By Rachael Finch, Senior Director of Preservation & Education


“How will we know it is us without our past?”

John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath



“It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.” William Murtagh, known as the “first keeper” of the National Register of Historic Places knew then, what we continue to do now; be a people who save places to share stories connected to its past in the present to secure its future. May is National Preservation Month and this year’s theme – People Saving Places – is exactly what the Heritage Foundation advocates for every day. People make a difference in our community. One person advocating for the preservation of a place can ignite a spark – a movement – to change a community for the better.


Recently, we announced our annual Sites to Save list, which seeks to identify historic places in Williamson County that are vulnerable to demolition, development, or neglect. The Sites to Save list is designed as a tool to help the community come alongside the Heritage Foundation in its efforts to raise awareness of Williamson County’s significant historic, cultural, geographical, and archaeological resources, including buildings, structures, cemeteries, historic districts, archaeological sites, natural and cultural landscapes, while respecting the rights of property owners whose land may include such resources.

But we cannot do this alone. It takes many people to save places! Preservation is a marathon, not a sprint. And at the Heritage Foundation, we know all too well the realities of what it took to save downtown Franklin. In fact, it almost didn’t happen. But with determined people with a vision to see places saved, we have a vibrant Main Street, beautiful hilltop vistas, reclaimed battlefield landscapes, a brilliant historic theatre, and historic properties that tell a story of our collective past. We still enjoy these places today because of the perseverance of people who understood what could have been lost and decided to take action.


It Starts with One Building – One Place – At A Time

Despite our fifty-six years of success, we were not met with universal support. As Franklin began to grow, so did the opposition from some developers. Naturally, the pushback made a few downtown merchants nervous. Some merchants feared losing their business while restoration occurred. A handful of business owners were not sure if it would even be worth the investment.

Heritage Foundation used one building downtown as an example of how preservation of a historic building could be done. Once completed, change did not happen overnight. Not everyone was on board. There is always pain when we grow. But through the Heritage Foundation and community grassroots advocacy the change is exactly what was needed to save historic Franklin. John Beasley – a fierce advocate for saving Franklin’s historic Main Street – completed the first commercial restoration in 1963! (Vintage sits today) Beasley’s example helped launch the Heritage Foundation four year later, becoming its first president.


Main Street, A Sense of Place and Preserving Streetscape

By the 1960s, Franklin’s downtown was languishing. But for the neighbors how recognized the power of place and advocated for change, the sustainability of Franklin’s Main Street was at a crossroads. Through preservation advocacy and community engagement, the Heritage Foundation partnered with the City of Franklin to promote economic revitalization and heritage tourism through Streetscape. In May 1995, Franklin was honored as one of the best downtown areas in the nation when it received one of the first five “Great American Main Street” awards ever given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since then, accolades have included the “Best Small Town in Tennessee,” “America’s Most Romantic Main Street,” and “One of America’s Greatest Antique Destinations.”

The Franklin Theatre – Home of First Kisses

Franklin Theatre operated from 1937 to 2007. The Franklin Theatre opened in the summer of 1937, and immediately became a treasured asset on Main Street. It is fondly known as the “Home of First Kisses.” Over the next 70 years, people in Franklin continued to visit the Theatre, but unfortunately, the doors eventually closed in 2007.The Heritage Foundation acquired the Theatre in 2008. The Heritage Foundation could not let this historic building be lost. With the support of more than a thousand donors, the Heritage Foundation stepped in to buy and rehabilitate the historic landmark. After three years of work – and an investment of more than $8 million – the historic Franklin Theatre re-emerged better than ever. After a three-year rehabilitation, it re-opened in 2011. Now a premier venue and an anchor for downtown activity, it hosts a variety of music, drama, and film.


Civil War Battlefield Reclamation – Roper’s Knob, Carter’s Hill, and Eastern Flank Battlefield Parks

Preservation does not just happen by accident. Preservation is deliberate. In 1994, we raised $400,000 to purchase and preserve Roper’s Knob with the State of Tennessee. Roper’s Knob is the highest hill in Franklin. When we learned it was slated for development, we worked with the Tennessee Department of Archaeology and formed the 1,000 friends of Roper’s Knob to save it. A key signal station during the Civil War, the site was listed on the National Register in 2000. The Heritage Foundation gifted its share to the city of Franklin, which preserves and interprets other sites throughout the city’s Civil War landscape. This remains one of Heritage Foundation’s most successful Civil War battlefield preservation initiatives to date.


Historic Homes, Historic Spaces


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 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 protect 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 Skipper and Debbie Carlisle 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.

Ready, Set, Participate & Advocate!

There are many ways to get involved with the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN.


Individual Membership

Be a voice for the future of our county by supporting the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN.  Through our work, we advocate for the preservation of our historic and cultural resources, smart, well-planned growth, promote sound local economic development, and share all stories associated with our collective cultural heritage.

Williamson County residents are the backbone of our organization. We rely on our community members to perpetuate our mission throughout our community – and they never let us down. Last year alone, our membership helped us by raising $18million of private investment, spent on nearly 70 rehabilitation, public improvements, and new construction projects, joined nearly 400,000 attendees at our signature events, volunteered more than 5,000 hours, and provided more than 1,500 donations and sponsorships to ensure we continue our work of preservation, education, and advocacy. To become a member, contact Heather Kantor at


So, do you know of a place that needs advocacy? Contact us! Let’s work together to save the places that matter in Williamson County, Tennessee!