Kix Brooks has weighed in on the ongoing controversy surrounding Nashville’s Fort Negley, opposing Nashville Mayor Megan Barry‘s proposed plan to redevelop the Greer Stadium site, which backs up to Fort Negley. The redevelopment of the site, part of the Cloud Hill development spearheaded by music producer T Bone Burnett along with developer Bert Matthews and Tom Middleton, would offer additional housing and retail.
In December of 1862, Fort Negley was completed by more than 2,000 African Americans, both slaves and freed, who were directed by the Union to build the fort. Fort Negley is the only stone fort built during the Civil War.
“The importance of this story is well documented and is becoming more widely known thanks in part to the ‘looming battle’ over its future,” Brooks said in a lengthy Facebook post. “It all comes down to what will happen to 21 acres of valuable ‘dirt’ at the base of the Fort. On these 21 acres lived the recently freed African Americans who were forced by Union troops, to build this fort. On this piece of dirt, they lived, died, and some most likely were buried.”
In 1928 the city of Nashville purchased the land making it into a park, which Brooks advocates turning it back in to, rather than giving the land over to developers.
The Cloud Hill development plans are currently on hold, while an archaeological firm reviews the site for potential human remains.
Brooks’ full open letter is below:
SAVING FT NEGLEY
There is a battle looming in Nashville.
The skirmish lines are in place.
The fight for territory is ongoing.
Both side are searching for intelligence on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
All this is happening much the way it did in Nashville just over 150 years ago…
When I moved to Nashville in 1980 to become a songwriter, the city looked much different. Downtown was more or less an embarrassment. Broadway was not much more than a showcase for porn stores and what would be considered “the wrong element.” So what happened? I honestly feel it was the vision and hard work of our previous mayors and civic leaders. It was what most would call progress, and for the most part, it’s a good thing. I served on the Convention & Visitors Board (CVB) and saw first hand the caring steps that were taken to ensure progress was made with caution. We now have sports teams and a beautiful civic center and on and on. These days some folks are looking around and saying “What’s next?” while others are looking around and saying “Where does it stop?” and that’s what concerns me now…
Back in the early 80’s after attending a Sounds baseball game, I noticed the two giant stone columns that are the entrance to Fort Negley. I was curious and came back the next day to hike the hill and was amazed at what I found: populated only by a few vagrants, I saw what was left of a stone fort built during the Civil War. I walked around and through it in amazement. It was grown over in weeds and brush, but it was still there. . How was this treasure left so unattended?
As I researched more in the days ahead, I found out it is the only one of it’s kind and the only STONE fort built during the entire war.
There is a long history about the ups and downs and ebbs and flows in the fight to maintain Fort Negley, but the important thing is, that for decades a lot of hard-working people, who care about the history of this city and the importance of preserving the sacrifice that got us where we are today, have stepped up and made possible the refurbishing of this Fort. There is now a beautiful visitors center, and easy access to view the structure with boardwalks throughout. It is now a safe place to come and learn about, not only the key role this city played in the conclusion of the Civil War, but also one of the most important stories of the sacrifice and courage of African Americans in their effort to achieve and find their deserved place within their newly “promised” freedom.
The importance of this story is well documented and is becoming more widely known thanks in part to the “looming battle” over its future. It all comes down to what will happen to 21 acres of valuable “dirt” at the base of the Fort. On these 21 acres lived the recently freed African Americans who were forced by Union troops, to build this fort. On this a piece of dirt, they lived, died, and some most likely were buried.
This piece of dirt ended up in the hands of the Overton family, and years later was sold by them to the city with the intention of making it a public park for Nashville’s citizens to enjoy. This is where is stood for many years. How this property transitioned into the site of a minor league baseball stadium is another story, but we now have a rare opportunity to return this place to the use for which it was intended—a green space for the citizens of this city. No deed was changed. We, the citizens, own this piece of dirt!
I think we have a good, well-intentioned Mayor. I can understand that Mayor Barry wants to get rid of the eyesore that is now Sounds Stadium before the potential liability that a derelict stadium represents is realized, and while there is someone ready to take it on and build something new. Why not replace it with a Gulch-like development—vibrant and alive and popping with retail and condos?
I understand the appeal when our city’s growth is presenting her with so many challenges, but what my gut is telling me is, if this happens we will look back at all the retail and condos and development around this sacred ground and think “that was our last chance at having a “central park”—a place this close to downtown, where people could have come to relax and appreciate a peaceful spot in the middle of the chaos, and we blew it.”
The folks behind this proposal are credible people. T Bone Burnett makes great records and I’m sure he can do his part for making this an entertainment center, and Bert Mathews is a respected developer. However, I feel this is a time for patience and careful thought. They have the money to do this now, and if the city gives them the land (yes, I said GIVES), and if the council passes it, there’s a good chance it’s going to happen.
For those of us who would like to see a big open park for all citizens to enjoy, we know this chance will never come again.
If we can win this battle we have work to do. We will be responsible for cleaning up the mess and putting our money and effort where our passion for stopping this development this now lies. We will have to raise the money to tear down the stadium—less than a million dollars—and we will have to raise money to help create the alternative plan for a green space park that is devoted more to history than economic impact.
First, however, we must win what I hope will be the Last Battle of Fort Negley—the fight to save it and to return a very important piece of that site to be the park that was originally intended for the citizens of Nashville.
I have a vision also – of being an old man walking with pride through a piece of history that we all helped save !
The battle is looming – hopefully there is a solution that results in our city doing the “right thing” – this is one we cannot afford to lose – Nashville is special, we cannot forget why!
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