The Interpretive Center at the Giles County Trail of Tears Memorial Park once served as the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Dedicated on August 10, 1941, the church was built largely from donations from Ethel Mars and her daughter that were made in the memory of Frank Mars, founder of the Mars Candy Company and owner of Milky Way Farms. In 1984, the building was sold to the First Baptist Church, and in 2002 the congregation donated the building to the Trail of Tears Memorial Committee for use as an interpretive center to educate the public about the Trail of Tears. On October 31, 2002, the 300 ton building was relocated three blocks to its present location.
For the next ten years, the building lacked interior exhibits and remained closed to the public. In 2012, the Giles County Tourism Foundation, the Tennessee Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, and members of the local community approached the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) for assistance with exhibit development for the Interpretive Center. The CHP agreed to fund the development and creation of a ten-panel exhibit, and CHP Graduate Research Assistant David Sprouse and I authored all of the text for the panels. In addition, I worked to find appropriate images, consulted on the design, and oversaw the exhibit’s production and installation.
The “Crossroads of the Trail of Tears” exhibit opened on August 23, 2013. The exhibit tells the broader story of Cherokee removal but also focuses on the Bell and Benge detachments of the Trail of Tears that passed through Giles County in 1838. The Interpretive Center remains a exemplary case study of successful adaptive reuse.
The Giles County Trail of Tears Memorial Park & Interpretive Center is located at 220 Stadium Street in Pulaski, TN. For more information, call the Giles County Tourism Foundation at (931) 424-4044.