stores and more.  This planned monstrosity will basically dwarf Fort Negley on three sides and with the high rise buildings as part of the plan, obfuscate the views looking south.  There is to be no, much needed, expansion of the Fort Negley parking lot. 

It has been proven time and again that history tourism brings in far more money than any other – people have more to spend, stay longer, etc. if you give them something to see and promote it so they know about it.  The traffic count for the area will explode making it even more difficult to get to the fort to visit.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what has happened at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA with the massive growth of Virginia Commonwealth University around it; their attendance has fallen off to the point that they are moving to new quarters down on the James River.

Traffic comes with big cities.  But traffic also drives people away from doing things just so they do not have to deal with it.  People spend enough time in traffic just going to and from work five days a week; they do not want to deal with it on weekends when they want to do something fun.

Ms. Phillips’ article also brings out the tremendous loss of historic ground upon which sits the fort and its surrounding area, which was all part of the fort’s footprint.  Shall Nashville follow the same mistaken path that Atlanta did many years ago by paving over its history from the Civil War?  How does this travesty being proposed in Nashville compare to what is happening just a few miles down the road in Franklin where they lead the nation in reclaiming lost Civil War land and restoring it to how it looked over 150 years ago?  It is a pathetic failure on Nashville’s part.

Like so many other cities, Nashville has lots of places that are basically blight that can be redeveloped into something like in the above drawing; places that are not historic Civil War lands.  How about moving this thing there instead and leave Fort Negley be?

If you want to help stop this development, please contact the Mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry (megan.barry@nullnashville.gov), and the Nashville Metro City Council.  You should also contact the City of Nashville Metro Parks department and let them know how you feel about this.  Their email is – metroparks@nullnashville.gov.  The city’s web site is www.nashville.govLet them hear the voices of the Civil War community of America and stop this development.

By Greg Biggs (The above is the opinion of Greg Biggs, a member of the Nashville CWRT and not necessarily the opinion of the Nashville CWRT as a whole or the staff of Fort Negley Park, a unit of Nashville Metro City parks.)

Ladies and gentlemen of the Civil War Roundtables of America – if you would like to come to Nashville and do something historical besides the antebellum homes, President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage or the nearby battlefields of Nashville, Franklin and Stones River, and would like to see America’s only surviving limestone fort left uncluttered, PLEASE, take the time to send emails to the metro government of Nashville and the parks department.  Parks should know better than this as it is owned by them.  We NEED your help quickly so I am asking you to put this into your newsletters, send out to your membership, and PLEASE help us stop this development!!!  The clock is ticking and a lot of money is on the table with this.  Nashville has other blighted places that could be redeveloped other than Fort Negley so help us here in Middle Tennessee stop this nonsense!  Please let the people running Nashville hear loud and clear from America’s great Civil War community!

We appreciate any and all help you can render by sending those emails out today!  Thanks for your time.

Greg Biggs

President, Clarksville, TN CWRT

Program Chair, Nashville CWRT and Bowling Green, KY CWRT

 

 

 

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