By Gregory L. Wade
(September 2011 Civil War News)
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Franklin civic leaders, historians and preservationists are encouraged by a recent allocation of $500,000 from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to be applied to construction of a Battle of Franklin park “loop road.”
This road would provide access for interpretation of acreage crossed by the Confederate right flank during the Army of Tennessee’s attack in the Nov. 30, 1864, battle.
Paul Gaddis, president of the local preservation group Franklin’s Charge, said the grant is “a huge step for us to have this ground interpreted by the battle’s sesquicentennial and is an incredible move by the state.”
Since 2005, the 110 acres of battleground locally known as the Eastern Flank has reverted from an 18-hole golf course to grassy meadows and walking trails that play host to walkers and dogs chasing Frisbees. the Franklin Parks Department manages the site.
The bucolic scene is not what local preservationists intended when the land was purchased at a cost of $5 million thanks to an effort led by Franklin’s Charge and matched with Franklin city funds.
The non-profit coalition made up of several local groups was organized in 2005 when the opportunity to purchase the land came up. The group remains active in land preservation and interpretation of battle ground in the Franklin and Williamson County area.
The loop road is the last major step in building an interpreted park. The city had previously earmarked $360,000 for the loop. Alderman Michael Skinner’s effort to obtain an additional $500,000, is moving through the city aldermen budgeting and voting process.
Skinner said the cost of the road is not yet determined and a lot depends on the road specifications as well as how much total funding is received.
At the state grant announcement, a crowd of over 200 listened as Governor Bill Haslam, joined by other local and state dignitaries, announced the grant.
He said, “Tennessee’s Civil War battlefields are wonderful educational destinations,” and noted the work of local leaders. “The community owns the project and then we can come in and help,” Haslam said.
The state’s $500,000 will help to create additional momentum when added with the city’s $360,000 to obtain the remaining funds for what is estimated to be a $1.5 million project.
The proposed loop road, almost a mile in length, would enter the grounds near the original access to the Carnton Plantation bordering the park property to the south. In addition to providing access and battle interpretation, Skinner noted, “It will take traffic off the current access which winds through a residential neighborhood and will provide access to the Carnton Plantation as well.”
Residents, tourists and historians had begun to wonder if an interpreted battlefield park would come to fruition since it has been over five years since the country club was purchased to prevent the land from becoming an upscale housing development.
While the state grant would not be used for actual interpretative makers and displays, many believe once the road is finished various Civil war groups will begin donating funds for signage and markers.
“That’s the easy part,” says Skinner, “but we had to have the road first or there is no reason to ask for help with the actual interpretation.”
At the ceremony author Robert Hicks, a founder of Franklin’s Charge whose book Widow of the South helped put the battle property on the preservation map, recognized the efforts of the coalition groups and the partnership with the Civil War Trust.
He told the gathering Trust President James Lighthizer called the Eastern Flank “the largest private public cooperative effort in the history of Civil War preservation.”
Franklin’s Charge is active in purchasing other properties and believes the loop road will help spur those efforts along as well.