Activists working to prevent mansion development on a stretch of green space along the Harpeth River in Williamson County have received a boost in their efforts.
The Williamson County Heritage Foundation has placed Vaughn Road on its annual list List of sites to register in May, identifying it as part of the Old Natchez Trace, a historic highway used by Native Americans since pre-colonial times and later crossed by white settlers in the 1800s. Vaughn Road runs through the proposed development.
The land was owned by late civic leader Alice Hooker — sister-in-law of prominent Tennessee political figure John Jay Hooker and a member of the Ingram family — who placed nearly 189 empty acres in a covenant before her death in 2019. In 2020, his children – led by his daughter Lisa Hooker Campbell – withdrew the pledge and applied for permits to build 128 residential lots on 175 acres and seven lots on 14 acres, sparking outcry from neighbors and conservationists .
The Williamson County Planning Commission rejected the 175-acre proposal, but approved the 14-acre parcel, where Vaughn Road sits.
Laura Turner, the founder of Citizens for Old Natchez Trace and a leading organizer against the development, says that while historical recognition will not ban construction, she hopes public pressure will spur the family to conduct studies on land and ultimately to abandon development. . “We’re trying to… make the case that it’s priceless,” she said.
The Williamson County Heritage Foundation’s announcement followed another victory for the group, when a judge ruled that the conservationists’ motion to have the plans reviewed by a higher court was valid and dismissed a motion to dismiss. Until the petition is settled, development is at a standstill.
Activists have also raised concerns about wildlife living on or near the location – including a bald eagle spotted nearby – and the fact that Native American artifacts and graves may be located on the site. property.
Former state archaeologist Nick Fielder, hired by Citizens for Old Natchez Trace, notes that there is a documented Mississippian settlement on the side of the river opposite the Hookers’ property. Additionally, artifacts and graves have been found within a three-mile radius of the grounds. Fielder says it’s unlikely another large settlement will be found on Hooker’s property, but he would expect to find evidence of smaller farms and houses.
As far as Fielder knows, the Hooker property has not been surveyed.
The discovery of Aboriginal graves could create a serious complication for development, as Tennessee law would require that all burial sites be preserved or the remains be reinterred elsewhere. There are, however, examples of landowners preserving these sites as they build on the land.
Three miles south of the Hooker property is Old Town Franklin. The archaeological site is owned by the wealthy Frist family, and although it is an active farm, the grounds also contain tombs, evidence of temples, and two mounds that were part of a Mississippian settlement. Archeology professor Kevin Smith lends his historical expertise to the Frists to help them be, in his words, responsible stewards of the land. His work there predates ownership of the Frists – he was first called to earth in 1991 when former owner, musician Jimmy Buffett, found stone graves while expanding his mansion.
Critics of Hooker’s property development are aware that their qualms may sound like “not in my backyard” complaints, though Smith says they simply call for more considered approaches, especially given the number of acres with potential artifacts dwindles. He adds that developers who do not investigate in advance can also end up with a much higher price if it becomes necessary to move graves or come up with new plans to build around them.
Smith notes that it can be difficult to generate interest and investment in Native history from non-Natives, even though the Mississippians were as complex a civilization as the Aztecs.
Hunter Campbell, a self-proclaimed amateur archaeologist and founder of the Indigenous activist group Justice for All Tribes, shares that sentiment.
“It shouldn’t be [your history] for you to care,” says Campbell, who identifies as Oglala Lakota and Taos Pueblo. He says his organization supports the protest against development.
Establishing and preserving archaeological sites is not easy, but it can happen. The Aaittafama’ site – formerly known as Kellytown – is currently a large field of green space at the corner of Hillsboro Road and Old Hickory Boulevard in Forest Hills. This land was the subject of a dispute when stone tombs were discovered during a road expansion in 1999, leading to the discovery of more evidence that a settlement once occupied the location. After 10 years in court, the Tennessee Department of Transportation decided that instead of moving the graves, they would pour concrete over them and continue the road expansion. The park is now owned by the Nashville Parks Department, purchased with contributions from a nonprofit group.
“In my role as executor of my late mother’s estate, I have been tasked with carrying out her wishes as clearly contained in her last will,” Lisa Hooker Campbell said in a statement via of his lawyer James Weaver. “I have not taken any action in the past, nor will I do so in the future, inconsistent with my legal obligations as executor, or inconsistent with his wishes as expressed in his will. ”
Weaver followed up by writing, “Mrs. Campbell … is bound by the laws of the State of Tennessee and its ethical principles and [fiduciary] duties to the beneficiaries to carry out his mother’s last wishes. He also criticized the public campaign against the development, saying conservationists had carried out “libel” and libel against his client.
Weaver did not answer a question about surveying the land, although he told Tennessee Lookout in April this had been conducted and nothing had been found.
Campbell is suing the Williamson County Planning Commission for its denial of the larger development. In previous statements, she said she was pursuing the development of the land because she would have lost value under new zoning laws which allowed only one unit per 5 acres. Hooker property proposals were submitted prior to the change and are grandfathered.
Matt Masters contributed to this report. This story was originally posted by Job sister post Nashville Scene.