Fort Negley Postcard

A postcard of a reproduction of Fort Negley on its original site; printed in 1944

I’m going to admit some biases up front. I’m a huge history buff. I think Fort Negley is one of the most important historical sites we have in town, and I wish everyone was as stoked about it as I am. I am also regularly aggravated that anytime I learn something cool about the Fort Negley area — like, about the creature known as the Willapus Wallapus* living in the cave, or the slope where the soldiers stationed there slept — it’s probably where the Adventure Science Center is now. Destroyed. Carved away. Not coming back.

I would like to believe that the Adventure Science Center and Metro Parks and we as a city would be a whole lot more cautious and humble about further modifications to the park on behalf of the Adventure Science Center, considering the harm done to the site already, but no.

The Adventure Science Center has planted trees on the Bass Street community archaeological site for an arboretum. There is an arboretum in the City Cemetery, within walking distance of the science center, and the center could have been contributing to it. Archaeology is a science, so you’d think the idea of having a working dig site that people could visit would be a natural fit. You’d think that the Adventure Science Center’s stated commitment to “teach about the importance of trees and also introduce visitors to the story of the historic African-American Bass Street Community that once resided partially on our site” would mean that Black Nashville historians were involved with the arboretum project. I’ve asked around, and no one I talked to is working with them or knows who might be. It also doesn’t appear that anyone with an expertise in Black Reconstruction-era sites was present on the archaeological team. And there is a world of difference between asking an archaeologist “Where is the least destructive place we can plant trees on this site?” and “Should we plant trees on this site?” — and we don’t know which question the archaeologists were even asked to answer.

There’s simply no reason the trees had to be planted before the archaeology could happen.

But I’m also trying to look at this from the Adventure Science Center’s perspective. They don’t have enough parking. There’s not really room to expand the building without risking more damage to the fort unless they come down the hillside over the upper-level parking lot, which would exacerbate their parking problems. If they want to offer more experiences for visitors, putting some experiences outside makes sense, as long as you overlook the potential damage to the African American sites also on that land.

With the arrival of Amazon and Oracle, we’re about to get an influx of science and technology people on a scale the city has never seen. Will the Oracle employees bring their kids to the Adventure Science Center to learn about science? Even as just a place to let kids run around and blow off some steam, it doesn’t compare to what other cities have. Think about the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis or the City Museum in St. Louis. We should have that. As annoyed as I am at the Adventure Science Center at the moment, the staff is incredibly talented and knowledgeable. If they had the resources and the space, we could have something on par with Indianapolis or St. Louis.

A girl can dream, and in my dream, the Adventure Science Center would be near downtown, easy to get to from the interstate, near places to eat, and someplace where they would have room to be big and dream big. Someplace like the part of Ted Rhodes Park to the west of Mainstream Drive, maybe? That’s four lanes from the interstate to Mainstream Drive. In terms of an outdoor component, you’d have the river and the greenways to work with. An arboretum out there would be great. And there are plenty of kid-friendly restaurants nearby.

The Adventure Science Center cannot live up to its full potential in Fort Negley Park if we care about Fort Negley and the surrounding archaeological sites (and I hope we do). And Fort Negley Park can’t fully bloom into the site it could be if it’s competing for space with the Adventure Science Center. I believe the answer is to find the Adventure Science Center a space better suited for it and then throw our financial support behind it. It’s a win for everyone.

Anyway, there’s a Fort Negley Master Plan meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 9, at Rose Park Middle School, for those concerned about the park and its future.

*I should point out that, since writing that piece, I’ve come to find out that old-timers used to call bobcats this — and rereading the piece now, it sure seems like it could be a bobcat.

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