Over at The Tennessean, Joey Garrison has this really cool story about how a group of Cherokee who were following the trail Native Americans took when they were forcibly removed from this area back in the 1830s found the remnants of the first Nashville bridge to cross the Cumberland.
“Lo and behold, we looked down over the bank of the river and saw the remains of the bridge sticking up,” said Pat Cummins, a Cherokee descendant and president of the Native History Association.
“It took us a year to confirm it, but we’ve now identified it positively as the 1823 structure.”
The site is almost directly underneath the Victory Memorial Bridge, which turns into James Robertson Parkway. A stone abutment, in remarkably fair condition given its neglect, is the only sign of the bridge today. Only the first five rows of stone remain on the base on the East Bank.
The bridge, commonly called the city’s “Stone Bridge” during its time, yet also made of wood and iron, is believed to be the product of prominent U.S. bridge builder Louis Wernwag.
So much of Nashville's history is torn down to make way for drug stores (among other things) that it's wild to think that a structure built back when Timothy Demonbreun was alive is just sitting there along the river, waiting for someone to notice that it was still there. Depending on how we define "downtown" that's got to be the oldest structure of the Nashville-era still standing downtown, right? (Rose Hill is a couple of years older, but I'm not sure if that counts as downtown.)
This is also a lesson in why we shouldn't be afraid of the terrible parts of our history or of expanding what we think of as history to include people who are often written out of it. Those bits of block have sat on either side of the river for almost 200 years. People have seen them sitting there all along. But we all benefit because the Cherokee folks who looked at that stone realized what they were seeing.
Making space for people to bring their different perspectives to the history of our city is going to bring up some hard, terrible things we might not want to face, but it's so worth it if it means that we can have a richer sense of who we are as a city and how we came to be here.