Volunteers Provide Victorian Flavor For Dickens of a Christmas

John Fraser, Historic Franklin Book_smallCome December 14 and 15, festival-goers in downtown Franklin are likely to encounter Tiny Tim and the rest of the Cratchits, Scrooge, Jacob Marley, dozens of Victorian dancers, pickpockets, and the ringmaster of them all, Fagin.

On any other day Fagin answers to the name John Fraser, and for years he has been volunteering his time to recruit and organize the characters who roam the streets and lend much of the Victorian flavor to the annual Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin.  Fraser first adopted his alter ego some 25 years ago after playing Fagin in a Pull-Tight Players’ production of Oliver! and, as he put it, inviting himself to show up at Dickens in costume and roam the streets in character.

Now he rounds up many of the characters every year, although working through Fraser is by no means necessary. “If anyone wants to come in character, all they have to do is show up,” said Fraser.  “Think up a character you can be who could interact with people who come to the festival and put together a costume.  For example, come as an old chimney sweep and offer to clean the chimneys of people on the street.  They have to respond to you.  People come to Dickens to be engaged, and that’s the fun part.”  In addition to the volunteers who Fraser organizes, another 200 or more musicians, dancers and performers entertain and engage the public during the event.

Now a Top 20 event in the Southeast, Dickens is one of the Heritage Foundation’s signature events, capturing the essence of historic preservation by showcasing downtown Franklin’s charming Victorian facades.  But it would not be possible without Fraser and the dozens of Heritage Foundation members who joyfully volunteer their time to make our street festivals a success.  In addition to the street characters, more than 100 other Heritage Foundation members will man the Heritage Foundation’s festival headquarters tent during Dickens, check in arts and crafts vendors, assist with carriage rides on the square, brew and sell hot chocolate and spiced cider, sell roasted chestnuts, host the green room for street characters and volunteers, assemble and distribute candles and song sheets for the town sing, and serve as town criers.

“I do this because it’s fun,” said Fraser.  “Over the years this has grown into a huge festival, and it’s fun to not only interact with the public, but also to see the same people come back year after year as performers and musicians.  Now we have people come from all over the world.  I met a man from China who knew about Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin, Tennessee.  And I have to wonder:  How many Christmas cards have I appeared in that I didn’t know anything about?”

If you are interested in volunteering for Dickens of a Christmas or any other Heritage Foundation event, contact Kristy Williams at 615-591-8500, ext. 18, or at kwilliams@historicfranklin.com.


Journal Features Eight-Page Spread On Historic Williamson County Home

Breezeway Heritage Foundation members Skipper and Debbie Carlisle don’t just talk the historic preservation talk; they live it, too.  And their commitment to preservation has earned them a feature in A Primitive Place & Country Journal magazine.

The eight-page spread in the Winter 2013 issue of the magazine discusses both the history of their home, Breezeway, and Debbie’s collection of Southern primitive antiques.  Breezeway, built in 1830 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is Williamson County’s oldest double pen dogtrot home, and has been integrated into the Breezeway subdivision off of Clovercroft Road east of Wilson Pike.  The house had been used as a hunting cabin for years, but had been vacant for more than two decades when it and the land surrounding it was purchased by Bob Parks Realty for development. The Heritage Foundation worked with Bob Parks to paint the exterior of the house and secure it against vandalism while a preservation-minded buyer could be found.  Bob Parks secured historic overlay zoning for the house, while the Heritage Foundation worked with the city’s developer to ensure that the development plan left the historic home surrounded by 30 acres of open space to preserve its context.

After its purchase by the Carlisles in 2011 the house went through a dramatic renovation which included the installation of modern amenities and an addition. The couple’s preservation efforts have been rewarded with the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Preservation Award and with a Certificate of Merit from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Their hard work has not gone unnoticed by descendants of the home’s original owner, John Bonapart Herbert, who presented the Carlisles with a hand-stitched quilt made by Temperance Herbert and a portrait of John Green Herbert in his Confederate uniform.  Just the third family to own the home over the course of 183 years, the Carlisles are proving to be worthy stewards of an important piece of Williamson County history.

Subscribe to the magazine here.


