This week, 150 years ago, New Orleans witnessed one of the few sights never before seen in that old and unpredictable city: a hostile squadron of a dozen warships right there at the downtown wharfs. The river was unusually high, and hundreds of federal cannons leveled at the city were above street level. The U.S. fleet scattered the Confederate defenses and sent the city into a panic. Citizens set supplies ablaze, threw cotton bales into the water.
At the helm of the USS Harford, in charge of the Union squadron, was a sturdy commander named David Glasgow Farragut.
Even in panic, the city was defiant. Protected from massive flooding by dirt levees, New Orleans would have been rather easy to destroy. Flag Officer Farragut shrugged and sailed upriver, securing a couple more rebel forts before returning to the city, where reality was beginning to sink in. On April 29, 250 of Farragut’s marines entered the city on foot, leading the way for Gen. Butler’s occupying force of 5,000, waiting in troop ships. The Confederacy was only one year old, but thanks to Farragut’s boldness, its largest city, and the mouth of its largest river, was permanently under Union occupation.
A more dramatic naval battle would come more than two years later, at Mobile Bay, during which Farragut barked his famous “Damn the torpedoes!” order. His elevation as the U.S. Navy’s first full admiral would come still later. But during the whole war, few battles were more important than the seizure of New Orleans. Somehow he accomplished it without casualties.
Farragut was no MGM stereotype of a Yankee invader. He had childhood memories of living in New Orleans; his parents were buried just outside of town, and he still had family there. At 61, he’d been in the U.S. Navy since he was a kid. A combat veteran at age 13, Farragut was one of very few Civil War commanders who’d seen action against the British in the War of 1812. Hundreds of thousands of Southerners resisted secession, and those who were career military may have been the least tempted by it—especially those who were older than the rebel leaders. At 75, Southern Virginian Gen. Winfield Scott stuck with Old Glory, and authored the Union’s Anaconda Plan, of which the seizure of New Orleans was one part. At 68, Texan Sam Houston denounced secession as a young man’s folly. As a Unionist Southerner, Farragut had plenty of company.
On shipboard rosters he was listed as a Tennessee citizen. He’d been born outside of Knoxville. In 1900, war hero Adm. George Dewey, accompanied by a flotilla of riverboats carrying dignitaries and big-city journalists, stepped ashore to dedicate a marker donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. No monument in Knox County history, not even any major building, was ever greeted with such pomp and circumstance. It made national headlines.
The fanfare around that event was such that, for the first time, Knox Countians started naming things for Farragut, in the city and the suburbs: businesses, roads, a hotel, a new high school, eventually a community.
Farragut, the man, has gotten a lot more attention here just lately. The Town of Farragut, America’s biggest municipality named for the admiral (there’s at least one other, in Iowa), has erected an impressive, larger-than-life bronze statue high on a pedestal, right beside Town Hall. There are other Farragut statues around the country, very prominent ones in New York, Washington, and Boston, but this one’s the newest. His visage is stern, the flap on his coat suggesting a sea breeze. Surrounding it, stone markers telling his story in chapters, with a couple of genuine artifacts: the 32-pounder from the USS Independence, on which the teenage Farragut served just after the War of 1812, and a nine-inch Dahlgren cannon from Farragut’s own flagship, the Hartford.
The Town of Farragut has acquired most of the admiral’s personal papers. In Town Hall, the Farragut Museum houses an intimate exhibit about Farragut’s life: his telescopes, his cash box, his 1810 midshipman’s enlistment papers, his four-star admiral’s flag, his last will and testament, his personal shipboard desk.
This Saturday morning, the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission will unveil a Civil War Trail Marker at Admiral Farragut Park on Northshore Drive.
All the new attention is coming just as his presumed childhood home is being developed as an exclusive residential community. Last summer, Dewey’s big, stone Farragut birthplace monument vanished.
Stony Point isn’t as remote as it used to seem. Just past Northshore Town Center and the Pellissippi Parkway overpass, a pocket development of large brick-clad houses close together is called Admiral’s Landing. Beyond, a small county park hangs over the hill like a saddle, with lake frontage in the back. That place well known to Frisbee golfers is called Admiral Farragut Park.
