Visionary and Preservationist Honored With Main Street Plaque

Mary Pearce, Calvin and Marilyn Lehew, and Cyril Stewart
Mary Pearce, Calvin and Marilyn Lehew, and Cyril Stewart

Heritage Foundation Holds Ceremony to Install Plaque Dedicated to Calvin Lehew

FRANKLIN, Tenn.—On October 23, Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County board members and stalwarts of the community gathered to honor Calvin Lehew and his visionary efforts that helped revitalize Historic Downtown Franklin over the past three decades. Lehew and his wife, Marilyn, are often credited for leading the renaissance of Main Street that began in the early 1980s, along with John Noel and Ed Stolman.

During the ceremony Lehew recalled his first Main Street purchase—seven buildings for $350,000 collectively—and Heritage Foundation Executive Director Mary Pearce unveiled the entrepreneur’s bronze plaque, mounted at the corner of Fourth Avenue North and Main Street.

“What would Main Street be without Calvin? Thankfully, we don’t have to answer that question,” Pearce said. “The Heritage Foundation is also grateful for Calvin’s vision in saving the Factory at Franklin and his longtime advocacy for the Natchez Trace and land preservation.”

In May, the Heritage Foundation surprised Lehew with the honor, in conjunction with the launch of his book “Flying High,” co-written by Stowe Daily Shockey. Nearly 400 people were in attendance at the event, where Christian artist TobyMac performed.

Lehew was born and raised above a country store in Leiper’s Fork. He spent time in Washington, D.C. exploring politics as a page at the urging of the Albert Gore Sr. family before attending the University of Tennessee to earn a degree.

The visionary’s first revitalization success story lies in the design and implementation of Carter’s Court, an award-winning specialty center modeled after the European villages he had always admired. Just off Columbia Avenue, he molded the set of 25 shops and restaurants into the seventh largest tourist attraction in the state.

“Why did we invest here? Well, this was my hometown and we needed to do something,” Lehew said. “I knew that downtown Franklin needed to adhere to a certain design, and I went to Columbia Avenue to prove to others that the concept would work. Carter’s Court was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.”

In the mid-1980s, Noel discovered that 20 downtown Franklin buildings were for sale, and promptly called Lehew to help spearhead the Main Street Renaissance.  With friends who shared their vision, the Lehews helped lead the Streetscape project, convincing other property owners to take on the cost burden through added property taxes.

Lehew says at the time, he rented the buildings at $3 a square foot, compared to the $25-35-per-foot going price today; a concrete indicative of the impact he’s made on a once-dying downtown.

“More and more towns around the Southeast are seeing us, and want to copy what we’ve done,” he said. “We are a model for the rest of the nation.”

Lehew recently sold the Factory at Franklin, a formerly condemned stove factory that he transformed in the late ‘90s to encompass an eclectic center of creativity containing spaces for retail, dining, learning, entertainment and offices.

Currently, he serves as president of the Natchez Trace Parkway Association, the three-state organization that was ultimately successful in gaining funding to complete the Trace.

Though he says he’s made a graceful exit from the real estate side of downtown Franklin, Lehew references current community leaders who are continuing to lead preservation efforts in and around Historic Downtown Franklin.

“There always work to be done,” he said. “But I’ve achieved my goal. This town is still growing, but there are new people to take efforts over.”


30th Annual Pumpkinfest
Fills Franklin’s Main Street Saturday, Oct. 26

FRANKLIN, Tenn.—Historic Downtown Franklin hosts one of the community’s favorite street festivals Saturday, Oct. 26, with the 30th annual Pumpkinfest from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on five blocks of Main Street.

Presented by Bank of America, Pumpkinfest includes stages at Five Points and the Public Square, costume contests, continous entertainment on two stages, a chili cook-off, arts and crafts and some new fall activities this year.

“Pumpkinfest is a great day to enjoy Main Street,” said Downtown Franklin Association President Bob Roethemeyer, who owns the shop Avec Moi on Main Street. “This year, downtown merchants are adding a scarecrow contest to add to the fun. You’ll see the scarecrows up around downtown Franklin in advance of the event and the public will have a chance to vote on their favorites. Fall is really a great time to enjoy America’s favorite Main Street.”

Other activities of Pumpkinfest include:
• More than 75 arts and crafts booths will feature handcrafted fall and holiday items. Booths will be set up and open from the Public Square and East Main Street to First Avenue from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
• Children’s activities will include pumpkin painting, free games with small prizes offered by several local non-profits, inflatables, pony rides and a petting zoo, games and more.
• Two stages will offer continuous entertainment from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
• The Franklin Tomorrow Chili Cook-off will feature 12 teams competing in the 11th annual contest. A $10 ticket includes 12 samples from local teams. The tent is at Third Avenue South, between City Hall and the Courthouse, and they’ll be serving from 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m. or as long as the chili lasts.
• Children, adults and even pets can compete in five categories during the annual costume contest on the Public Square. The categories are: pets; children, ages 0-2; 3-5; 6-11 and 12+. The entry fee is $2, and sign-up is next to the stage in front of City Hall, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is a maximum of 50 contestants in each category. Contestants must be entered and present at the stage on the Public Square by 3 p.m. to participate. Competition starts at 3 p.m. and concludes by 4 p.m.
• For some spooky fun, tours of downtown Franklin’s two historic cemeteries on North Margin Street (two blocks from Main Street) will be offered from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday evening. In “Grave Matters: Stories Behind the Stones,” costumed actors relay fascinating stories of the cemeteries’ inhabitants. Tickets are $15 for ages 14 and up, and $5 for ages 7 to 13. Tickets may be purchased at www.franklinonfoot.com, at the Heritage Foundation office at 134 Second Avenue North or at the gate the night of the event.
Here’s the stage line-up for the 30th annual Pumpkinfest:
City Hall Stage
9:50 a.m. Opening Ceremony
10:00 a.m. Southern Academy of Irish Dance
11:00 a.m. Tennessee Dance Arts Conservatory
Noon Franklin School of Performing Arts
1:00p.m. Prima Performance
2:30 p.m. Tommy Jackson’s “Rocky Top Revue”
2:00 p.m. Ann Carroll School of Dance & Columbia State
3:00 p.m. Costume Contest
4:00 p.m. Tommy Jackson “Rocky Top Revue”
5:15 p.m. Nashville’s Country Swing Allstar’s
6 p.m. Festival concludes

5 Points Stage
10 :00 a.m. Dixie Strutters
11:20 a.m. Johnny Campbell & The Bluegrass Drifters
12:30p.m. Fiddle Frenzy
1:20p.m. 2 Country 4 Nashville
2:30p.m. Annabelle’s Curse
3:45p.m. John England & the Western Swingers
5:00p.m. Diamond Hitch

Now in its 30th year, the annual fall event is produced by the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County and its division, the Downtown Franklin Association. Pumpkinfest is presented by Bank of America, the City of Franklin, Williamson Medical Center, Vanderbilt, Fox 17, Williamson A.M./The Tennessean, and Clear Channel Radio.

Pumpkinfest is a free event, except for special activities as noted. For more information please call 615-591-8500 or visit www.historicfranklin.com or www.downtownfranklintn.com.