$3.2 million Carter House visitor center could become a reality

$3.2 million Carter House visitor center could become a reality

While not yet officially signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, the allocation of $3.2 million for a new Carter House visitor center is expected to happen.

Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) sits at the helm of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee said a new visitor’s center has been years in the making. Money for the center will come out of the state’s general fund budget for Civil War Preservation. The governor’s proposed budget for the whole state is $37 billion for fiscal year 2017-2018, which begins on July 1.

“I wanted to take this step by step and get the things done,” Sargent said. “The plan has been out there for us to do this, and this year – because we got the Old Gym down – we were able to get the funding for it.”

Sargent said it wasn’t hard to propose this particular line item inside the state’s budget.

“When you plan for things, you can get things done,” he said. “When you come in at the last minute to try to get something done, it doesn’t work.”

And largely, advocates for battlefield preservation and telling Franklin’s Civil War history story have been in constant motion.

In the past two years, the Old Franklin High School Gym underwent demolition. Two houses – which used to hold the CASA House and Flower Shop – were either moved or torn down. Across the street, grass has started to grow where the former Domino’s Pizza building once sat. With Carter Hill Battlefield Park’s completion, the Carter House can anticipate more visitors.

According to Battle of Franklin CEO Eric Jacobson, approximately 40,000 people a year now traipse through the existing visitor’s center. He said the structure wasn’t ever meant for that amount of traffic, which has nearly doubled during the past seven years.

“That’s exactly why we need it,” he said. 

Around October 2015, the BOFT released a conceptual master plan for the site that aligns with the predicted $3.2 million from the state. According to the plan, a new 4,000-square-foot building will house a museum, gift shop, offices, meeting room, and public restrooms. Contractors would tear the current visitors center down.

The new site also calls for moving the slave quarters to a location on the property where they originally stood. It would also mean making the site more interactive with guests, and providing more open space, though not to the extent of Carnton Plantation nestled among the acres of land at Eastern Flank Battlefield Park.

According to the site plan map, open space would primarily take shape on the half of the property closest to Columbia Avenue and west of the Carter House, creating an event lawn. The northeast corner that sits against West Fowlkes Street would also have more of park-like feel, with tourists able to see its formation as they drive up from downtown.

“We’ve talked about what the outside is going to look like, but that’s yet to be decided,” Jacobson said. “Some of that that will be hammered out between now and July, so we can get begin work as soon as we receive the money.” 

The Tennessee Historical Commission and the state would oversee the project from groundbreaking to completion. Jacobson said he has a rough estimate of a potential groundbreaking sometime in 2018. The state started assisting in care of the site in 1951.

Several board members of the Battle of Franklin Trust said they feel like the preservation work has paid off.

It’s almost like a kid waiting for Christmas,” Trust Board of Director Cullen Smith said. “It’s been something so sorely needed. It’s very outdated now, with inadequate restroom facilities and inadequate space for visitors and administration staff. It’s an old building, never designed for the visitor traffic we have now. It’s been put in the budget for a number of years and never survived. It was always left on the cutting room floor. It will mean so much not only for Franklin but for the visitors that will come through.”

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