Tennessee Historical Commission

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The Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) is the State Historic Preservation Office for the U.S. state of Tennessee. Headquartered in Nashville, it is an independent state agency, administratively attached to the Department of Environment and Conservation. Its mission is to protect, preserve, interpret, maintain, and administer historic places; to encourage the inclusive diverse study of Tennessee's history for the benefit of future generations; to mark important locations, persons, and events in Tennessee history; to assist in worthy publication projects; to review, comment on and identify projects that will potentially impact historic properties; to locate, identify, record, and nominate to the National Register of Historic Places all properties which meet National Register criteria, and to implement other programs of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as amended. The Tennessee Historical Commission also refers to the entity consisting of 24 Governor-appointed members and five ex officio members.


Tennessee Historical Commission marker

The Commission was established as the "Tennessee Historical Committee" in January, 1919. Its initial purpose was to memorialize events pertaining to World War I. In 1921 an amendment to the Act that created the Committee expanded its duties toward its modern mission, designating that the Committee could "care for the proper marking and preservation of battlefields, houses, and other places celebrated in the history of the state." After a decade of inactivity following the death of its first Chairman John Trotwood Moore in 1929, it was re-energized in 1940 by Governor Prentice Cooper. A partnership with the Tennessee Historical Society began in 1942 to produce the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, which is still published today. In 1951 the historic marker program was founded. Since then, approximately 2,000 markers have been erected across the state. Following the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Commission was designated as the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). There are 29 Commission members, consisting of 24 members appointed by the Governor (8 per Grand Division) and five ex officio members, including the Governor, State Archaeologist, State Librarian, State Historian, and the Commissioner of Environment and Conservation. The Board meets three times a year, usually the third Friday of February, June, and October. As of 2018[when?] the Commission has a professional staff of 16. The staff administers the Federal programs including the National Register of Historic Places, Section 106 review, the Certified Local Government Program, survey, and historic tax credits. State programs include historic markers, state-owned historic sites, and the Tennessee Wars Commission.

Since 1994 the Commission's offices have been located in Clover Bottom Mansion, an 1850s-era National Register-listed Italianate-style house in the Donelson area of Nashville, Tennessee. This historic property had been unused for over a decade when it was restored for use by the Commission. The historic outbuildings, including two former c. 1858 two slave cabins, a c. 1850s carriage house, and an 1890s horse barn were restored in 2015-16. Over 150 native species trees were planted, and a walking trail was added. The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours, but tours of the house (which has no period furnishings or exhibits) are by appointment only.

Chairmen and Executive Staff[edit]

Sixteen individuals have served as Chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission. For many years, the Director of the Tennessee State Library and Archives was also by virtue of the position the Chairman of the Commission. The names and terms of the chairmen are as follows: John Trotwood Moore (Nashville) c. 1919-1929; Judge Samuel Cole Williams, (Johnson City) 1940-1946; William E. Beard (Nashville) 1946-1950; Dan M. Robison, (Nashville) 1950-1961; Dr. William T. Alderson, (Nashville) 1961-1964; Sam B. Smith, (Nashville) 1964-1969; Robert A. McGaw (Nashville) 1969-1975; Judge Harry Wellford,(Memphis) 1975-1977; Richard W. Weesner (Nashville) 1977-1981; Walter T. Durham, (Gallatin) 1981-1985; Russell Hippe, (Nashville) 1985-1990; Robert Corlew (Murfreesboro) 1990-1997; Ward DeWitt, Jr. (Nashville) 1997-2003; Norman Hill (Murfreesboro) 2003-2009; Sam D. Elliott (Signal Mountain) 2009-2015; Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr. (Nashville) 2015–2020.

Since 1942, ten individuals have served as the primary staff person for the Commission. Since the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, the Commission’s directors have served as Tennessee's State Historic Preservation Officer or as the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer. Stephen Lawrence was hired in 1967 and was the first employee of the Commission to hold the title of executive director. Herbert L. Harper joined the staff of the Commission in 1969 as Field Services Representative and served from 1975 to 2006 as the executive director. The executive staff and their tenures are as follows: Rebecca W. DeWitt, 1942-1956, Secretary; Dr. William T. Alderson, 1956-1961, Executive Secretary; H. Glyn Thomas, 1962-1963, Executive Secretary; James W. Moody, Jr., 1963-1967, Executive Secretary; Stephen Lawrence, 1967-1971, Executive Secretary/ Executive Director; Dr. Michael J. Smith 1971-1973, Executive Director; Herbert L. Harper, Acting Director, 1973-1974; Lawrence C. Henry, 1974-1975, Executive Director; Herbert L. Harper, Executive Director 1975-2006; Richard G. Tune, Interim Executive Director, 2006-2007; E. Patrick McIntyre, Jr., Executive Director, 2007–Present

State-Owned Historic Sites Program[edit]

The Tennessee Historical Commission has 17 State Historic Sites under its administration. While THC provides operating grants and pays for major maintenance projects, each of the sites except for Sabine Hill are administered by independent, 501 (c) 3 non-profits who are responsible for staffing and raising most of the funds to operate the properties. Four sites are in Castalian Springs, a small Sumner County community that has been referred to as the "Cradle of Tennessee History" for its importance. Sabine Hill in Elizabethton and Hawthorn Hill in Castalian Springs are the newest state historic sites, and both opened in 2017. Sabine Hilli is a unit of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. THC State-owned Historic Sites include:

East Tennessee Burra Burra Mine State Historic Site, Ducktown; Chester Inn State Historic Site, Jonesborough; Rocky Mount State Historic Site, Piney Flats; Marble Springs State Historic Site, Knoxville; Sabine Hill, Elizabethton; Sam Houston Schoolhouse State Historic Site, Maryville; Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, Johnson City;

Middle Tennessee Carter House State Historic Site, Franklin; Castalian Springs Mound Site, Castalian Springs; Cragfont State Historic Site, Castalian Springs; Hawthorn Hill State Historic Site, Castalian Springs; Hotel Halbrook State Historic Site, Dickson; Rock Castle State Historic Site, Hendersonville; Sam Davis Shrine, Pulaski; Sparta Rock House State Historic Site, Sparta; Wynnewood State Historic Site, Castalian Springs

West Tennessee Alex Haley Home State Historic Site, Henning

The Tennessee Wars Commission[edit]

The Tennessee Wars Commission (TWC) was established in 1994 to preserve sites associated with military heritage from the Period of the French and Indian War to the Civil War. Since then, the Wars Commission has helped protect over 7000 acres in Tennessee. Most of the protected properties are Civil War sites, such as Parkers Crossroads Battlefield and Davis Bridge Battlefield. The Wars Commission has a grant program.

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