By Rachael Finch, Preservation and Cultural Resource Management Consultant
Historic preservation means we embrace and engage with our past in the present to teach and inspire our community on the significance of why we preserve and sustain our historic places, spaces, and stories that have profoundly impacted our lives. Preservation is simply not just about the past though; it is also about safeguarding and stewarding our resources for future generations.
2023 proved to be a banner year for the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County! Over the past 12 months, we’ve blogged about current, relevant, and interesting information from the field concerning preservation advocacy, history, and culture. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, sit back, relax, and enjoy our quick recap of this year in preservation, education, and advocacy!
A Little Bit of Everything
2023 was a very busy year – in a good way! We jumped feet first into the first half of the year, and provided our members and readers with timely and relevant notes from the field, spoke out in favor of preservation at city and county meetings, and held many in person events and programs including our third annual countywide endangered list Sites to Save, to our third annual Summer Educator Institute, our 6th annual Preservation Symposium, and so much more! We even spent time on the road speaking at local events and attended and spoke at regional and national conferences! Before we look forward and reveal a sneak peek for 2024, here is a look back on our incredible work in 2023!
From the fall of 2022 into January of 2023, the Heritage Foundation diligently advocated for the preservation of historic Beechwood Hall, working with the private property owners, and concerned citizens offering best practices for continued community engagement while recognizing private property rights. As a result, we held a preservation advocacy workshop, and shared key touch points for pursuing grassroots preservation advocacy while inspiring collaborative preservation work in Williamson County. Good news – Beechwood Hall still stands!
February is all about love, and we certainly demonstrated our love for preserving places, spaces, and stories by advocating on capitol hill during the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce Day on the Hill! We spoke with lawmakers about budgetary needs for crucial funding to assist preservation advocacy in Williamson County and across Tennessee. We also began our year long advocacy work by attending the first workshop for the updates to Envision Franklin, presenting advocacy statements for keeping City Hall downtown, and working with our Downtown Franklin Association and its members on a proposal to lower property taxes through sustainable methods for keeping local building and business owners on Main Street. Though our advocacy work kept us busy, we kicked off our 4th annual Rick Warwick Lecture Series by hosting Ancient Art Archives to a packed house at the Franklin Theatre! We even headed to Nashville for the opening of the Tennessee State Museum’s Rosenwald Schools exhibit featuring Andrew Feiler’s photograph work, “A Better Life For Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,975 Schools that Changed America!”
The work of historic preservation is never “done.” Our members asked and we delivered our first-ever Preservation Boot Camp! This half day workshop covered the nitty-gritty of the preservation movement, how to list a historic place on the National Register, historic preservation overlays, maneuvering city and county processes, and advocacy tips and tools to be bold when standing up for preserving places, spaces, and stories in Williamson County!
As spring sprung into action, so did our programming! We kicked off our 2nd annual Practical Preservation Series with our first-ever cemetery preservation workshop in partnership with the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, and the Hard Bargain Association! This half-day workshop left attendees with a better understanding of why preservation cemeteries is all about community! Many headstones in the historic Toussaint L’Ouverture cemetery received TLC! We also hosted our beloved county historian Rick Warwick at the Franklin Theatre for an animated time of stories and on the places and spaces detailed in his book, Four Blocks of Franklin’s Main Street!
May is National Preservation Month and our team hit the road for some good ol’ fashioned fun, highlighting national tourism week across Williamson County as well as presenting our 3rd annual Sites to Save Endangered List! This year, multiple historic places faced the realities of urban encroachment, demolition, or abandonment. As a result of continued advocacy, we guided conversations and presented solution-based approaches for several property owners and developers to save historic resources!
3rd annual Summer Educator Institute, Revolutionary Ideals: Engaging the American Revolution in the Past and Present. Our Institute offers educators a content-rich program taught by nationally recognized scholars. This year, our program involved concentrated immersion in the American Revolution – revolutionary ideals – and its legacies on local history, preservation, and community engagement, fostering the impassioned exchange of ideas among our speaker cohort and educators.
Our ongoing Practical Preservation Series brought together several of our community partners – the Hard Bargain Association, Middle Tennessee Electric, and Habitat for Humanity – to present opportunities for historic property owners to learn about programs and funding to assist with critical repair work on their homes.
Throughout the summer, the Heritage Foundation advocated for best practices in preservation of the last green gateway along Franklin Grove. During this time, we filled The Franklin Theatre hosting the Preservation, Education, & The Middle Eight: A Town Hall and Advocacy Forum. Several community partners spoke alongside our organization contributing greatly to the overall concerns and advocacy for considering smart, well-planned growth.
August was an exceptionally busy night our 6th annual Preservation Symposium – Preservation on the Frontlines, brought together nearly eighty attendees at the Hsitory and Culture Center focused on realities and recognition for how best to approach challenges in the face of development and continued growth in Williamson County. Our local preservation partners, Hard Bargain Association, the Nolensville Historical Society, and Franklin Preservation Partners, spoke to the highs and lows of navigating the current realities of preserving historic and cultural resources, while our guest speakers, Christine Anglin from the historic Clayborn Temple in Memphis and Katherine Malone-France, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, eloquently delivered rousing presentations for how local advocacy can and does evoke national change. During the Symposium, we also held our annual preservation awards, presenting multiple awards for preservation in restoration and rehabilitation as well as a lifetime achievement award to African American historian Ms. Thelma Battle for her remarkable contributions to history and culture in Williamson County.
Our Warwick Lecture Series featured local attorney and author Tony Turnbow, who spoke to a large crowd on the historic Natchez Trace and the myths but also truths of John Murrell! We also conducted fieldwork in the county, visiting Nolensville, Triune, and Brentwood!
We celebrated preservation advocacy in style at our 50th annual Heritage Ball! We also continued our local advocacy work, meeting with property owners, drafting condition assessments, and finalizing interpretive content for the upcoming History and Culture Center. During Pumpkinfest, we hosted several hundred visitors during our annual Haunted Tours at the Lehew Magid House for Historic Preservation (Old, Old Jail) while simultaneously, our 3rd annual Jail n’ Bail raised nearly $4000.00 for preservation!
We finalized a cemetery preservation plan and participated in assisting with the VIP sneak peek of the History and Culture Center! This will be one of the most anticipated and engaging cultural amenities we cannot wait to share with our community in 2024!
We closed out the month with our last Practical Preservation Series focused on the dos and don’ts of historic home repair, presented by Dan Bird, owner of the Dan Group and soft launching our GIS countywide historic and cultural resource survey! Side note – be on the lookout for our team in the field (literally!) surveying historic places and spaces, beginning in early 2024!
As we close out 2023, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful preservation advocacy members, community partners, civic leaders, and citizenry who dedicate their time, talent, and resources to saving the places and sharing all stories of our county’s history and culture. The preservation of Williamson County’s historic and cultural resources can only continue for future generations by those of us willing to give of our time and gifts to ensure our treasured places, spaces, and stories will live on for future generations.
So, as we close our 2023, we ask each of you to consider a gift to the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. Your gift will help us continue our nearly fifty-six-year promise to save the places that matter, investing in the future of Williamson County’s historic communities. Please go to www.williamsonheritage.org/donate to give the gift of preservation to safeguard our collective future. With your support, and our laser-focused team, we can do more for historic places in Wiliamson County in 2024!