Landmarks preserve story of Lenoir's Civil War role

By Matt Lakin

Jason Shaffer of the Civil War Trails program installs one of Loudon County’s first
markers Friday on the state’s Civil War Trail in front of Lenoir Cotton Mill in downtown
Lenoir City.LENOIR CITY - Loudon County claimed a place Friday on Tennessee's Civil War Trail with two historic markers in memory of the family that gave the town of Lenoir City its name.

William Ballard Lenoir and his family owned a 5,000-acre plantation, now covered by most of the city. His home, built in 1821, and the family's cotton mill, built in 1830, still stand near the corner of Depot and Bank streets.

The markers will tell the buildings' stories.

The house and mill survived the Civil War, including a June 19, 1863, raid by Union troops. When soldiers threatened to burn the cotton mill, Lenoir's son Benjamin walked through their ranks to give the men a Masonic handshake and talk them into sparing the mill. Benjamin Lenoir's wife, Henrietta, sheltered a Confederate soldier in the house before Union authorities found him.

"This is a perfect example of the kinds of stories we want to tell," said Mitch Bowman, executive director of the Virginia-based nonprofit Civil War Trails program. "These markers highlight history that hasn't been highlighted before. "

The program covers more than 860 sites in five states - 40 of those sites in Tennessee, which recently joined the program through a federal grant.

The grant covers 80 percent of the $5,500 cost for each marker, with local communities putting up the remaining $1,100 and a $200 annual maintenance fee. .

"Some of the city council members ponied up money out of their own pockets," said Mary Bryant, director of the Loudon County Visitors Bureau.

Supporters say the program pays off. An estimated 10 percent of American travelers seek out Civil War historic sites each year, Bowman said.

Modern-day vandals weren't as kind as the Union Army. The mill burned in 1991 from an arsonist's match, and only a shell remains.

Gerald Augustus, a retired educator and local writer, researched the details for both markers. He hopes they can keep the story of each place alive.

"It's wonderful to have them here, for the people coming through and for the locals who don't yet know the story," he said.