In the middle of those two is the one place historians are quickest to associate with Farragut himself. Slightly respelled, it’s now Stoney Point Farm. Its only street, a brand-new one marked “private,” is called Christus Way. Toward the back of the property, not far from the water, a large, multi-gabled new house awaits windows and siding. In the last century, it has been a popular ferry port, TVA land, and—as formally proposed to U.S. Congress—a prospective national park. Now it’s gated, off limits.
Fort Loudoun Lake is so broad here, it doesn’t take much wind to whip up waves. Nowhere in Knox County looks quite so nautical. Until last July, you could see Farragut’s original birthplace, over across the inlet from the park. Though always on private land, it was long accessible to the public. For 40 years, a public ferry was there. Later, a nameless one-lane road provided public access. Now, though there’s no longer a road, you can legally walk near the site of the monument on public land, without trespassing, because the shore of Stony Point is county park property. At the moment, no one’s encouraging you to do so, because relations with the owner have come to a delicate impasse.
The owner, whose name is Lylan Fitzgerald, has lived at Stony Point for about 30 years. She inherited it from her husband, John Fitzgerald, seven years ago.
When she gets a call from Metro Pulse, she laughs, as if in surprise. “I don’t think I should say anything about the monument right now,” she says, referring questions to her representative. But then she does say a little.
“At this point, with all the publicity, I don’t want anybody on my property. I have no privacy, no security.” She currently lives in a modest home on the property, as a physician, an out-of-state newcomer, builds a large house nearby.
According to published reports, the large monument was purchased and removed to Texas, but some observers doubt that. Fitzgerald declines to offer hints, but her careful words imply that it still exists, and that she has some control over it.
Fitzgerald’s current advisor, former Farragut alderman Tom Rosseel, says that Fitzgerald believes she owns the monument. He doesn’t know where it is—he asked her not to tell him—but he has the impression that “it could be available in less than two weeks” of an agreement. “It has reached a very sensitive stage,” Rosseel says of Fitzgerald’s discussions with both Knox County and the Town of Farragut. “She’s troubled by the way some people have treated her,” he says, declining to be specific.
“What she really wants the public to know is that she wants the monument to be available to the public—and that her property and privacy is protected.”
Each generation sees the Farragut legacy a little differently. In the 21st century, Farragut has been reborn as a Hispanic American hero.
In local accounts, Farragut’s earliest years are obscure. By the time David Farragut became famous, hardly anyone remembered his local family; few Knox Countians even recognized his unusual last name. In 1862, it had been more than half a century since any Farragut had lived in Knox County. But his father was once prominent here.
The man the first Knoxvillians knew as George Farragut was born Jordi (or Jorge) Ferragut Mesquida in 1755, on the Mediterranean island of Minorca. The Spaniard spent his youth as a nautical vagabond, sailing with the victorious Russian fleet in the Russo-Turkish War, then crossing the Atlantic to America in 1775, perhaps just for the chance to fight the British. For the convenience of Americans, he anglicized his name to George, but probably pronounced his last name ferr-ah-GOOT, with rolled R’s.
He arrived as Knoxville, the new capital of the Southwestern Territory, was founded. His friend, territorial Gov. William Blount, whom he’d known during the Revolutionary War, recruited Farragut to help out, appointing him officer in charge of drilling troops. Farragut joined John Sevier in some early Indian campaigns. He was a different sort of patriot; he spoke English imperfectly, and with a strong Spanish accent.
The sailor probably never lived inland until he came to his friend’s new frontier capital, but he lived here longer than he ever lived anywhere else. First, Farragut lived right downtown, on Emmerson Street, in the vicinity of what’s now World’s Fair Park. He married a North Carolinian named Elizabeth Shine, and started a family.
Maybe the water drew the sailor to Stony Point. In 1796, Farragut bought 640 acres there, and later moved to the site, farming and operating a ferry across the river to Blount County.
