Parks officials outline relocation of blockhouse

Parks officials outline relocation of blockhouse

February 18th, 2011 By Paul Leach/Correspondent in News

Staff Photo by Randall Higgins/Chattanooga Times Free Press The only surviving piece of the original Fort Marr is a block house that currently stands at the city entrance to Benton, Tenn. Some want to move the structure, which has been a part of Polk County history since the Trail of Tears, to a more secure site.

BENTON, Tenn. - Local residents are concerned that plans to move the 200-year-old Fort Marr log blockhouse might place the structure in a flood plain and also lead to admission fees.

Tennessee State Parks officials addressed those concerns Tuesday at a public meeting. The forum, attended by a handful of residents, brought out strong feelings about the blockhouse's future.

The Parks Department wants to relocate the Andrew Jackson-era landmark, now outside the old jail in Benton on U.S. Highway 411, to Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park in Delano, Tenn.

The park offers security, historical interpretation and increased visibility for the structure, park manager Bridget Lofgren said. The park received 40,000 visitors in 2010, she said.

"Where it's sitting right now, there's not a lot we can do," she said.

Interpreting the structure's historical importance and maintaining its integrity are the state's main concerns, she said.

Clarence McClure, of Benton, said he did not feel comfortable moving the blockhouse to "a known flood plain" owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, nor did he want to take a chance on a possible access fee at a later date.

The state parks system has a long-term agreement with TVA regarding use of the land, Lofgren said. In regard to fees, the park does not charge to visit the office area where the blockhouse would be located, she said. However, if the state decides to impose a fee to visit the blockhouse, it could do that even at its current location, she said.

In response to whether the state actually ownsthe blockhouse, Lofgren reviewed a 1984 letter from Roy G. Lillard, then Polk County historian, which refers to the county's board of education -- which once owned the landmark -- giving it to the state in the late 1970s. She said it appears that such gifts were not handled through standard deed processes at the time.

Polk County Commissioners John Pippenger, Greg Brooks and James Woody said the residents who contacted them about the planned move were against it. However, the commissioners acknowledged the state likely would be better suited to support the landmark than the county.

The park service will not move the blockhouse in the immediate future, Lofgren said. The parks department needs to secure funding for the project and also continue to research archives for the original gift letter, she said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. E-mail him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com


BLOCKHOUSE HISTORY

* 1814: Fort Marr built to protect Andrew Jackson's supply route to the Cherokees

* 1838: Private ownership after the Cherokee removal

* 1858: Surviving blockhouse moved to the Higgins farm and used as a smokehouse

* 1922: Higgins family donates blockhouse to the Polk County school board. The blockhouse is moved to the high school in Benton.

* 1965: Moved to its current site

* 1977: Acquired as a state asset

Source: Polk County Historical Society