Historic homes are sometimes lucky to get a second life in a new location. But one home in Franklin, known as the Cotton Gin House, is about to embark on a new life in not a second, but a third, locale.
The Cotton Gin House was originally built on Columbia Avenue just north of the Carter House sometime after the Civil War. When plans called for the construction of Franklin High School on the site in 1926, the house was moved a short distance to its current location at 109 Cleburne Ave. That parcel of land claimed its own share of history as the site of the Carter cotton gin where some of the bloodiest fighting occurred during the Battle of Franklin, and the house adopted the name of that original structure to become known as the Cotton Gin House.
In 1996 the house went up for sale, and spurred largely by a recent threat of development on other key land relating to the Battle of Franklin, the Heritage Foundation purchased the home to keep the property from falling victim to yet more development on battlefield land. The Heritage Foundation has leased the property ever since – most recently to local attorney John Malizo who has used it as office space for a dozen years – and the loan on the house has been paid off.
Fast forward to 2005, when 11 local organizations including the Heritage Foundation joined forces with Franklin’s Charge, a group whose mission includes reclaiming the Battle of Franklin battlefield. The group identified roughly 10 acres surrounding the Cotton Gin House as land that must be reclaimed and has been raising funds and purchasing property with the intent of creating Carter’s Hill Park in time for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 2014. That goal has been realized with the assistance of both local and national partners and all the property is either owned by Franklin’s Charge or other preservation-minded owners, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Civil War Preservation Trust.
What remains is the job of clearing the existing structures off the property that will become the urban park, and one of those structures is the Cotton Gin House. Earlier this year the Heritage Foundation announced that the home was for sale for $6,500, but the purchaser would be required to move the house off site and restore it in a new location.
More than 50 inquiries later, the party that best met the criteria for moving and restoring the house was John and Sharon McNeely. The McNeelys plan to take the house to Giles County and restore it as a retreat in what is known as Hunt Country. The McNeelys are no strangers to houses that move: They presently make their home in a house that was moved by the Heritage Foundation in the 1980s in order to preserve it from demolition.
The McNeelys plan to load up the house and take it to its new, third home in early 2014. Plans are underway to move two other houses off the Carter’s Hill Park site early next year, and the Domino’s Pizza and strip shopping center on the property will be demolished. Once the structures are removed, archeological work will begin to identify the exact location of the Carter Cotton Gin.
“We are honored to be the new stewards of the Cotton Gin House as it moves to the next chapter in its life,” said Sharon McNeely. “We are excited to be working with the Heritage Foundation not only on the move but also the restoration as a tribute to life in Williamson County in the 1800s. We want to thank the Heritage Foundation for sharing this piece of Franklin history with our family. One of life’s greatest lessons is to share, so with that said, it is our hope that with the rebirth of the Cotton Gin House the history of Williamson County will live on in the Hunt Country of Giles County.”
“The McNeelys are proven stewards of one historic home, and we are excited to be working with these trusted Heritage Foundation members to move the house to Giles County,” said Mary Pearce, executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County. “As historic preservationists go, the McNeelys have proven that they are movers and shakers.”