Knoxville historians once assumed they were the only ones who’ve ever heard of George Farragut, the early settler. But there’s a high-quality portrait of him at the Smithsonian. He’s the one Knoxville settler of whom we have the clearest physical image: a robust fellow on the verge of a chuckle. Now he has his own Wikipedia page. George Farragut has emerged as a Spanish-American patriot of the Revolutionary War.
His son who became an admiral has also gained new attention. “I am extremely proud of sharing the same heritage as Admiral Farragut,” says Coral Getino, the Spanish-born leader of Knoxville’s HoLa Hora Latina, hosts of the popular annual festival. “Farragut is a role model for us: A first-generation Hispanic-American, hard-working family man, who earned the highest Navy rank for the first time in history,” she says. “His bravery, determination, and perseverance—in battle and in life—exemplify values we want to teach our children. He is a national hero who was born right here, almost in my neighborhood.” Learning the Farragut story, she says, helped inspire her to get involved in the Knoxville community.
“I have learned that there were more than 20,000 Hispanics who fought in the Civil War, some for the Union and some for the Confederacy,” Getino says. “Hispanics and other minorities have since fought in every single American war, and I feel there is much work to do in order to honor their contributions.”
The boy who became an admiral was George’s second son, born in 1801 and first named James Glasgow Farragut, for a North Carolina ally. At Stony Point they lived for six more years, until President Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory and needed people to staff the new U.S. port at New Orleans. The famously continental city distrusted Anglos; Jefferson’s policy favored staffing New Orleans with officials who spoke French or Spanish. East Tennessean William C.C. Claiborne, a good friend of Farragut’s, became the territory’s first U.S. governor. At age 58, Farragut accepted the challenge. He rode to New Orleans, and his family followed, in a 1,700-mile flatboat adventure aided by hired rivermen, the six-year-old James’ first voyage.
In New Orleans, Elizabeth Farragut died of yellow fever, and George Farragut, perhaps doubting his domestic skills, allowed his close friend and fellow sailor David Porter to adopt the boy. Little James became little David. Porter, a navy man, took young Farragut to sea, and at 9, when 21st-century kids are in fourth grade, he was David Glasgow Farragut, midshipman on the USS Essex. At 13, he knew what it was like to be fired upon by the British, the greatest navy in the world.
George Farragut worked in New Orleans for only about a year. Then he bought a large piece of property outside of town on the Pascagoula River, and spent his final years in what sounds like a situation very similar to what he knew at Stony Point.
The issue of Farragut’s birthplace has stirred controversy for more than a century.
When Farragut died in 1870, a committee of prominent Knoxville Republicans got together downtown and agreed Knoxville should establish some sort of Farragut memorial. But as the distracted city exploded in size, the war’s memory faded. In 1892, Capt. A.T. Mahan, America’s foremost naval historian, released an admiring popular biography of Farragut, referencing his Tennessee childhood, and his birthplace at “Campbell’s Station.” Community stories grew up that one cabin or another along Kingston Pike was Farragut’s home. But no one was old enough to remember.
In 1894, a guest newspaper columnist who preferred to be known as WDP—almost certainly West Knox historian W.D. Peters, for whose family Peters Road is named—declared that he was “shattering tradition”: He identified familiar Lowe’s Ferry as Farragut’s true birthplace. “WDP” proposed renaming Stony Point as “Farragut Point.”
Locating Farragut’s birthplace didn’t become an urgent issue until early 1900, when Admiral Dewey, naval hero of the Spanish-American War—at Manilla Bay, he uttered the immortal line, “You may fire when ready, Gridley”—expressed his determination to honor the birthplace of his personal hero and former captain, Admiral Farragut.
A little frantically, Knoxville historians went to work. The lead committee included Knoxville attorney Joshua Caldwell; Col. Lawrence Davis Tyson, later a World War I general as well as a U.S. senator; and former Chattanoogan George Fort Milton, publisher of the Sentinel. The oldest member was Oliver Perry Temple, the combative Unionist Civil War-era politician and historian. It wasn’t a partisan effort: Caldwell and Tyson were both sons of Confederate soldiers.
