Battlefield group zeroes in on next targets

Negotiations are active for houses, businesses near Civil War-era site of cotton gin

By Kevin Walters
June 27, 2010

FRANKLIN — Months of negotiations. Commitments of more than $590,000 in grant money. Cooperation among strangers spread across three states.

Creating a new Battle of Franklin park hasn’t been simple or cheap. Yet the seemingly disparate pieces of Franklin’s next major battlefield park appear to be slowly fitting together.

Franklin’s Charge, a local nonprofit battlefield preservation group, is closer to its goal of buying its next piece of property — the house and land at 111 Cleburne St. Nearby, they’re continuing to make inroads on buying the Domino’s Pizza restaurant at 1225 Columbia Ave. as well as adjacent retail property. The land is near the Carter House historic site.

"It’s ongoing," said Ernie Bacon, Franklin’s Charge president, describing the negotiations for the commercial property. "It is clearly an active process."

The sites of the houses and pizza place have national historical importance. They are on the location where Union and Confederate troops blasted each other in close quarters on Nov. 30, 1864, near a former cotton gin.

The Battle of Franklin claimed thousands of lives and limbs before it ended in just a few hours’ time. Commemorating the land’s importance is what principals say is unifying them in the hopes of creating a battlefield park in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

"One would like to think that the Battle of Franklin was more important than pizza," said Paul Hawke, chief of the Washington, D.C.-based American Battlefield Protection Program. "If you can restore the scene (of the battle) you can at least commemorate what happened there."

History of the project

If Franklin’s Charge can complete the purchases, it would represent a major step in Franklin’s years-long effort to add more open space in a city where much of its Civil War past was once thought lost.

The momentum to create a Columbia Avenue battlefield park dates back to 2005. That’s when the city of Franklin spent $300,000 to buy a Pizza Hut restaurant at 1259 Columbia Ave. That restaurant, which once sat at the intersection of Columbia Avenue and Cleburne Street, drew national attention as part of a National Geographic magazine feature on America’s lost Civil War battlefields. Eventually, the city converted the roughly quarter of an acre into a small park.

Since then, plans for the park have expanded.

"Our goal is to have that property restored to a battlefield park and a replica of the cotton gin built in time or ahead of the sesquicentennial in 2014," Bacon said.

Despite the bloodshed on the land, it was eventually the site of homes and businesses. For years, evidence of the land’s history was just a few feet under the soil.

Sarah Faye Fudge, 64, grew up in the stone house at 111 Cleburne St. owned by her parents, Jamie and Celia Locke, both of whom are deceased.

Fudge, who now lives in Katy, Texas, remembers her father tilling his garden and taking scores of old bullets — minié balls — from the soil. He kept the bullets for her friends.

"When kids would come for a visit, he would give them a souvenir," Fudge said. "The horrible irony of that is they were all given away."

Grants help buy land

Fudge plans to sell the house and land to Franklin’s Charge for $199,000. To help pay for the purchase, Franklin’s Charge is set to get a $99,500 national grant from the battlefield protection program.

In May, Franklin aldermen agreed to be the pass-through entity to receive grants to help Franklin’s Charge make its purchases. In addition to money for the Fudge House, the group is also slated to get a $492,000 grant to help recoup costs of buying the Holt House in 2008 for $950,000.

While grant money for the purchases has been designated, Hawke could not say when release of the grant money would get final approval. The American Battlefield Protection Program is a division of the U.S. National Park Service.

"I would say it’s highly likely, but I can’t guarantee it yet," Hawke said. "Until it’s signed, sealed and delivered, anything can happen."

Bacon estimated the Locke house sale to close within the next 60 to 90 days. And he said Franklin’s Charge plans to relocate the Locke house and the Holt House rather than have them demolished.

Though the decision to sell her childhood home was one that Fudge agonized over, she’s made peace with the decision.

"It’s a very sad thing to think about it not being there," Fudge said about her home. "However, because the Civil War preservation was a really neat idea and very important, I think that makes it OK. It’s kind of like going back to the ground from whence it came."

Next slice of the park

The next piece of the project — or slice — is next door at the Domino’s Pizza restaurant and the adjacent retail property.

If the Domino’s restaurant is eventually sold to Franklin’s Charge by owner and developer Don Cameron, it would be the second pizza restaurant to be bought as part of Franklin’s push to recapture the land.

Cameron would say little about the possible sale of the land, referring questions to Bacon. The properties from 1221 to 1225 Columbia Ave. have a total market appraisal value of $500,300, county records show.

Cameron, who has longtime ties to Franklin, said the businesses would not close but would be relocated to property he owns on Downs Boulevard.

"We would never run people out like that," Cameron said. "My family built the first home in Franklin," he said, referring to the home Ewing Cameron built on Second Avenue in the 1700s.

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