Stolen history...

What would you do if you owned a piece of historic property, and a marker dedicated to a historically significant person born there rested on your land? Would you do what you could to ensure public access to that corner of your property? Would you donate the marker to a local museum? Would you be a good citizen and ensure that the generations that followed you would remember what happened there?

Or would you lock the gates and send the monument packing to parts unknown? Apparently, this property owner chose the latter...

A monument marking the birthplace of Admiral David Farragut,
seen last year in Farragut, Tenn. - Image:
The owner of what's widely considered to be the birthplace of noted U.S. naval figure David Farragut says she has given away a 111-year-old marker honoring the admiral.

Lylan Fitzgerald, who owns the Stony Point property off Northshore Drive, said she had no other choice but to have the marker removed.

Fitzgerald said she has had problems with vandals and trespassers, both official and unofficial, ever since a group of local historians started to discuss the historic significance of the site a few years ago. She felt compelled to act.

"It's a relief to me that it's gone," she said.

The Daughters of the American Revolution installed the stone in 1900, honoring America's first admiral amidst much fanfare.

The marker is in the hands of a historic collector who appreciates it and will take good care of it, Fitzgerald said. Rumors that the marker was moved to Texas are "a distinct possibility," she said.

World War I poster with Admiral Farragut
at Mobile Bay shouting out:
"Damn the torpedoes, go ahead!"
Born in 1801 in Stoney Point, near Knoxville, David Glasgow Farragut is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, usually paraphrased: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" by U.S. Navy tradition. His birthplace near Knoxville is historically significant because Farragut is considered to be one of America's most important military figures, having served with distinction in the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

According to the article, "For at least 90 years, the public was allowed to visit the monument, possibly creating a 'presumptive easement' that has since been disputed by Fitzgerald [the property owner]. Fitzgerald, who said she once tried to give the monument to the county, said historians have had over a hundred years to make proper arrangements for the preservation and display of the marker. 'They don't even have proof he was born here,' she said."

I don't pretend to know all the circumstances leading up to the unfortunate removal of this historic marker, but for history's sake, this property owner could have made some concessions for public access to this one corner of her property. On the other hand, I'm also wondering what efforts were made by the local historical groups involved to negotiate with the property owner to secure this place in history as a historic landmark? Apparently the site and the marker were under consideration for inclusion as a National Historic Landmark, and the local DAR chapter recently voted to create a memorial park within the public easement. However, this property owner appears to have grown weary of trespassers, and decided to take matters into her own hands.

If I had this monument in my back yard it would have been a source of personal pride, and I would have done everything in my power to preserve this marker and share the story of Admiral Farragut with the public. Now the monument is somewhere else, possibly in Texas, in the hands of an unknown collector. It's a terrible shame that cooler heads did not prevail in this instance.

UPDATE 9/28/2011: The Knoxville News Sentinel reports, "A series of miscommunications and missed opportunities may have led to the decision to move the stone marking what's widely believed to be the birthplace of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. Lylan Fitzgerald, owner of the West Knox County property where the monument stood for over 100 years, said she made an offer to give the marker to Knox County in 2010 before giving it away to a friend out of state in June. County officials say they're not sure they remember the specific offer, which Fitzgerald said she made July 6, 2010, in front of several witnesses. Fitzgerald said she made the offer contingent upon the marker being moved far enough away from her property to deter trespassers..." Click here to read more.

UPDATE 9/28/2011: Knoxville historian Jack Neely offers some insightful commentary on the controversy over this missing monument, and asks readers and his fellow Knoxvillians to consider what happens when heritage and property rights come into conflict. Neely writes, "can a community where the current property owner is the sole arbiter of historical value ever enjoy a visible, tangible heritage?" Click here to read Neely's entire article. It is well worth the read. (Hat tip to Michael Lynch).

UPDATE 11/9/2011: According to the Farragut Press, "The regent and vice regent from Samuel Frazier Chapter, National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution, were among members informed earlier this month that the granite monument marking the birthplace of Adm. James David Glasgow Farragut, discovered lost in August, had been found in Texas..." Click here to read more.

UPDATE 1/15/2012: The Knoxville News Sentinel reports: "Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett confirmed Friday he is close to reaching an agreement that would result in a large stone marker commemorating the birthplace of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut being placed on county property.

"We are working towards an agreement that could be finalized as early as next week," Burchett said.

The mayor said he met earlier this week with Lylan Fitzgerald, owner of the property off Northshore Drive where the marker stood for over one hundred years. Fitzgerald had the marker, which belonged to an area Daughters of the American Revolution chapter, removed because of objections about trespassers.

"She is a delightful lady to talk with. She had some valid concerns and we are addressing her concerns," Burchett said.

Details of the discussions cannot be disclosed until the deal is finalized, he said." Click here to read the entire story.

UPDATE 4/26/2012 - Jack Neely has written a lengthy piece about the missing monument mystery along with a bit of history behind the birthplace of Adm. David Glasgow Farragut. Click here to read the article, published in the Knoxville Metro Pulse.