It had been 99 years since Farragut’s birth. The committee heard evidence, old timers citing long-deceased old timers. There was some discussion of what a man remembered as “Burnett” had said back in 1854 or ’55, supporting Campbell’s Station. Some folks had lived in a cabin on Kingston Pike and had considered it the Farragut home. The committee went through the existing property records, which showed George Farragut buying 640 acres around Stony Point in 1796, and other records indicating he was still there in 1805.
Caldwell, Tyson, and Milton were persuaded by the assembled evidence that Farragut was born at Stony Point. It was the only place documents suggested was associated with the Farragut family in 1801, as a residence. The admiral’s listing of his birthplace as “Campbell’s Station” was, they explained, just a reference to the nearest population center and post office.
The 80-year-old Temple declared their findings “inconclusive, unreasonable, and absurd.” Temple claimed that Campbell’s Station had no post office until 1805, after Farragut was born. If Farragut had been born on the river, Temple thought, he would have said so. Temple had interviewed Farragut’s widow and his son Loyall. But their memories were only of Farragut’s scant mentions of his birth. And the admiral himself knew details of his birth only from his parents, neither of whom he saw after he turned 9.
Despite Temple’s outspoken dissent, the committee’s conclusion satisfied Adm. Dewey, who came with Navy brass and a squadron of newspaper writers on a flotilla from downtown Knoxville to Stony Point in May, 1900.
The name Farragut became, maybe for the first time, a local household word. Nothing had ever been named for Farragut during the admiral’s lifetime, or in the 30 years after his death. But Dewey’s visit opened a floodgate.
In 1904, the new high school at Campbell’s Station was named for Farragut; its athletic team became known as the Admirals. In the 20 years after Dewey’s visit, Farragut was being honored all over. Farragut Avenue traced Sharp’s Ridge in North Knoxville. The Farragut Lumber Co. was located near downtown Knoxville, as was the Farragut Drug Co. Farragut Tire and Battery was on Gay Street. The Farragut Hotel, for a decade Knoxville’s largest and finest, opened in 1919 at Gay and Clinch.
Meanwhile, Farragut Birthplace cabins materialized all over town. One was erected at Chilhowee Park, to display at the 1910 Appalachian Exposition. Not long after, it burned to the ground. It didn’t resemble a newspaper feature’s photo of another, much-larger, Farragut-birthplace cabin, moved and rebuilt near Stony Point. In 1914, another cabin known as the Farragut Cabin, on East Knoxville’s Riverside Drive, burned to the ground. It was said to have been moved from downtown Knoxville, near Second Creek, when the L&N railroad built its yards there. It may have been the cabin George Farragut built before moving to Stony Point. Still another home still standing near Maplehurst in downtown Knoxville in 1936 was identified by an elderly historian a “the house where Admiral Farragut lived.” Another Farragut Cabin materialized at Chilhowee Park, and was still there as late as the 1940s. It may have been a replica of the one that burned, or perhaps something else. Many believed it to be real. It vanished, too.
Nearly forgotten was the dispute about Farragut’s true birthplace. The birthplace monument remained at Lowe’s Ferry, seen daily by ferry travelers for decades. But some Campbell’s Station residents revived the story that Farragut’s true birthplace was there, along Kingston Pike. When the ferry closed in the early ’40s, the monument was no longer on a beaten path, but TVA controlled the property, because it was on the banks of one of their newest reservoirs.
Something stirred the pot again. A major new Farragut biography, by the U.S. Naval Institute, came out in 1941, and included a large glossy photo of the Stony Point birthplace site and monument. During World War II, the destroyer known as the USS Farragut was famous, having survived Pearl Harbor to see major action against the Japanese in the Pacific. By war’s end, powerful people were talking up a Farragut National Monument at Stony Point.
