Monday, April 20, 2009

Tennessee Preservation Trust

This year's TPT conference was in Murfreesboro, TN. We had sessions either at the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County or at the Rutherford County Courthouse. That gave people a short walk between the two locations and time to look at the beautiful historic courthouse square. This year, rather than having a catered lunch, TPT decided to have people experience the town where the conference was being held, so conference goers were turned loose to eat at one of the many local restaurants on or just off the square, all excellent examples of adaptive reuse (or ongoing usage with little adaptation in some cases).

TPT director Dan Brown and Tennessee Historical Commission director Patrick McIntyre discuss a successful preservation conference

Some of the highlights from the conference were the announcement of the Tennessee Cultural Heritage Preservation Society's First Families of Freedom initiative, a session about uses of technology in community-based preservation, and the closing gala at Oaklands Mansion. First, TNCHPS (pronounced "ten-chips," we do love our acronyms) unveiled its First Families of Freedom project (honoring descendents of Tennessee slaves) in the main courtroom/gallery of the antebellum Rutherford County Courthouse. Not only was it a majestic setting, but it seemed a very apt location. Slaves undoubtedly were involved in construction and fabrication of the courthouse (as was the case for most antebellum buildings in the South and in many places in the North). While some local heritage groups like to play up the Confederate heritage of Murfreesboro, it also had a very active free black population (Revolutionary War veteran Peter Jennings had a bakery in downtown and designed the first waterworks for Murfreesboro) and was home to two United States Colored Troop companies (which became part of the 13th and 17th USCT).

You won't find any monuments at the courthouse commemorating the efforts of Murfreesboro slaves who fought for their freedom by joining the USCT, but you'll find plenty of monuments to the Confederate veterans and even ones lionizing Nathan Bedford Forrest when he nearly burned down the Murfreesboro courthouse during his raid (ironically, the plaque commemorating this event is on the courthouse he nearly destroyed). A few blocks away from the courthouse at Bradley Academy, you will find the history of the African American soldiers of Rutherford County and there is even a USCT reenactor troop in Murfreesboro. One of the more harrowing stories of these groups involves a man from the 13th saving the colors at the Battle of Nashville, which was inscribed "Presented by the Colored Ladies of Murfreesboro" (the full story is reminiscent of the final scene in the movie Glory).

What is exciting about the TNCHPS program is that it is helping to bring that lost (or purposefully forgotten) history back out into the open. Their website has forms for people to download where they can trace their genealogy back to the former slaves of Tennessee and celebrate their heritage of moving from bondage to freedom (some of them literally fighting for their freedom by joining the USCT).

After this I went to moderate a session called "From Desktop to Downtown: New Uses of Technology." I'm an old school geek and learned HTML before there were cool things like website editing software, so I was excited to learn about the things that Jill Mendoza and Chris Wilson had to share. Mendoza represents Jackson Downtown Development Corporation, which is their Main Street entity. The website software that she walked us through had some very exciting possibilities and I will probably play with it periodically (I can't help myself).

What really blew my mind, though, was Chris Wilson's demonstration of how any community, no matter what size or financial resources, can utilize Google SketchUp to market their area and make their historic places more accessible. He described himself as a Google SketchUp Evangelist and he wasn't joking: I am now a convert. Before he went to work with Google, he put their SketchUp to use for Main Street McMinnville, where he was the director at the time. The result is the McMinnville in 3D program...and it is amazing. You really need to look at it to get the full effect.

Finally, we ended the conference at Oaklands Historic House Museum. It was great to use their grounds and the food was amazing. We were treated to live jazz music by Earlice Taylor (she sang some gospel music at the First Families of Freedom unveiling), and the live auction had some really compelling items.

I'm a foodie, so my favorite part was the cake that looked just like Oaklands

1 comment:

  1. Heather,
    Thanks for the wonderful 'play by play' of the sessions with Chris and Jill. Thank you also for your continued interest in Main Street--you are a great supporter! Kim Nyberg