|Neglected for years,
Civil War fort may get $2 million makeover
|Article appearing in The Tennessean, Fri., Aug. 30, 2002
By Anne Paine, Staff Writer
An isolated, tree-shrouded Civil War fort near downtown could become a part of the city again with a $2 million makeover that is recommended in a proposed long-term plan for Metro parks.
A visitor center and trail would be built for sightseers to walk for the first time in decades to the hilltop remains of the star-shaped FORT NEGLEY.
Parts of the stone fort would be restored, but not all, at least not at first.
''To have to rebuild it totally would take millions of dollars and years, and we really want to get it open to the public before that,'' said Curt Garrigan, Metro Parks planning superintendent.
The Union fort could open within two years as ''interpretive ruins'' if the plan moves forward and receives the approvals of Mayor Bill Purcell and Metro Council. Signs would show how the fort once looked, its history and the vistas it provided soldiers on the lookout for Confederate troops.
Historians have said for years that the fort's restoration could make it the centerpiece of a Civil War corridor for tourists to travel to battlefields and related sites spanning Tennessee and other states. Even a partial restoration should make this a reality, Garrigan said.
''With interpretation up there, we still think it could be the jewel of a regional Civil War tour,'' he said.
''If there were an admission with revenue, that could be put back in to do ongoing restoration.''
Supporters later tried but failed to make it a national park. The city's parks board bought it in the late 1920s, and the Works Progress Administration rebuilt walls there in the 1930s. During World War II, neglect took over and the site was closed. In more recent times, two pieces of the 63-acre site were leased for the Cumberland Science Museum and Greer Stadium.
The fort today lies silent above those two hubs of activity, hidden behind a curtain of trees, shrubs and vines.
''It's an asset for the city that really is just sitting there beg- ging for attention,'' said Bobby Lovett, a history professor at Tennessee State University who has worked for the fort's restoration since 1979.
''It would be a great investment because it's the only surviving large Civil War fort west of Washington, D.C., and Tennessee was the second-largest battlefield for the war,'' he said.
''Unlike, say, Virginia, we don't have a good set of facilities to take advantage of that.''
Lovett chaired a committee under former Mayor Phil Bredesen to study what could be done with the fort. It resulted in public hearings and a report that proposed it be restored as an interpretive center to bring more ''heritage'' tourism and an educational asset to the city.
Metro Council approved $450,000 to stabilize the fort and complete a master plan in the mid-1990s.
But trying to stop the walls from further deterioration proved more difficult than expected, Garrigan said.
The Tennessee limestone had disintegrated under the pressure of undrained rainwater, leaving many stones crumbly. Shoring up parts of the wall resulted in ''blowouts'' of weakened stones.
''The only way to make it completely stable was to totally rebuild it,'' Garrigan said.
The work halted, with about $150,000 still remaining unspent. The plan is to restore sections of the stone wall that forms the starlike shell of the fort.
Lovett estimates that a full restoration could take $4 million or more, but says the scaled-down $2 million idea is good, too. The current proposed long-term plan for all of Metro's 100 parks, including Fort Negley, would cost $260 million over 10 years, including building five community centers, adding 2,000 acres of parkland and repairing maintenance problems at other parks.
''If the city puts the money in the (Fort Negley) project, they will receive a return that will more than pay for itself,'' Lovett said.
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