Cherokee heritage center considered at Confederate Park

Cherokee heritage center considered at Confederate Park

April 27th, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

The small "Confederate Park" south of Ringgold on U.S. Highway 41 may soon gain an addition, one that memorializes something older than Civil War history.

The park where plaques, markers and a statue commemorate the Battle of Ringgold Gap is located on three acres donated in 1939 by James Evitt Sr., founder of Ringgold Telephone Company, to the U.S Dept. of the Interior.

Evitt stipulated the land - which straddles the federal highway and divides Taylor's Ridge from White Oak Mountain - be used for a park or monument and that is what exists on the southern parcel.

Jim Evitt Sr.'s granddaughter, Alice Evitt Bandy, said she wants to pursue her grandfather's intent, as expressed in the 1939 deed, for use of the portion of that property across the road from the Cleburne statue.

She and other Evitt descendants have been communicating with Russ Townsend, the historical archeologist for the Cherokee Nation, about establishing a Cherokee cultural interpretative center on the northern half of the property.

"There is a lot of interest in the Civil War and in the Cherokee Indian heritage," Bandy said. "This was not given as simply a Civil War memorial site and I would like to see the entirety of it used for my grandfather's original intent."

Ringgold Gap Battlefield now on National Register of Historic Places

A 110-acre tract comprising most of the Ringgold Gap Battlefield, including the Confederate Park, was nominated Dec. 31, 2010 for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The site was added March 12 to this list of sites, buildings, structures and districts deserving preservation.

The 57-page application, supporting documentation and photographs of the overall site can be found online here.

That location provides an excellent overlook of the whole Ringgold area, which was a Cherokee village in the early 19th century, and could make an ideal spot for an interpretive center.

Planners say this is an especially appropriate site since the opposite side of the gap marks the beginning of Taylor's Ridge, named for Cherokee Chief Richard Taylor, whose plantation was located just west of the gap in the mountain where Interstate 75 intersects Alabama Road.

A pavilion built in the 1930s as a WPA project marked the Ringgold Gap site as the starting point on May 7, 1864, of Gen. W.T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign and eventual Savannah Campaign, best known as the March to the Sea.

The state in 1996 erected a bronze plaque noting the significance of Cleburne's defense at Ringgold Gap and that the Confederate Congress passed a joint resolution thanking him for that action.

In the late 1990s the Patrick Cleburne Society was formed with a mission to increase public awareness of Cleburne's life and career. The society commissioned sculptor Ron Tunison, whose statuary adorns several national historic sites, to create the Cleburne statue which now stands perpetual guard at Ringgold Gap.

Roger McCredie contributed to this article.