Walk down the Walkway of Counties on the east side of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park and at the halfway point you’ll find these mysterious fragments of limestone Ionic columns. There is a stela nearby that tells the story of these fragments. They were part of the original facade of the Tennessee State Capitol building. The Capitol, built between 1845 and 1859, was designed by William Strickland. It was built out of limestone pulled from a quarry near what is now 13th and Charlotte. The limestone deteriorated over time, and the original columns were replaced in a major renovation in the 1950s. The old columns were stored near the state prison on Centinneal Boulevard until the construction of Bicentennial Mall in 1995. Some were taken to the northwest side of the Capitol building and arranged by Charles Waterfield, who had worked on the original restoration. Others came to the Mall, though there’s no indication who arranged this set. Both the stela at the Mall and a sign at the Capitol say the arrangements are a tribute to those who built the Capitol. What neither acknowledges is the role of slave labor in constructing the Capitol. According to an article by Thomas Joseph Broderick IV,
In the spring of 1846, fifteen slaves, all men, were loaned to the state government by A.G. Payne, a Nashville stone mason. For nearly a year they carved out the Capitol’s cellar, their skilled labor worth nearly twice as much as the unskilled labor of free men.
In all the discussion of monuments and who we should and should not recognize, one thing is clear – there are many missing monuments. It would be a simple thing to add a sign at each site noting the labor of these fifteen men, leaving us with one fewer missing monument. See below for views from other angles, and for the four capitals that are found around the central column fragments.
Located on the 900 block of 6th Avenue North, about halfway between Harrison and Jefferson Street. There is plenty of parking in the park, including free two-hour parking almost directly across from the columns. (The ones on Capitol grounds can be reached by entering the parking lot at Charlotte and Rosa Parks Avenues and driving to the very end of the lot.)