National Recognition Keeps Coming For Downtown Franklin

photo by Jill Zientek
photo by Jill Zientek

Travel + Leisure Names Franklin One of “America’s Favorite Towns” and More

FRANKLIN, Tenn.– Travel + Leisure Magazine has named Franklin, Tennessee one of “America’s Favorite Towns,” following an online readers’ poll conducted last month. Coming in at #8 on the list, Franklin was included among other popular small-town tourism destinations such as Park City, Utah; Telluride, Colo.; and Amelia Island, Fla.

“There’s a festival for virtually every month of the year hosted in 18th-century Franklin’s brick-paved downtown—named among the country’s best by the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” the Travel + Leisure entry reads. “You might sample beer and Irish whiskey at the Main Street Brew Fest each March or bluegrass fiddling in late July, or join a Dickens-themed Christmas celebration. The town also ranked No. 3 for Christmas lights.”

The honor follows another T + L shout out, announced just last week: the publication ranked Franklin as the #18 on the “America’s Best Towns for Halloween“–citing the 30th Annual Pumpkinfest, Franklin Tomorrow’s Chili Cook-off, tour company Franklin on Foot’s actor-led ghost tours, and the Lotz House Civil War museum as viable reasons to journey to Franklin for the fall holiday. Poll results also show that readers voted Franklin the #7 “Friendliest Town in America.”

“These kinds of honors are a great reward for the efforts of so many people who work to make Franklin such a great place to live and work. Our Main Street program’s success is largely attributable to the business owners, and the passion they have for our community,” said Nancy Williams, Downtown Franklin Association (DFA) director. “It’s encouraging to continue to see Franklin being recognized as an authentic, eclectic place that offers something for everyone. Like we always say around here, downtown Franklin is 14 miles and 100 years from Nashville.”

In 1995, Franklin was honored as one of five “Great American Main Streets” in the inaugural annual competition held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since then, it has been recognized by various outlets with titles including “Best Small Town in Tennessee,” “America’s Most Romantic Main Street,” “One of America’s Greatest Antique Destinations,” and “Best Places to Visit for Historic Preservation,” among others.

The DFA works in partnership with its members and the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County to protect and preserve the city’s cultural resources, and continues to help spearhead the revitalization of Franklin’s historic downtown core. Together, the two non-profit organizations organize and promote several festivals and happenings each year, including the upcoming Dickens of a Christmas, Dec. 14-15. For more information about the DFA’s work and the events it coordinates, go to www.downtownfranklintn.com.

To view Travel + Leisure‘s “America’s Favorite Towns” poll results, go to www.travelandleisure.com/toc.


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.”


Next Generation Laying Foundation for Historic Preservation, Sept. 28-29

The Next Generation Heritage Foundation is heading up efforts to rebuild a bit of Franklin history.  In conjunction with the Dry Stone Conservancy (DSC), Next Gen will be hosting a workshop to both educate aspiring stonemasons and rehabilitate the walls of Rest Haven cemetery in the process.

This two-day workshop will be held Saturday, Sept. 28 and Sunday, Sept. 29, and will focus on the crumbling stone wall façade on Fourth Avenue North.  Workshop participants will learn the basics of dry stone masonry, an architectural feature that is a hallmark of Tennessee and Kentucky.

In addition to the hands-on workshop, Next Gen and the Dry Stone Conservancy will be hosting a presentation on the history of dry stone walls and their importance to the area.  This free presentation will be held Friday, Sept. 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the Franklin City Hall boardroom, and is open to the public.  The featured speaker will be Neil Rippingale, Master Craftsman with DSC.

“It’s not often that we literally get to lay the foundation for historic preservation in our community, and to make an impact that will benefit future generations here in Franklin,” says Next Gen president Sean Carroll. “Rest Haven is the final resting spot for such notable Franklinites as Tod Carter, so we are honored to help restore this hallowed ground.”

Rest Haven has been the site of previous restoration work, most recently in 2007 when the Heritage Foundation and DSC partnered on a similar rehabilitation project.  Since then, the City of Franklin Parks Department has assumed responsibility for the upkeep of Rest Haven, and is proudly partnering with Next Gen on this project.

Registration for this two-day course is $300 per participant, and includes all tools and materials.  Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

The Next Generation of the Heritage Foundation (NGHF) is comprised of members 21 to 40, and supports the larger mission of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County: To help protect and preserve the architectural, geographic and cultural heritage of Franklin and Williamson County and to promote the ongoing revitalization of downtown Franklin in the context of historic preservation.