The Tennessee Historical Commission recommended saving Stony Point “for the purpose of maintaining a memorial park solely—not for the purpose of commercial exploitation.” Mrs. John Trotwood Moore, of Nashville, declared, “nothing of greater importance has been brought before this group.” Democratic Gov. Jim McCord approved of the idea, as did Republican Congressman John Jennings.
In March, 1948, a delegation of statewide dignitaries and TVA officials made a boat tour of the Stony Point area, a motley crew of Nashville preservationists, conservationist Harvey Broome, delegates from TVA, the East Tennessee Historical Society, Knox County government, and the DAR. The U.S. Navy liked the idea. The new national park, they said, might include a memorial lighthouse; a museum of Farragut’s personal effects; a replica of the long-gone cabin. Mainly it would be a big public park by the lake.
It hit a snag when the Farragut Civic Club objected: “If a national monument is to be erected to Admiral David Farragut,” they declared, “residents of the Farragut community think it should be there instead of at Lowe’s Ferry.” They revisited the old stories. Still, the lakefront park proposal went forward to Washington. Rep. John Jennings submitted it to Congress, twice. In 1949, Democrat Estes Kefauver proposed it before the U.S. Senate. Each bill was referred to a committee. Each one died there.
Admiral Farragut Park, a county park on former TVA land around 1950, may have been a fall-back position. The awkwardly situated park technically includes a tendril of Stony Point waterfront itself, within a few feet of the 1900 monument.
Knoxville attorney Harley Fowler, Stony Point’s owner at that time, maintained the land as part of a larger cattle farm, but cherished the Farragut heritage. An amateur historian, Fowler wrote a 23-page monograph on Farragut, now on file at the McClung Collection. While he owned it, the monument was often visited by the curious, many of whom arrived by boat. Marie Alcorn, Fowler’s niece, remembers family visits to the property. “It certainly meant a lot to me, and we were very proud of it,” she says. “We referred to it as ‘the Farragut Farm.’” The Fowlers didn’t mind monument tourists—“not at all,” she says. In a 1964 photograph, Fowler and his wife Florence pose proudly with the monument on a well-mown, fenceless lawn.
Harley Fowler died in 1967, and his family sold the property in 1972 to farmer John Fitzgerald, a 1956 Farragut High grad, and his then-wife, Beverly.
“We were led to believe it was not conducive to developing for residential,” Alcorn says, due to its rugged terrain. The Concord area was then still mostly rural.
After a divorce, John Fitzgerald owned Stony Point outright. He lived on the property and raised horses and goats. The 1890s house near the Farragut birthplace site fell into disrepair, and Fitzgerald reportedly moved into a mobile home on the property. An eccentric but historically interested fellow, Fitzgerald sometimes attended East Tennessee Historical Society events downtown. He was proud that the Farragut birthplace was on his property, but he did not like strangers trespassing to see it up close. He said they brought litter and vandalism. He put up a fence between the presumed birthplace and the county’s narrow lakefront road, with signs forbidding visitors from approaching the once-famous monument.
On one level, the dilemma at Stony Point is a parable about the vanity of human effort. Hardly any landmark downtown, or at the university, was ever this famous, even for a day. Later in the same century, few Knoxvillians remembered it was there.
John Fitzgerald’s longtime companion was Lylan Shepherd, who was living at Stony Point by the early ’80s. They eventually married. John Shepherd died in 2005. For the last seven years, she has been the sole owner of Stony Point. In 2008, she proposed rezoning Stony Point for residential development, and had the nearby 1890s house demolished. At the time, according to records, Fitzgerald’s representatives offered the Metropolitan Planning Commission assurances that the 1900 monument would be preserved.
Historic Zoning Commissioner Nic Arning raised questions about the project, especially concerning archaeology on site. The site, he says, is “near and dear to my heart. If we have a national hero from Knoxville, it’s Farragut. Also, Lowe’s Ferry, it was sort of like the Gay Street Bridge, for years.” An archaeological dig might tell us about the murkiest part of Farragut’s life, but also about Knoxville-area travelers.
