Efforts to preserve the Camp Blount Historic Site continue to move forward, as an official groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday, signaling the start of Phase I of the project.
A large crowd braved the heat Friday morning to hear comments from state and local leaders instrumental in the Camp Blount project and to witness groundbreaking on what will eventually become a destination of tourists and history buffs.
“This is a wonderful, wonderful day for Fayetteville-Lincoln County, the state of Tennessee and the United States of America,” said Randy Delap, chair of the Camp Blount Historic Site Association, welcoming well over a hundred in attendance. “We’re finally at the point where this site is going to be recognized and preserved for future generations.”
Following a welcome prayer by the Rev. Whitney Mitchell, the Presentation of Colors was conducted by the War of 1812 Honor Society, Boy Scout Troop 489 and the drum corps from both Fayetteville High School and Lincoln County High School. Victoria Matheny then sang the National Anthem.
Rick Hollis, national president of the General Society of the War of 1812, brought greetings from the General Society, “all of whom are proud that their descendants fought to defend this country in the War of 1812,” he said.
“After the Battle of New Orleans, Gen. (Andrew) Jackson said that his chief motive was to be able to render justice to the brave men that ‘I have had the opportunity to command and who have so remarkably distinguished themselves’,” Hollis said. “Can you think of a better place to honor Jackson’s men than right here?”
“I had two grandfathers that fought in New Orleans with Gen. Jackson; one died there,” he said. “I had 16 grandfathers who came to this land and were trained and melded into war implements that faced the mighty foe; they conquered, and they came home. We remember them. We attempt here with this park and with this community in support of honoring Jackson’s motive, his chief motive, and that is to bring honor and justice to those who served with him and for him. And for that, the General Society of the War of 1812 and I are very, very proud, and we thank you all very much.”
Dr. Farris Beasley, a member of the Camp Blount Historic Site Association and a tireless leader in the effort to preserve the historic site, shared the history of Camp Blount, noting that Gen. Jackson mustered troops for the Creek Indian War in October of 1813 as a part of the War of 1812. The warring Creeks had massacred 250 men, women and children at Fort Mims. The Creeks were severely defeated at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend with the death of 900 braves and the loss of about 45 men in Jackson’s forces. Nine months later, soldiers under Jackson again mustered at Camp Blount and marched to New Orleans to be a part of the Battle of New Orleans and the final defeat of British forces and the end of Great Britain’s goal to colonize America.
“It’s hard to believe that the sleepy little town of Fayetteville, Tennessee, was involved as a muster site to provide militia and volunteers to two very important battles to the War of 1812,” Beasley said.
“ … The legacy of Camp Blount has been a well-kept secret,” he added. “For the last few years, and especially today, that secret is no longer viable. We’re going to celebrate and establish the legacy of Camp Blount.
“That legacy that traces back to little Fayetteville, Tennessee and Camp Blount has to be preserved, particularly for our young people. They need to know what happened here, who we are and what we are.”
Beasley thanked key people, including former County Executive Jerry Mansfield who started a movement to get the state legislature to issue a proclamation and erect a highway marker to recognize Camp Blount. Mansfield enlisted the help of Faye Bradford’s advanced placement history class to research the historic site.
Mansfield was also instrumental in commissioning artist David Wright to depict an historical moment at Camp Blount, “Crossroads to Destiny.”
Beasley also went on to thank other key players, including the City of Fayetteville and former city mayors and aldermen, county government leaders, Eddie Hall, the Industrial Development Board, City Administrator Scott Collins, Fred Prouty, who was director the Wars Commission, Patrick McIntyre of the Tennessee Historical Commission, legislators Steve McDaniel and the late Charles Sargent, as well as local representatives, State Reps. Pat Marsh and Rick Tillis, former State Sen. Jim Tracy and current State Sen. Shane Reeves.
“Key people at perfect timing shared their passion for Camp Blount, their talents, the influence of their office to bring this thing about,” he said, also thanking the Leadership Lincoln Class of 2016 which raised funds for the base of the statue of a Tennessee volunteer that will be erected at Camp Blount.
State Rep. Rick Tillis noted the importance of preserving history – “There’s an effort by some to remove historical markers or rewrite history,” he said. “It is so critical to preserve history, for better or for worse. What made the United States great and Tennessee great is how this country was formed. We can’t rewrite history; we can’t erase it. It is important to remember this.”
He also noted that the job of legislators is not just to write bills and pass legislation, but to work with local leaders to preserve history.
