East Tenn. Preservation Alliance Launches Effort to Pinpoint Endangered Historic Sites

Preservationists cast a wider net to identify urgent problems

Knoxvillians have been watching with interest Knox Heritage's annual Fragile 15 list, the ever-changing and sometimes surprising inventory of buildings and other historic sites considered both significant and endangered.

KH's domain is strictly limited to Knox County. A new group casts a much wider net. The new East Tennessee Preservation Alliance includes some Knox Heritage staffers and volunteers, but is conceived as an independent entity. Boosted with a national grant from the "Partners in the Field" initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it was originally conceived to target the nine-county area around Knox, but the ETPA expanded itself to consider 16 counties: Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union.

Currently, the ETPA has a separate leadership, but no full-time staff of its own. Ethiel Garlington, the Knox Heritage staffer who's been traveling more than most of his colleagues, is promoting the idea. It's intended, in part, for "counties that don't have the clout or esteem to promote their own endangered sites."

As one of its first big gestures, ETPA is taking nominations for the main trouble spots in East Tennessee, where historic preservation is concerned. "The original idea was to have one from each county," Garlington says, the site from each county considered to be the one most in need of attention. ETPA would provide help with strategies to save each property, and also release the list to the media, probably by March, in hopes that the publicity will help the cause.

The initiative has drawn some regional attention; it turns out East Tennessee's crawling with preservationists with causes. But because they still haven't gotten nominations for four of the 16 counties—Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, and Roane—ETPA has extended its deadline for nominations to January 31. To be nominated, a building has to be at least 50 years old and "considered historic or important culturally," and be under stress from either development or neglect. They'll consider the nomination of a natural feature as well, like a river or ridgetop. "They're fuzzy criteria, to be honest," Garlington admits, though they're similar to those of the National Register for Historic Places, and some standards may vary from community to community. A building may have historical significance but not architectural significance—or vice versa.

Garlington mentions as an example that sounds a likely candidate for the first such list: Morristown College, an abandoned historically black college that's more or less a ruin. "Still, some buildings could be saved," he says.

Nominations, with any relevant information concerning the site's history or known threats to it, should be sent to Garlington at egarlington@knoxheritage.org, or, by fax, at 865-523-0938.

They haven't decided for certain what to call it—the working title is "East Tennessee's Endangered Heritage"—but haven't ruled out something alliterative, like Knox Heritage's Fragile 15. The Susceptible 16?