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Irving Blog


Sometimes the absence of something helps you to better see what was there before even if you have no memory of it.

That was a thought running through my head Friday around Court Square as I watched the Christmas lights come down on a spring-like day in winter and read a sidewalk marker about how Court Square was almost developed three times, the last being in the 1940s when it was considered as the site for a parking garage.

Just across Second Street, the parking garage that had been there for decades is several piles of rubble that no longer bear any resemblance to the parking garage that few of us even gave a second thought to in recent years.

And with that you, or at least I, can begin to begin to imagine what it looked like when the Irving Block Prison stood on the lot.

We did a story on the site and the prison and the possibilities that below the rubble might be a few remnants of a truly appalling place with an actual dungeon and prisoners – men and women, civilian, Union and Confederate — who were chained to the wall for days and weeks at a time.

It helps if you have some old architecture in the immediate vicinity like the old Tennessee Club that is now the offices of Burch, Porter & Johnson law firm with its square windows in circles and other flourishes that would never be incorporated into the design of a new building.

They are features that lend themselves to shadows and guesses about what once was before it was possible to shed light on every feature. Not that we always succeed at that goal.

Decades from now, some other writer might be daydreaming about what the real Beale Street – you know, the one from the 1990s – must have looked like and been like and the characters that hung out there. Or what might they conjure up as the image of the Criminal Justice Center and its jail with the old fashioned automatic doors and pods where prisoners actually shared the same space?

Come back soon, spring.