The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN is a nationally respected nonprofit organization that saves historic places, stewards our cultural heritage through signature events for the community, advocates for the preservation of green space and endangered properties, and strives to be a model organization and friend to all.
We would like to share the facts about our plans for Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens, the former campus of O’More College of Design in downtown Franklin, that we are currently working to preserve and share as a community asset for generations to come. Our goal for Franklin Grove is to create a sense of place, timelessness, and beauty for all Franklin and Williamson County citizens and visitors to engage with art, education, history, nature, and community.
In 2018, after O’More moved to Belmont University and vacated the Franklin property, citizens were searching for a solution, desperate to preserve the treasured site that for decades had served more than 100 students each year on a magnificent campus with two historic mansions. The Heritage Foundation stepped forward and saved the property, recognizing that with thoughtful reimagining this important historic place could be a cultural asset for our town. We saved it because saving properties like this is our mission and has been for 54 years.
We purchased the property with generous donations from local residents. The Heritage Foundation has stewarded the property over the past few years, maintaining the grounds and historic buildings, renovating the historic Haynes-Berry House (ca. 1889) into the new LeHew Mansion – opening the Franklin Innovation Center together with the county’s chamber of commerce, Williamson Inc., hiring architects to help us create a great plan for the property, and more.
Over time, we have fallen more in love with this property as we have uncovered more of its history. We have walked the grounds, invited citizens to experience it, and dreamed of what it could be with our local residents. We are proud of the community support that is driving Franklin Grove forward. As of today, the Heritage Foundation has raised millions of dollars for Franklin Grove, including nearly $6 million from direct neighbors of the site.
Our specific plans for the property, submitted to the City of Franklin for review, envision Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens as a haven of history, art, culture, and education focusing on the deep Franklin roots and traditions of Williamson County. The $31 million, privately funded plan features an art museum, a historic African American segregation-era Rosenwald schoolhouse called Lee-Buckner, an entrepreneur center for local start-up businesses, a hall for small events and community gatherings, and beautiful pastoral gardens with park-like green spaces.
Over the last three years, planning for Franklin Grove has been collaborative. We have carefully followed all steps outlined by the city. We have had meetings with the immediate neighbors of the property, city staff, and the Historic Zoning Commission. We have gathered input and ideas, revised plans, and worked to make major project changes in response to all feedback.
Change always comes with uncertainty, and some have expressed concerns about Franklin Grove. We are not opposed to concerns and welcome all input but will also continue to correct factual errors or other misconceptions online and in the community about our plans for Franklin Grove. Here are a few points of clarification:
Franklin Grove will not have a massive event venue, and there will not be events on the property that the proposed infrastructure, including street upgrades and expanded parking, cannot support. Just like with The Franklin Theatre, LeHew Magid Big House for Historic Preservation (Old, Old Jail) and other past Heritage Foundation projects, we will be good community partners and neighbors.
Regardless of who owns the property, current codes require two entrances/exits on the site. We have proposed what we consider to be the best location for the second entrance – offering a portion of Franklin Grove’s land on Lewisburg Pike to add a left turn lane, lessening potential traffic burdens on Lewisburg Pike. The current South Margin Street entrance will become an exit only, with the goal of also lessening the current burden on that smaller secondary street.
The intersection of Lewisburg Pike and South Margin Street is already congested. With Franklin Grove, the Heritage Foundation brings funding for long-needed traffic improvements. We have shared an independent traffic study that will be part of the broader solution to make downtown safer for the neighbors and visitors.
Franklin Grove is currently zoned Civic Institutional or “CI.” Under this zoning, schools, colleges, funeral homes, rehabilitation centers, childcare centers, continuum care facilities, amongst other options could exist there now without a preservation- or community- minded purpose. We specifically seek rezoning to Planned District or “PD” for two reasons: so the Franklin Innovation Center can be located on the property to incubate small, local, start-up businesses and support economic vitality in the region, and to have a hall for gatherings and education in support of our mission and to help sustain the property.
In summary, the Heritage Foundation operates in good faith as a 54-year-old foundation that has helped our incredible community flourish while staying rooted in its history and local culture. Franklin is a rare, special, and growing place, in part because of the dedicated work of the Heritage Foundation, past and present. As Franklin grows, we will continue to find ways to protect and uplift our unique historic places. Franklin Grove is a major step forward to do just that. We encourage anyone who has additional questions to contact us at 615-591-8500 or www.FranklinGrove.com. We would love to schedule a time to meet with you.
Bari Beasley, President & CEO, Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN
Members of the Board of Directors, Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN