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The City of Clarksville dedicates new Interpretive Center and Walking Trails at Fort Defiance

City of Clarksville Clarksville, TN – The City of Clarksville Tennessee dedicated the new Fort Defiance Interpretative Center yesterday to a standing room only crowd. The center is poised to attract civil war tourism to Clarksville during the celebration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial which begins in earnest next year.

The Customs House Museum and Cultural CenterThe Customs House Museum will manage the new center, with the city responsible for maintaining the grounds.

Rufus Johnson & Associates were the architects, McKinney Construction the general contractor, and Hatem Shaw  the project manager. The total cost for the new interpretative center and walking trails was $1,976,159 of which 1.6 million dollars was funded by grants, with the city contributing $395,249 in local matching funds.

The Fort Defiance Interpretive Center
The Fort Defiance Interpretive Center

The new site will feature a variety of exhibits and Civil War artifacts including a fully working replica of an 1847 six-pounder canon that was created by the Clarksville Foundry from Civil War Era plans.

The cannon is currently located at the Montgomery County courthouse until it is able to be relocated to Ft. Defiance/Ft. Bruce. The cannon was the first to be made in Montgomery County since the Civil War. At the local kickoff of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the canon was fired by Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers.

Members of the Fort Defiance Committee sit among the audience
Members of the Fort Defiance Committee sit among the audience

Initial planning for the new center and the Fort Defiance Historical Area was the responsibility of the Fort Defiance Committee, which was formed by Mayor Piper in 2002. The committee included Ann Alley, Dee Boaz, Sam Boaz, Jim Durrett, Richard Gildre, Anderson Grant, F. Evans Harvill, Bill Howard Sr., Phillip Kemmerly, Reginald Lowe, Paula Martin, Evans Peay, Hatem Shaw, Don Sharpe, David Snyder, Montgomery County Historian Elenore Williams, Thomas H. Winn, and Jerry Wooten.

Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper speaking at the dedication of Fort Defiance Interpretative Center
Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper speaking at the dedication of Fort Defiance Interpretative Center

“Their dedication early on in this project was very commendable. We would not be here today if it were not for these dedicated Clarksvillians pushing to make this happen. The small part that myself and the city played was important, but the groundwork that was laid all these years ago by these individuals should not be forgotten.” said Mayor Johnny Piper.

The building is is not yet open to the public as construction had been delayed several times, first due to having to relocate the site of the building, and assorted weather issues. This caused the dedication date be moved from November, to December 22nd. Plans are in place to have the official ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony in April 2011.

In January 2009 the Tennessee Historical Commission objected to the orientation of the building and asked the city to relocate the building at least 50′ from the breastworks of the  Fort. Based on their objection the grant the City was awarded to help fund the construction was suspended. “To relocate the building was not a simple process, Said Mayor Piper, and so the city needed to locate additional funds to allow them to complete the project. Once they were found, and the relocation completed, the original funding was restored.

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About Fort Defiance

In November 1861, Confederate troops began to build a defensive fort that would control the river approach to Clarksville. They mounted three guns in the fort.

After the fall of Fort Donelson, Fort Defiance was burned and abandoned prior to the capture of Clarksville. On February 19, 1862, Federal gunboats came up the river from Fort Donelson and reported the fort displayed a white flag and was deserted.

The Federals took over the fort and enlarged it so that it would control traffic on the Hopkinsville Pike. Clarksville was left with a small garrison of Union Troops. In April 1862, this small garrison was made up of the 71st Ohio Volunteers commanded by Col. Rodney Mason.

During July and August 1862, there was an increase in guerrilla activity around Clarksville. On August 18, 1862, Clarksville was recapturered by Confederate Calvary. Col. Mason was cashiered for surrendering Clarksville so easily.

Union soldiers were sent from Fort Donelson to retake Clarksville in September 1862. Skirmishes were fought at New Providence on September 6, 1862 and at Riggins Hill on September 7, 1862. The town and fort were reoccupied by Federal troops who remained for the rest of the war. Col. Bruce was placed in command at Clarksville and Fort Defiance was renamed Fort Bruce.

About the Civil War Sesquicentennial

The Civil War Sesquicentennial is national event to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

Plans are in place for a variety of events in Clarksville-Montgomery county over the course of the Sesquicentennial; a joint city-county appointed Civil War 150 Steering Commission, led by Frank Lott, BLF Marketing, and Brad Martin of Lyle, Cook, Martin Architects, is working to bring to life noteworthy events and tours of important sites relevant to Clarksville’s and Montgomery County’s Civil War heritage. These efforts will allow both citizens and visitors a chance to learn, relive and understand the impact that the Civil War had on the citizens at that time and how it affects our society even today.

Bill Larson
Bill Larson
Bill Larson is  is politically and socially active in the community. Bill is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave. You can reach him via telephone at 931-249-0043 or via the email address below.

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