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Challenge grants, $1k pizzas help complete Civil War park puzzle

The cold wind in the air was no match for the warmth in the hearts of the folks gathered under a tent Wednesday, Feb. 13 on Columbia Avenue in Franklin. They were gathered to celebrate a $1.85 million milestone – the conveyance of what has come to be known as the Cotton Gin Property.

The event marked the final dollar raised during a more than six-year aggressive campaign by Franklin’s Charge to acquire the properties along Columbia Avenue to reclaim the most hallowed ground of the historic Battle of Franklin during the Civil War. To assist the locally based efforts, a challenge grant issued by the Civil War Trust raised $500,000, with the final payment occurring on Feb. 12. Franklin’s Charge successfully raised another $500,000 through a variety of donors and creative efforts, including $1,000 pizzas.

The symbolic transference of the property took place along with a celebration where Paul Gaddis, of Franklin’s Charge, and a host of others spoke to the significance of the battlefield reclamation. Gaddis recalled the conversation early in 1999 he and attorney Julian Bibb IV had on a beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina that started the effort.

“This is truly a dream,” he said.

County Mayor Rogers Anderson, doing double duty and representing both the county and city of Franklin, called the event “just another step” in providing an area for tourists and residents to come to tour and learn about the history of the area.

Civil War Preservation Trust President Jim Lighthizer recalled a conversation he had with Anderson about 10 years ago when he was pleading to locate the county library elsewhere. Though the conversation was a little late in the game – the library is now located across from the Carter Cotton Gin property, he noted that the citizens of Franklin have banded together to recognize that preservation of battlefield land has become a priority.

“The fact that we are here today is a near miracle,” he said, referring to the fact that 10 years ago, efforts to preserve the city’s battlefield were literally nonexistent.

Lighthizer recognized several who have been involved in the reclamation effort. Among them are Calvin and Marilyn LeHew, who among being asked what would he do if he were king for a day, Calvin said he would donate $200,000 to reclaim the battlefield. And being within earshot of that statement, Mary Pearce, executive director of The Heritage Foundation, made him put his money where his mouth was. He called Pearce, the “Czarina” of the Heritage Foundation.

Lighthizer recognized Rod and Kay Heller, owners of Windermere, the property adjacent to Carnton Plantation, for their efforts too. He recognized the efforts of Stacey Watson, Angela Calhoun and Pearce for selling $100,000 worth of $1,000 pizzas – a unique fundraiser that helped secure the funding for the purchase of the property, which currently houses a Domino’s Pizza, Mexican Market and Greek restaurant.

Author and historian Robert Hicks was also recognized as one who influenced Lighthizer’s and others efforts to secure the property, as was Ernie Bacon, former alderman, Heritage Foundation member and local preservationist.

In noting his efforts, Lighthizer noted that Bibb was “terrific” and “a catalyst in many ways” for his work in securing the property for posterity.

Since 2007, the not-for-profit battlefield reclamation organization Franklin’s Charge has been working to acquire key parcels that would comprise the Carter Cotton Gin Interpretive Park. The event on Wednesday signified that fundraising was complete toward the purchase of the $1.85 million strip mall anchored by Domino’s Pizza on Columbia Avenue, ground zero for the Battle of Franklin.

“We work with organizations from all over the country that are dedicated the preservation of our Civil War battlefields, but nobody is actually reclaiming them from underneath commercial development,” Franklin resident Mike Grainger, who serves as vice chairman of the Civil War Trust, in an event last year. “To have conceived this park in the first place, and to have acquired several other parcels surrounding the strip center is great. We have seen the work that Franklin’s Charge has done in the past, and we were confident that the group could achieve the goal.”

In addition to a $200,000 donation by Franklin businessman Calvin LeHew and wife Marilyn, an anonymous donation of $50,000, donations of varying amounts, the sale of 125 pizzas from Domino’s at a cost of $1,000 each, a donation by Rod and Kay Heller, and a matching grant from the Civil War Preservation Trust, the funds were made possible to reclaim the land.

The Cotton Gin Park is a $3 million-plus project, and comprises several parcels. The Heritage Foundation purchased a house on Cleburne Street in the late 1990s – the house that currently sits on the site of the Carter’s original cotton gin – Franklin’s Charge purchased a second parcel in 2008 for $950,000. That debt was retired in December 2011. The Civil War Preservation Trust had purchased the third and remaining parcel for $200,000, which will be conveyed to Franklin’s Charge.

The fourth parcel, the location of the Domino’s and strip mall, cost $1.85 million. The Tennessee Historical Commission applied for and was awarded a $960,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation in 2010, during Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration. The grant was later transferred to the Civil War Trust to be put toward the purchase of the Domino’s parcel, as part of the park. In December 2011, the Civil War Trust offered the matching gift of $500,000 with a deadline of May 30, 2012. 

“We’ve gone from being known as one of America’s most-threatened battlefields to a national model for battlefield preservation in less than a decade, thanks to the help of some incredible partners and supporters,” said Bibb, at an event last year. “This project will be the centerpiece of a greatly enhanced Civil War offering when we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin in 2014.”

The multi-acre site will include a replicated cotton gin and interpretive earthworks that will offer visitors the change to visualize what happened in Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, as the Army of Tennessee made a fateful charge toward the well-fortified federal line. Six Southern generals were killed or mortally wounded, in what historians consider to be one the last gasps of the Confederacy.

Posted on: 2/14/2013


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