Fitzgerald was at first agreeable to archaeology, but she had a timetable. Some had assumed university archaeologists would be eager to excavate a site associated with a little-known chapter in the life of a national hero, but Arning discovered such an excavation would come only at a price of at least $9,500.
Retired University of Tennessee Professor Charles Faulkner, Knoxville’s most experienced historical archaeologist, volunteered to take a look. He found Lylan Fitzgerald to be friendly and cooperative. In spot checks of only about seven shovel sites, Faulkner was astonished at the richness of the site. “The first thing I found was an 18th-century piece of pottery,” he says. He found another, and a nail from that period. “It’s as clear as the nose on your face,” he says. “It’s right there!” He’s rarely encountered such an obviously rich site from that period.
“Somebody lived there in the late 18th century,” Faulkner says. “And I don’t know who else could have lived there.” He’s looked at the deeds, and everything points to George Farragut. He was excited about the site both for its connections to a famous American and as a very rare, perhaps singular, site of an 18th-century Hispanic settler in East Tennessee. “It could be a really, really important archaeological project.”
Faulkner says there was a time when such projects were undertaken in the public interest, and to provide experience for students, not to mention subjects for publications. But he’s now retired, and the university’s policy is to charge for such digs, even those of historical significance. A public appeal raised only a few hundred dollars, including a $500 donation from the U.S. Navy.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald was reportedly angered by unbecoming portrayals published in the press, especially from neighbors who proposed forcing a public solution. She barred further digging and has allowed no one else on her property except those interested in buying one of her nine lots. Though the Farragut legacy was part of her early sales material, the Stony Point development’s promotional website includes no mention of the land’s association with Farragut.
Faulkner sounds protective of Fitzgerald, and hints that others have handled the situation poorly. He’s hoping she’ll allow him back.
Neighbor Margot Kline missed the controversies of 2008, but came to it from another angle. In her 50s, she’d never been much interested in local history—but frankly, she admits, to control bad development and maintain property values, she’d become active in preserving some of the few remaining historic buildings wedged among West Knoxville’s suburban development. The area’s history is mostly of local interest. But Kline, daughter of a Navy combat veteran, had some respect for the Farragut mystique. She says she heard for the first time, in January 2010, that Adm. Farragut was born at Lowe’s Ferry.
“I said, ‘What?!’”
A former magazine journalist, Kline knew something about research, and within weeks found herself the authority on the subject. She assembled an impressive collection of property data and rare photographs of the site, even did topographical research to answer assumptions that the Farragut home place was actually submerged by the 1943 impoundment of Ft. Loudoun Lake. She wrote an article about the controversy for the website of the National Trust.
She began hearing from national authorities, like University of California Professor Refugio Rochin, a leader in research of Hispanic heritage in America, who told her Farragut has become a major inspiration in Latino patriotic pride. Online, multiple articles about the missing-monument controversy are in Spanish.
Rear Adm. Jay DeLoach, who’s in charge of naval museums nationally, was so interested he came to see the site.
The controversy is already the subject of a newly published novel, Looking for Admiral Farragut, by Maryville writer Charles G. Haun. It’s a mystery.
“It was weird,” says Kline. “I realized this is national! This is a big deal!”
Matthew Eng, national coordinator for the U.S. Navy’s Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial project, headquartered at Virginia Beach, confirms as much. He says the story of the missing monument is resonating nationally, as a cautionary tale. “Since the original story broke last year, I have used it as an example in several ‘Civil War Navy in Public Memory’ presentations I have given around the East Coast,” he says. “The results are always positive, with several in the audience clamoring for updates.”
Eng believes Farragut’s legend is gaining steam. “With so many things crumbling down around us nowadays, it is always nice to look back and remember honor, courage, and commitment—what sailors like Farragut faced on a daily basis 150 years ago. Farragut espoused principles all Americans can look up to,” he says. “We must all go full speed ahead in life, whatever obstacles are in the way.”
Farragut’s order, effective against Confederates 150 years ago, may lack something in dealing with widows who own important property. By some accounts, public pressure resulted in Fitzgerald’s choice to remove the monument last summer. Some worried that she had destroyed it.
