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Tennessee: Improvements to State Route 73
(US 321), Townsend

Agency: Federal Highway Administration

Criterion for ACHP Involvement:
  • The project presented issues of concern to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, the Chickasaw Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma (Criterion 4), and evidenced procedural problems (Criterion 3).

Recent Developments

On April 11, 2001, ACHP executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for widening of State Route 73 (US 321) in Townsend, Tennessee. Other signatories to the MOA are the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI), the Tennessee Commission on Indian Affairs, the Tennessee Division on Archeology, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), and the Chickasaw Nation.

Mitigation measures in the MOA include completion of the identification of burials at the archeological sites, avoidance of further disturbance to these sites, and protection for burials which remain in place through the use of a concrete protective cap. For any burials to be relocated, the EBCI may conduct ceremonies and other treatments in accordance with their cultural beliefs.

The MOA also provides for public interpretation of the sites and TDOT assistance with design and construction of a Native American cultural center and display at the Townsend visitor’s center. To address long-term effects, the MOA calls for a meeting between tribal, county, and local officials to identify protection strategies which can be incorporated into future development of the area.


Several years ago, TDOT requested funds from FHWA to widen SR 73 (US 321). In May 1999, Section 106 review was completed when ACHP concurred with FHWA’s determination that the project would have no adverse effect on the Kinzel Springs Church, Apple Barn, Pony Ride, and Gas Company archeological sites.

The archeological sites had been determined to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places because of their potential to yield important information about the Native Americans who created them. While they could yield important data, the sites were not, however, considered notably significant for their associations with the broad patterns of events in Native American history.

In reaching these decisions, FHWA did not consult with the EBCI or any other Indian tribe. Had it done so, FHWA would have learned that these archeological sites represent a portion of the historically documented Tuckaleechee towns, a northern extension of the Overhill Cherokee settlements. Tribal traditionalists refer to these settlements as the former “western gate” of the Nation and their inhabitants as “gatekeepers.” As such, the places identified by these sites are part of a traditional landscape that documents the history and identity of the Cherokee and is affirmed by the presence of archeological contexts and content.

After being contacted by TDOT in May 1999, the EBCI visited the project area in June and, despite archeological reports to the contrary, maintained that burials were present at the sites. As predicted by the EBCI, FHWA identified its first burial at the sites during data recovery in November 1999, with more than 50 burial locations having been identified to date. To address these discoveries, FHWA drafted an MOA for review by all of the consulting parties in early November 2000.

The project generated a great deal of interest and controversy among the EBCI, as well as the Chickasaw Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, both of whom were also interested in the sites. Their concerns about the project and the treatment of burials were set forth in a resolution adopted at the January 2001 meeting of the United Southern and Eastern Tribes.

The EBCI, concerned about the treatment of these properties of religious and cultural significance to the tribe and frustrated by the substantial delay in reaching resolution, contacted ACHP. With ACHP participation, the terms of the draft MOA evolved substantially during an on-site consultation meeting held in March 2001 and an April 2001 meeting of all consulting parties (with the exception of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) held on the EBCI reservation.

Staff contact: Laura Dean

Updated June 6, 2002

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