MURFREESBORO — Interpretive signs being posted this week around the Rutherford County Courthouse do more than give bits of
information about the Public Square predating the Civil War, county grant coordinator Faye Elam says.
“You just feel like you’re living the history standing there reading it,” says Elam, describing the sense she gets looking at one of seven signs being erected on the square, “An 1860s View of East Main Street,” which features a shot by an unknown photographer some 150 years ago.
Elam, who chairs the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau, helped direct construction of the signs Monday with Mona Herring, vice president of the bureau. They should be up by mid-week, she said, in time for the Saturday Market when fruit and vegetables are sold on the square.
The East Main sign details the history of the former Union University, Christian Church and Cumberland Presbyterian, whose congregation was unable to finish construction before the start of the Civil War. Federal soldiers used the church as a hospital, barracks and prison during the occupation of Murfreesboro.
Other signs describe Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raid; the County Courthouse, one of a handful of antebellum courthouses remaining in Tennessee; the Square in Wartime, with separate interpretations on
soldiers, architecture and occupation; and the Founding of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro.
“I think it will add to the residents’ experience and the visitors’ experience when they come downtown because of all the history,” Herring said.
The city of Murfreesboro also has four interpretive signs posted through the program:
- at Cannonsburgh for Uncle Dave Macon Days;
- at the Center for the Arts on College Street, describing the history of the building, which was formerly the U.S. Post Office and * Linebaugh Library;
- at the Civic Plaza, describing the history of Murfreesboro and city government;
- and at West Main Street and the old depot, detailing the railroad and Fortress Rosecrans.
The bureau began working on the sign project 14 years ago, taking the vision of Jim Huhta, former director of MTSU’s
Center for Historic Preservation, and obtaining a $316,000 federal grant administered through the Tennessee Department of Transportation with the help of former Congressman Bart Gordon, Herring said.
The sign project cost a total of $519,000 and paid for 144 blue directional signs, with additional grants coming from the Christy-Houston Foundation and MTSU funding signs to make sure the university was highlighted as part of the project. The interpretive signs cost $8,000, Herring said.
Murfreesboro and Rutherford County have such a large number of newcomers and visitors it’s important to be able to tell the county’s story in a compelling manner, Herring said.
“On the weekends and evenings when people are strolling, it just adds to the experience,” Herring said.
The blue directional signs, which started going up in December 2009, have been helpful this week, she added, with thousands of people visiting Murfreesboro for the U.S. Youth Soccer Southern Regional
Elam pointed out that many people who visit Stones River National Battlefield along Old Nashville Highway come to the County Courthouse to continue their historical tour.
“It just ties it all together,” she said of the new signs.