Preservationists have been unable to prove that the DAR, who installed the monument, had done the paperwork to ensure that they owned it or had established a legal easement on the property—which was, in 1900 a remote place near an unpredictable river, unenvied by developers. Today, attorney Rosseel says Fitzgerald believes she owns it.
In a county where property rights are paramount, preservationists are getting a lesson in realpolitik. When Fitzgerald’s development proposal first came before MPC, the best-case scenario would have been that a small part of the private property might be added to the county’s slender waterfront property, archeological investigations could be completed, and the monument would be forever accessible to the public. The worst-case seemed to be that Farragut’s birthplace and its once-public monument would be invisible and off-limits within a gated community. Now Fitzgerald and her advisor make it clear the monument dedicated by Dewey won’t return to its longtime home.
For some erstwhile preservationists, anger has yielded to resignation. Preservationists have retrenched, abandoning any best-case scenario. Now they just hope the monument will reappear somewhere else—perhaps at Admiral Farragut Park—and that archaeologists will one day be permitted (and funded) to find out what’s in the unusually interesting soil beneath the first home of an American hero, before a big new house is built on the site.
Rosseel acknowledges that the county owns much of the shoreline. He says Fitzgerald would prefer that no walkway be established along the shore. He thinks that’s not likely to happen, given the county’s economic circumstances; the costs he’s heard range upward of $1 million.
Both the county and Fitzgerald hold strong hands. With a public shoreline walkway or even road, the county could spoil Fitzgerald’s hopes of privacy, and bar her from promising water access to her prospective buyers. Fitzgerald could turn the monument into gravel. She could also bulldoze away any hopes of learning more about Farragut’s youth, and this rare homestead of a Spanish settler. At the moment, though, Rosseel says the archaeological site is not part of the negotiations.
Rosseel believes the deal they reach will make everybody happy.
“I have talked with Mayor Burchett,” says Lylan Fitzgerald. “He seemed very reasonable.”
She insists she’s interested in history. “I was raised in Farragut,” she says. “I went to Farragut High School. I helped pay for that bell!” In the 1960s, she says, she sold newspapers as a class project to acquire that Farragut memento. Checking with the Farragut collection at Farragut Town Hall, curator Julia Jones doesn’t know about a bell, but one of their older acquisitions is a large steam whistle, now on display, which was originally on Farragut’s USS Hartford. It came to the museum from Farragut High.
Wouldn’t preserving the Farragut connection make the property more valuable? “Only if you want to sell,” Fitzgerald says. “And I don’t.” She wants to build her own house roughly on the site of the Farragut home.
“No one knows where he was born, anyway,” she says. She knows about this weekend’s Civil War marker event, across the inlet. She adds that the site of the new Admiral Farragut Park marker “was part of the farm, anyway. He had 640 acres.”
“I am interested in history,” Fitzgerald says. “Dr. Faulkner and I have talked. At some point, I have told him he will eventually be welcome. But not right now. Not as long as there is controversy.”
If Fitzgerald is sensitive to criticism, so too may be some neighbors—to criticism that the suburban area lacks an authentic history. In West Knox, where houses are built to look 200 years old, and streets and neighborhoods are named for fictional British earls, some have an almost urgent desire for a history, a credible opportunity to believe something interesting and important happened here. To them, the Farragut birthplace could make the whole place seem more permanent, more substantial. Stony Point would be, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a there there.
Fitzgerald and several of those who have hopes of finding some way to re-establish a Farragut landmark, expect to find the solution outside the court of public opinion.
For now, they’re celebrating the new Civil War trail marker at old Admiral Farragut Park. Coral Getino and Margot Kline and Charlie Faulkner expect to be there. Tom Rosseel, Fitzgerald’s advisor, hopes to be there, too. The statewide effort is unrelated to the missing monument. But the flat clearing where it used to be, clearly visible, just across the inlet, will be part of the context.
Corrected: Tom Rosseel is Lylan Fitzgerald's advisor, not her attorney.