To accompany “The Legacy of Tennessee State Parks” exhibit, the Tennessee State Library and Archives has been hosting a free lecture series on the parks. Three speakers have presented so far, and the last will present on April 14. I have learned so much from these experts, and I encourage you to watch the recordings of the past events and attend the final session. You can attend in-person at the Library or watch a livestream on the Library’s Facebook page. Thank you to the staff of the Library and Archives for organizing this valuable series!
Summaries and links to recordings are below:
Lecture 1: Hobart Akin - Early Tennessee Conservation
Ranger Akin is the Cultural Resources and Exhibits Specialist for Tennessee State Parks. He began his presentation by explaining some of the national influences on conservation including the 1864 book, Man and Nature, by George Perkins Marsh (1). Akin explained that at that time game and wildlife were the major concern in Tennessee conservation. In 1870, the Tennessee Constitution allowed counties to create game laws, but it wasn’t until 1903 that Tennessee declared all fish and game property of the state and hired game wardens. At the turn of the century, more natural resources were being consumed due to logging and mining, and erosion was a serious problem during this time.
In 1908, a dispute about land use erupted in what Akin called “a flashpoint” in Tennessee’s conservation history. Reelfoot Lake was crucial to the survival of those who lived near it, and violence ensued when the West Tennessee Land Company tried to control it (2). One company officer was murdered during this period.
In 1919, Wilbur Nelson, Tennessee’s Geologist, issued a report calling for the creation of state parks, and in 1937, Tennessee officially created its state park system.
Ranger Akin mentioned several resources that I’d like to read to continue learning about this early conservation movement. You can watch his presentation here.
Lecture 2: Amanda McCrary Smith - Recreating Port Royal’s General Store
Amanda McCrary Smith is Port Royal State Historic Park’s Doctoral Candidate in Residence. In 1797, the town of Port Royal was established on the land now contained within Port Royal State Historic Park (3). The town’s general store is the only building from the town still standing, and Smith has been working to recreate what the store would have looked like in 1859. When the project is finished, visitors to the park will be able to tour the store.
I enjoyed Smith’s presentation because I liked learning how she used primary sources in her research, and because I’ve visited exhibits similar to this general store before but haven’t thought much about how they were created.
Smith said her first priority was to ensure the store is historically accurate. She researched the actual store’s ledgers at the Archives to see what was sold then. But often the ledger had general descriptions of sold items, like “soap,” so she had to ensure each product and company she displayed was in business at that time. She also had to determine if it was feasible for the item to be there in that place in 1859. She had a major breakthrough when she discovered a blurb in an old newspaper, the Clarksville Ledger, stating that owners of the store were going to Philadelphia and New York to buy stock. This broadened the range of goods she could imagine being sold there.
Smith also needed to ensure that every product in the store looked new to help transport park visitors to the year of 1859. So while one might think that hunting for actual items from this time period would be the best way to ensure accuracy, she actually needed replicas. She got fabrics from a Tennessee quilter interested in Civil War - era replica fabrics and bought replica labels for canned goods online.
She said her favorite unexpected find was a diary by William Jones Daybook who lived near Port Royal in Turnersville. He wrote about the weather, his family, and the happenings in his town. Smith credits his diary with helping her get a sense of what was happening around the store.
You can watch Smith’s presentation here.
Lecture 3: Bob Fulcher and Jay Orr - Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project
Tennesseans owe a great debt to Bob Fulcher and his Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project. Fulcher, currently the park manager for the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail State Park, began this project in 1979 (4). He applied for a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (5) and hired folklorists to spend a summer investigating traditional ways of life in the state. These professionals recorded and photographed their findings to preserve them forever.
Fulcher began his presentation by discussing the people he hired for the project. Jay Orr, his co-presenter, was one of his folklorists. Orr recently retired as the executive senior director for research, editorial, and content at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (6). Betsy Peterson was another project member who became Director of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center (7).
I had the honor of interviewing Fulcher for an article on the National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship held annually at Standing Stone State Park, and he explained Peterson’s and the Folklife Project’s role in creating this tournament. He told me that he asked each of the project folklorists to organize a festival at the end of the summer for the public (8). Peterson had worked with Bud Garrett, a marble maker and blues musician, and decided to hold a rolley hole festival at Standing Stone (9); rolley hole is a traditional local marbles game. Unfortunately, a storm canceled the game, but in 1983, Fulcher organized another tournament, and it was a success (10). This September, Standing Stone State Park will host the 40th rolley hole championship! This is a great example of how Fulcher and his Folklife project have preserved and promoted Tennessee traditions.
Fulcher talked about Garrett and rolley hole during his presentation, and he also discussed traditional log cabin architecture and quilting and embroidery. He discussed comb graves, graves covered by a tent of two stone slabs, and he mentioned the work of several artists: Jewel Allen made quilts, Emanuel Dupree made baskets, and Willie Doss made chairs without using any electricity. He played this performance of “Bottle Up and Go” by blues musician Hammie Nixon, and I don’t think it’s possible to listen to it without tapping your feet or nodding along.
Fulcher also started the Tennessee River Folklife Center, but the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project ended when Fulcher was transferred to his current park.
On April 14, Aaron Deter-Wolf from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology will speak about archaeology in the parks. Don’t miss it!
(5) 2021 interview with Fulcher
(8) 2021 interview with Fulcher