Lincoln Park neighborhood residents rallied Tuesday to oppose a road they say threatens their neighborhood and to urge the city to hire a staffer committed to preserving Chattanooga's black and American Indian heritage.
After meeting a few days ago with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, neighborhood association president Vannice Hughley said the mayor still supports building the road, while "we believe the economic development that goes with it will destroy our community."
Lincoln Park is a small neighborhood of homes just east and north of Erlanger hospital's main facility on Third Street, where Central Avenue now ends.
For years, the city has proposed extending the roadway several blocks farther until it connects to Amnicola Highway. Neighborhood residents fear the road will become a major thoroughfare linking Amnicola Highway to Interstate 24, on the other end of Central Avenue, a concern the mayor's office has adamantly said is not warranted.
City officials have stressed the road they are proposing is only two lanes, with a 25 mph speed limit and wide sidewalks adjacent to what is left of the actual park in Lincoln Park.
In the segregation era, the park was the main center for recreation for black residents in the city, who were barred from nearby Engel Stadium or Warner Park. The park included amusement rides, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a baseball field that was host to Negro League stars such as Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, Hughley said.
"This was the only place we had to go," she said. "We used to have field day here in school."
Hughley's daughter, Tiffany Rankins, secretary of the neighborhood association, read a resolution drafted by an umbrella group called the Coalition to Preserve Citico-Lincoln Park Historic Site, reviewing the history of the park and neighborhood and asking the city to preserve the park.
The five acres of the park are owned by Erlanger, which has agreed to swap the land with the city in exchange for other land in Alton Park. But the city is awaiting state and federal government review of its environmental impact study for the proposed roadway.
City officials said Tuesday they hope to have the go-ahead by this summer to begin design and engineering studies for the property, including the land swap. Ideally, construction of the roadway would begin in the fall of 2018, they said.
But about a dozen Lincoln Park residents and their supporters, including Democratic party chairwoman Khristy Wilkinson and newly elected city council member Demetrus Coonrod, were joined at Tuesday's rally by Tom Kunesh of the Chattanooga InterTribal Association, who linked the neighborhood's opposition to the roadway with the InterTribal Association's efforts to restore part of the 2,000-year-old Citico Mound, an American Indian religious site surrounded by what at the time was one of the largest towns on the banks of the Tennessee River.
The mound itself was almost destroyed in 1915 in the construction of Riverside Drive and was entirely demolished when the roadway was expanded, but not before archaeologists had confirmed it was a major religious center for the Muskogee tribe and the site of at least 188 burials, Kunesh said. The mound was located at the junction of Citico Creek and the Tennessee River, near the current location of the Boathouse restaurant.
He called for the road to be stopped and for the mound, which was about 40 feet high, to be rebuilt near its original location, to become the focus of a historical site telling the story of Chattanooga's extensive American Indian presence.
In its resolution, the Citico Mound-Lincoln Park coalition called on the city to hire a historic preservation specialist to develop a preservation plan for the entire neighborhood, and for another archaeological study to be done of the Citico Mound site.
Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/noogahealth.