“I’m so thankful for everything that was done here by the elected officials and a lot of volunteers that also were involved in fundraising for land acquisition to make this thing happen,” he said. “Without all that work, this would just be an empty field by Walmart. Generations going forward will have this to enjoy, to remember.”
“Congratulations Fayetteville. Congratulations Lincoln County. This is a big day,” said State Sen. Shane Reeves, who noted that he took office after much of the work toward preserving Camp Blount had been completed.
“I look forward to coming back to this space, to this place, with my children and my children’s children and celebrating it for years to come.”
Patrick McIntyre, executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, also spoke, sharing a history of the development of Camp Blount as an historic site.
“It’s a long-awaited moment and a great day to celebrate this important site for Tennessee and what it means for our community here and our nation, as well,” he said. “As far as we can determine, this is the only site in the nation that was acquired in conjunction with the Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812 a few years ago … It goes back over a hundred years that this site was first marked as a historic place, and then over 90 years ago, there was a discussion about saving it. It’s taken a good while.
“In 1951, our agency, the Tennessee Historical Commission, put up a historic marker out here; unfortunately, it was stolen in the 60s. Our involvement with the site, fortunately, did not end there.”
In 2013, he noted, there was a state appropriation from the General Assembly that was matched with state lands acquisition funding, allowing the purchase of Camp Blount. Since that time, funding has been acquired for an interpretive plan, wayside markers and a statue.
“There is no expiration date for a heritage tourism place,” he said. “People are going to be visiting this place in a hundred years. That factory or that other store might go out of business, but what we’ve done now is save this permanently. This is going to be a terrific asset for the community as a park and a place where we’re going to bring people from all over America and the world to learn this story.”
McIntyre also noted that his fifth great-grandfather was among the troops at Camp Blount – “This is one of those rare intersections of both professional and personal pride that I take in today thinking that my ancestor was walking these fields over 200 years ago.”
Steve McDaniel, a former state representative credited with championing the effort to preserve Camp Blount in the state legislature, expressed his appreciation to Fred Prouty, as well as the late Charles Sargent, a state representative who worked to secure funding for the site.
“I don’t know of another significant site in Tennessee that means more to the nation than the Blount site,” he said. “I’m so pleased to have been involved.
“It took every partner to bring this to being,” he said. “I’m looking forward to coming back to the ribbon cutting here in a few months.”
Houston Matthews of Croy Engineering spoke on behalf of Croy and ArcSpace Studio, who are working on the Phase I development.
“That’s been the most rewarding to see a project where all of the vision and all of the infrastructure is ready and all the hard work has really already been done,” he said, complimenting city staff with whom he has worked. “That’s been great to see it really come to life. The Historic Site Association has worked really hard to put together a plan and a vision for this property that hopefully we’ll see some ground breaking soon, and it’s going to be a beautiful site.”
Former State Sen. Jim Tracy, now state director of USDA Rural Development, noted that the “Crossroads to Destiny” print hung in his office during his tenure as state senator.
“It’s really an honor to see this historical site maintained for everyone in this particular area and how important it is. In my new role as USDA rural development state director, we were very honored to be able to provide about $40,000 for signage along the road here so people can see where Camp Blount is and where they can visit this site. What an exciting day. Congratulations to Fayetteville and Lincoln County and to everyone who was involved.”
State Rep. Pat Marsh, a Lincoln County native, noted that Tennessee earned its nickname as the Volunteer State because of the mustering at Camp Blount.
“I’m proud to say this is why we’re known as the Volunteer State because of what happened here in 1812 and 1815,” he said.
He also thanked former Gov. Bill Haslam and former Deputy Gov. Jim Henry who he said were instrumental in securing between one and two million dollars in funding from the state.
“This is going to be great for our history, our family, our friends, and it’s going to great for tourism for Fayetteville and Lincoln County,” Marsh said. “It’s going to bring a lot of tourists in and a lot of money, and it’s going to be a savior in the future for our economy. I really believe that’s going to be a feather in our cap. I’m just so proud to play a small part in it.”
City Mayor Michael Whisenant noted the passion and pride evidenced by the troops mustering at Camp Blount over 200 years ago is also evident among the many volunteers and leaders involved in preserving the historic site.
“That passion and that pride is what we’ve had here for the last six years,” he said. “Excitement is a word that happens every day, and it’s been relentless.”
He also expressed appreciation to BC Wood Properties for assisting with easements and the donation of a small piece of property for the site.
The Camp Blount Historic Site delegation then donned hardhats and participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking to kick off the Phase I project.