HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (July 23, 2021) – Maintenance personnel onboard the Motor Vessel Iroquois removed vegetation and stabilized a section of shoreline on Old Hickory Lake this week to address erosion issues nearby the historic Rock Castle Slave Cemetery, an important cultural resource in the community.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Maintenance Support Team worked July 19-22 to reshape the landscape and install 180 tons of riprap about five feet deep along 190 linear feet of shoreline to prevent erosion caused by waves that would hit and undercut it as motor vessels pass by on the lake.
Crystal Tingle, Old Hickory Lake resource manager, said archaeologists and park rangers with the Corps of Engineers have been monitoring the shoreline adjacent to the cemetery for more than 20 years to ensure the historic preservation of the gravesites.
“In 2021 the Corps of Engineers received the funds needed to provide bank stabilization to the site in the form of riprap,” Tingle said. “Though no imminent danger to burials, it was important for the Corps of Engineers to appropriately stabilize the shoreline to protect the historic property for years to come.”
Mason Carter, civil engineer in the Operations Division Maintenance Section, said the team carefully reshaped the shoreline in preparation for the riprap in case there were any unknown remains that might be present close to the ongoing work. He said that Montana Martin, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District, closely monitored the landscaping to ensure cultural resources would not be disturbed.
“While it is believed most of the graves are further up the bank, once we began to cut back into the earth to create a smooth surface for the riprap, the archaeologist was there to monitor and make sure there were no signs of remains,” Carter said.
The Nashville District had measures in place during the work in case any unexpected remains were located. Carter said the good news is none were found, and the Corps placed the stone as planned to mitigate any further erosion on the shoreline.
“I’m proud to be able to do anything that is able to help out and preserve a part of this area’s history and to respectfully honor the remains of the slaves that were here,” Carter said.
The cemetery is located on a portion of a land grant provided to Gen. Daniel Smith in the 1790s following the American Revolutionary War. Smith established Rock Castle Plantation and his descendants would own the land for nearly 200 years. Following the Civil War, freed slaves continued to work the land as sharecroppers.
An estimated 37 gravesites are located at Rockcastle Slave Cemetery, which is now between several homes near Drakes Creek. An engraved marker at the site includes the names of 28 people believed to be buried there.
Adjacent landowners informed the Tennessee Historical Commission as far back as the late 1990s about their concerns for erosion approximately 20 feet from the gravesites. The Corps of Engineers determined the graves were not in imminent danger and continued to monitor the shoreline, deferring the stabilization project until now.
A nearby resident who preferred not to be identified said the community has been waiting a long time for this project, but seeing the large equipment show up on the shoreline helped with understanding just how big of a project it really is.
“The cemetery is a significant asset to the community,” the resident explained. “This represents a part of the culture back then that we may not be so proud of, but it is something we understand happened, and we can show our respect now for this piece of land that is sacred. People come here and meditate and it’s a good place for that. Thinking about how far we’ve come from those days, I think it’s (this project) one of the best things I’ve seen my tax dollars do. So, the Corps is doing a great job.”
Dale Raines, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District chief engineer assigned to the Iroquois, said when the team arrived, they could see where erosion had undermined the streambank. He said tasks like removing vegetation and stumps and applying riprap from the barges were challenging for the crew.
“We cut it back to the good soil and we started applying the rock,” Raines said. “I always like being able to produce a product that our stakeholders can share and view and see that we are making a difference.”
Federal funding covered the stabilization project’s labor and materials at a cost of approximately $90,000.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Old Hickory Lake on Facebook at www.facebook.com/oldhickorylake.)