Once was Lost…Now is Saved

Originally published in the Battlefield Dispatch Vol. 1 No. 1 Spring 2013 - read the rest of the issue here.

The Carter family’s cotton gin stood near what is now the corner of Columbia Avenue and Cleburne Street in Franklin. The area around the gin is well known as the site of intense struggle during the Battle of Franklin, but the property has been covered by modern development for decades. This crucial portion of the battlefield was thought to be lost forever…until a preservation dream was realized.

Seven Acre Cotton Gin Park to be Open by Sesquicentennial - Property Fundraising Complete on Five Parcels of Battle of Franklin's Ground Zero - Next Steps: Interpretation and Reclamation

by Stacey Watson

The Civil War Trust (CWT) and Franklin's Charge have made history once again-seven acres of battlefield have been purchased from underneath development, and fundraising is complete. At the end of December 2012, the CWT closed on the Domino's strip center, the centerpiece of a three-year campaign that included multiple parcels and fundraising totaling more than $3.2 million. Today, $60,000 in pledges to Franklin's Charge is all that remains for the property to be owned by the battlefield preservation organization, free and clear.

"Ten years ago, we named this one of the most endangered battlefields in America, and demanded that Franklin stop paving over its history," said Jim Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Trust. "Now we offer Franklin up as a national example of what can be done when a community is willing to make protection and appreciation of its history a priority. Franklin's Charge came together around the need, and what's been accomplished is truly unprecedented."

The Domino's strip center property, site of the Carter family cotton gin, was purchased through a federally funded enhancement grant administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), along with funds raised by the CWT and local efforts by Franklin's Charge. The total cost for this piece of the battlefield puzzle was $1.85 million.

"The City of Franklin is nationally recognized for its work to preserve and restore sections of the Battle of Franklin battlefield, and this property will help provide new details of the battle," said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. "I'm pleased TDOT is able to assist with securing this historic site."

While the tenants will remain in the strip center until they move to new locations, three houses will be relocated from adjacent properties. Two of the homes are owned by Franklin's Charge, the third by The Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County. Discussions are underway regarding the management of the park property long-term.

By late 2013, the property should be cleared, and a team of historians - Dr. Carroll Van West, Thomas Flagel, and Eric Jacobson - along with Franklin's Charge President Paul Gaddis, will begin archaeological surveying.

At this time, research is underway and a plan of action relative to reclaiming and interpreting the property is in place. Thomas Flagel is a teacher at Columbia State, and published author. Eric Jacobson is a Civil War Historian and COO of The Battle of Franklin Trust. Dr. Carroll Van West is Co-Chair of the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission and head of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. Franklin is incredibly fortunate to have in its midst experts of such high caliber.

Efforts have begun to raise funds for clearing the lots and constructing a facsimile of the Carter cotton gin. Grants for interpretation of the property are also being pursued at this time.

By the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Franklin in November of 2014, the Carter Cotton Gin Park will be open to the public. "This enhancement to the already existing Carter House properties, The Lotz House and the City of Franklin's Assault on the Cotton Gin Park, are taking the Columbia Avenue corridor to new heights for heritage tourism. We are excited about the potential for both visitors and local folks who want to celebrate their American heritage," said Stacey Watson, Secretary, Franklin's Charge. "We look forward to working with The Battle of Franklin Trust as we move toward the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Franklin. The Trust has been an invaluable partner."

"The reason battlefield preservation and reclamation works in Franklin is because our groups are working toward the same goal, telling the whole story of the American Civil War, as it impacted  Franklin," said Julian Bibb. "The cooperation here has been just incredible. We know we have a lot of work to do, but, we are very excited about our progress."

Franklin's Charge's Julian Bibb received the Shelby Foote Preservation Legacy Award from the Civil War Trust in 2011. The Battle of Franklin Trust has also been honored by the Civil War Trust in receiving the 2010 Chari man's Award. Franklin's Charge received the same award in 2006, and is considered to be one of the most successful battlefield preservation collaboratives in the nation.

Stacey Suzanne Watson is the Director of Community Development for Stites & Harbison, PLLC, and she works out of the Franklin, Tennessee office. Her work for the law firm promotes community partnerships and developing relationships with clients. Some of the nonprofits served in this capacity are: Mercy Children's Clinic, New Hope Academy, Franklin's Charge, Inc., Franklin Tomorrow, the 21st Drug Court, the Land Trust for Tennessee and the Franklin Housing Authority.