The future of a dam on the Sam Davis Home property is hanging in the air, as one set of advocates tries to preserve it while another says it is dangerous and should be demolished.
Both sides agree the dam was built on Stewarts Creek in 1939 to provide for a reflection pool to complement flower beds. The pool is on the border of the museum property and Smyrna Elementary School. The sides disagree on the dam’s safety and its historical significance.
In the latest action, the Tennessee Historic Commission has placed a halt on any demolition plans. The Sam Davis Home, although managed by local trustees, is state property, so the state has input on certain decisions. The museum is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Susan McClamroch, a historic preservation specialist with the Tennessee Historical Commission, provided a letter from her agency declaring the dam to be a “contributing resource” to the Sam Davis House that should not be demolished. One reason listed is the dam’s role in agriculture.
The State Historic Preservation Office “determined that the dam at the Sam Davis Home is eligible for the National Register as a contributing element to the property. This eligibility is based on looking at the property not only for Sam Davis’ local importance, but as part of the broader significance of a property representing the agricultural history of the county. As such, its removal would constitute an adverse effect.”
McClamroch said the historical commission is open to working with agencies on mitigation and minimizing effects. If the Army Corps of Engineers wants to appeal the eligibility determination, it has to take it to the keeper of the National Register.
Greg Tucker, the Rutherford County historian, is one of the people trying to save the dam. He said he questions the selling of environmental mitigation credits, which he calls a “big industry.” He said preservationists learned about the plan only when public notice was published. He cited estimates of $1.5 million in mitigation credits, which would go to the compact, he said.
County Commissioner Pettus Read is a trustee of the Sam Davis Home. The effort to remove the dam dates to 2015.
The pool has “taken a lot of beating from Stewarts Creek,” Read said. It is breaching, especially toward the school. When the water is low, a person can walk around the end of the dam, he said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has previously issued permits for its removal due to structural concerns, he said.
Read, who has spent his life in the agricultural field, said the dam does not serve any agricultural purpose.
Such dams built on blue-line (or major) streams are not often being rebuilt often unless they have an irrigation or flood-control purpose, and that is not the case here, he said. The trustees worry about liability.
The Cumberland River Compact, a watershed advocate, wants to help the Sam Davis Home remove the dam at no cost to the museum, Read said. The removal could cost about $750,000. The compact would pay for it and offset the cost by selling wetland mitigation credits to developers who need credits for their projects.
The compact must oversee the creek for seven years to make sure the dam’s removal does not lead to issues downstream like flooding, so certain funds must be held in trust during that time, Read said.
Tucker said he believes nothing needs to be done to the dam. He said that since 1939, there have no safety incidents. He said he also has concerns that the Cumberland River Compact would have control of part of the museum’s land for seven years. The museum and the school board should receive some of the mitigation funds as well, he said.
However, the Sam Davis Home trustees proposed to the RCS School Board a memorandum of understanding that would split any leftover mitigation impact funds after a certain time between the schools, the museum and the compact, Read said.
Tiffany Johnson is a Rutherford County Board of Education member and former executive director of the Sam Davis Home. She said she believes the dam is unsafe as several people have nearly drowned there and it is compromised and it creates flooding. Repairs could cost over $1 million, and the museum does not have that money.
The Tennessee Historical Commission previously allowed the dam’s removal, but after preservationists complained, the commission ruled the dam may be historical, Read said. The trustees do not believe that to be the case, he said.