Since its inception in 2006, Next Gen has hosted “Historic Socials” at local historic homes, hosted the last event held in the historic Franklin Theatre, chaired homes during Historic Franklin’s Tour of Homes, published two cookbooks–A Taste of Historic Franklin and A Taste of Historic Franklin Vol. II–and held an annual (and wildly popular) fund-raising event,Three Blind Vines, where all proceeds benefit the long-term sustainability of the Franklin Theatre.

For more information, contact the Heritage Foundation at 615-591-8500.

Rest Haven Cemetery  4th ave. in front of produce mkt.  (25 ft.)

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Early 1900s House to be Moved From Site of Future Carter Cotton Gin Park

Blue House

The Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County is presenting a rare opportunity to buy a well-kept historic home with a great story for less than $10,000. The catch: the buyer must relocate the home to a suitable property in Williamson County.

The story-and-a-half home, built near the turn of the 20th century on the site of the former Franklin High School on Columbia Avenue, was moved across the street in the 1920s to this location to make way for the new high school. The simple post-Civil War house, which sits on the site of the Carter Cotton Gin that played such a pivotal role in the Battle of Franklin, includes all of the original trim, fireplaces, beaded board paneling and an incredible central staircase, along with several original windows and doors. The Foundation is offering it for $7,500, and will advise a qualified buyer on the relocation process.

“This is a historic home that has a lot of history, and we want it to remain a part of Franklin’s story,” said Heritage Foundation Executive Director Mary Pearce. “For the right person, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase a historic house for next to nothing. We’ve been involved in moving nearly a dozen old homes; it is hard, tedious work and can be expensive, but it’s a labor of love. It is the road of last resort to save a house from demolition.”

The house is thought to have been built by Dr. Samuel Henderson Jr., who lived there until his death. Henderson’s heirs sold it to the City of Franklin when the site was chosen for Franklin High School in the mid 1920s, and the City offered this house and the house next door to purchase and move.

It is believed that Mrs. Robbie Hunter, who owned the Carter House at the time, is the one who relocated this house to a vacant lot on Cleburne Street, where it sits today. The current location of the second house is unknown.  Mrs. Hunter rented the home out until her death in 1946, at which point it was inherited by her brother, Bennett Hunter, who then sold the house at auction. For years the Sawyer family lived there, and it was later owned and rented out by Heritage Foundation founding member Roy Barker. The Heritage Foundation purchased the property for $162,000 in 1997. Local realtor Danny Anderson handled the transaction at no cost, and then-Heritage Foundation President Julian Bibb was the pro bono attorney. The organization put $32,000 cash down, and the property owner, Mr. Barker, carried the financing.

“The Heritage Foundation purchased this property hoping that one day we might be able to reclaim more of the property that was at the epicenter center of the Battle of Franklin,” Pearce said. “Now that the Carter Cotton Gin Park is becoming a reality, this home needs to be moved to interpret what happened on this site that means so much to Civil War history. This house has already been moved once, but we can never change the location of this sacred ground.”

Plans call for the house to be moved off the property by March of 2014. Interested parties should contact Pearce at the Heritage Foundation at 615-591-8500 x15.

Cotton Gin-blue house-1

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Hillsboro Road

Inch by Inch, Step by Step, Block by Block…..

Years ago, citizens of Williamson County saw the potential future of downtown Franklin–now known as “America’s Favorite Main Street.”

Hard work, grants, local funding and great design work has turned Historic Downtown Franklin into a must-see destination for visitors from all over the world. It has given the citizens of Franklin a reason to be proud of their hometown.

Though we’ve taken great strides, there remains a problem–and it just happens to be the gateway into our downtown core:

Hillsboro Road

Hillsboro Road

Since the “500 Year Flood” re-designed this area in May of 2010, Hillsboro Road has become all but abandoned.  The only redevelopment has come at Sonic, French’s Shoes, Juice Bar, and a handful of others in the flooded area. Empty lots, buildings in disarray and other issues have made this area a block away from the beautiful historic district a dismal gateway to downtown Franklin. This area, if properly developed, could lead to a future of better flood control, new businesses, more jobs, and an area that we can all be proud of.

We’ve seen great, great improvement in the past two years.

We encourage you to continue to contact the City of Franklin’s Board of Mayor and Alderman and encourage them to keep moving forward with the streetscaping of Hillsboro Road.