Archaeologists: ‘High likelihood of human remains’ at Greer Stadium - Friends of Fort Negley Park
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Archaeologists: ‘High likelihood of human remains’ at Greer Stadium

Archaeologists: ‘High likelihood of human remains’ at Greer Stadium

As Mayor Megan Barry pushes for the redevelopment of Nashville’s abandoned Greer Stadium site, a preliminary archaeological review has determined a “high likelihood of human remains” on portions of the property.

The Greer assessment is outlined in an interim managment summary by Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, which the mayor’s office contracted in October to determine what historical remains are under the city-owned former home of the minor league baseball’s Nashville Sounds.

Greer sits downhill from the Civil War-era Fort Negley.

Early judgments are based on ground-penetrating radar that captures images below the surface. The Tennessean obtained the report, dated Nov. 19, through a public records request.

This week, the archaeology team brought in digging machinery to carry out a process known as “ground-truthing” for a more thorough underground analysis.

A final report is expected by the end of the year.

If human burial remains are determined conclusive, it could bolster arguments of historic preservationists, who have opposed the mayor’s plans for a mixed-use development for the Greer site called Cloud Hill.

Cloud Hill critics, noting that the Union Army fort was built by slaves and former slaves, have said Greer could be home to hundreds of slave graves. They’ve pushed for the Greer site to be reclaimed as public park space that pays homages to the fort’s African-American legacy.

The interim report did not attempt to determine the identity of the possible remains.

Western area of stadium site has highest potential for human remains

In assessing Greer, archaeologists broke up the 21-acre site by reviewing 12 blocks of land that cover a total of 6.3 acres. The report says any presence of undisturbed buried soils would indicate a “near certainty of the potential presence of buried human remains.”

Archaeologists found the greatest likelihood of human remains to the northwest of the stadium, between the fort and the stadium, where asphalt parking currently exists.

“Based on our ground-penetrating radar results, we believe that there is a high likelihood of humans remains (northwest of the stadium) … if interments were made in this area historically,” Virgil Beasley, geophysical senior investigator at Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, wrote in the report.

The study found the surface parking to the north of the stadium is not likely to have human remains, though it is possible. Within the baseball field itself, the review found a higher probability of less disturbed soils, but data was inconclusive because of high water saturation.

Military records indicate that there were Civil War burials at the Greer site, according to the report, and the review found a “possibility of fragmentary human remains” exist on the southeastern portion of the site. A gravel lot on the north end of the property has a very low possibility of human remains, archaeologists found.

On the southwestern edge of the property, the report says there appears to be at least some buried archaeological deposits, but also evidence of substantial land alteration and leveling.

“In summary, our interim assessment of the project area is that the western area near Fort Negley has a high potential to contain human remains,” the report says. “The central area is largely disturbed, with a low probability of burials being present. Our knowledge of the baseball field proper is limited, but may include undisturbed soils. The southeastern edge of the project are likely includes undisturbed soils, and possibly, human remains continue to be present.”

Beasley declined to comment on what archaeologists found during the past week of truth-grounding, instead referring questions on their work to Metro Parks & Recreation. Parks spokeswoman Jackie Jones said the department is waiting for the final report.

“All findings will be released at that time,” she said.

Mayor awaiting final report to determine how to honor, preserve site’s history

Barry’s administration has put the Cloud Hill project on pause amid the archaeological study.

“Tennessee Valley Archaeology was retained for the purposes of doing a survey of the site in order to determine what, if any, historical remains are on the Greer Stadium parcel next to Fort Negley,” Barry spokesman Sean Braisted said in a statement. “Once they have completed their work, we will review the report with the appropriate stakeholders to determine the best way to honor and preserve the history of the site in a way that activates this property for the betterment of the community today and into the future.”

The Cloud Hill Partnership, led by Nashville developer Bert Mathews and music recording giant T Bone Burnett, have vowed they won’t proceed with development plans where graves are found. They’ve proposed a mix of creative art and music space, affordable and market-rate housing, public green space and retail for the Greer site.

“We have not had a chance to review this study,” Cloud Hill said in a statement. “We have said all along we will take every step necessary to honor the history of the site. We look forward to working with Metro to determine the best way to move forward when the study is complete.”

Clay Bailey, president of Friends of Fort Negley, which opposes Cloud Hill, said he’s not surprised by the evidence suggesting grave sites. He said that while much of the Greer portion of Fort Negley Park was disturbed by commercial excavation during the 1970s, some portions were not. He said his group awaits the final archaeological results and looks forward to a cultural landscape survey set to begin in the spring.

“Regardless of findings, the land is profoundly significant for what happened there and the people who died there,” Bailey said. “It can tell the complex and ultimately uplifting story of the contraband camps and the struggles of slaves to become free. Archaeology will help illuminate that story. ”

The Greer property has a “full and complex history,” the report says.

In addition to burials of both Confederate and Union soldiers and the fort’s slave legacy, the northeast of the site was once home to the city’s Catholic Cemetery. It was relocated in the mid-19th century. While the soldier graves were excavated decades ago, the report says there is no certainty of the total removal of human remains from any of the recognized cemeteries.

Archaeologists say they conducted extensive background research related to the history of St. Cloud Hill, including historic maps, documents, property records, photographs and eyewitness records to compliment their fieldwork.

Barry’s administration in May awarded an intent to contract to Cloud Hill, but the plan has been met by resistance from many in the historic and preservation community.

Final approval of a transaction with Cloud Hill would require Metro Council and Metro parks board approval.

Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236, [email protected] and on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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