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Touring History in Franklin, TN


2015/11/03


Pam Lewis, owner of Harrison House, with Buford (left) and Pepper

Formal dining room at Harrison House

Front of Harrison House, Franklin, TN

Front parlor at Harrison House
Article & photos by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

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The Tennessee Preservation Trust (TPT) was founded in 2000, although the idea for the organization came a year earlier, “to promote, preserve, and protect the state’s diverse historic resources through education, advocacy, and collaborative partnerships.” It is Tennessee’s Statewide Partner with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so the organization’s preservation efforts run a broad gamut of properties statewide. The organization has a Ten in Tenn. list of the most endangered historic sites in need of protection and/or restoration.

In addition to historic building preservation, and efforts to add them to the National Registry, the TPT also has a preservation easement program. Owners of historic property can preserve it in perpetuity and receive tax benefits through the donation of a preservation easement to the TPT. A preservation easement allows an owner to continue to use their property as they wish, but conserves the property’s historic character for future generations.

Recognizing that tourism at Tennessee’s numerous historic sites is the state’s top non-agricultural economic generator, the TPT promotes and assists tourism efforts at historic sites, historic hotels and theaters, museums, landmarks, and scenic trails and byways. Of course, Civil War history is a major part of historic sites tourism. Find more about TPT here: www.tennesseepreservationtrust.org. One of TPT’s current major projects is securing the buildings and land near Sewanee where the Highlander Folk School was located.  The school was the seminal training ground for the civil rights movement, empowering the likes of MLK, Rosa Parks, activist/folk singer Pete Seeger and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

For over 100 years after the Civil War battle was fought there (Nov. 30, 1864), Franklin, TN remained a rural, small town, only gradually increasing in small increments through the decades.  After the Civil War, the biggest increase was from 3,377 in 1930 to 4,120 in 1940. But by the 1970s and 1980s, a growth and development boom hit the area, and the population grew from 9,497 in 1970 to 20,098 in 1990. Over the next 20 years, the population had reached 62,487 in 2010 and is now between 70,000 and 80,000 people. Needless to say, much of the available property in the area was devoted to subdivisions and commercial development, taking over battleground lands and making preservation of the historic downtown area difficult. During those times, the mayor and board of aldermen were pro-development.

In the mid 1980s, a lady from the green hills of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York moved to the area, one who saw the tremendous value in preserving history and protecting historic places and Civil War battleground land. Pam Lewis was sent to Nashville by RCA records to promote the careers of some of their singers. In 1993 she was managing Garth Brooks at the height of his career. She lived in Nashville, working on Music Row, but yearned for a place in the country to have horses. One day she received a phone call from a real estate agent who had some property he thought Brooks might like for a museum. She told him Garth wasn’t looking for such property, but that she would give him the information regardless, adding that she, however, was looking for a historic home and land.

The developer showed her the Harrison House on Columbia Pike south of Franklin that was slated to be subdivided, but Franklin would not extend the city sewer out that far and the deal had gone south. “I felt very much at home here,” Lewis said of her first visit to Harrison House. She purchased the house in 1993 with several barns and outbuildings and 68 acres, while David and Sarah Ingram bought the remainder of the property, several hundred acres, next door. “This house changed my life,” she said, “and began a remarkable journey for me.  The house found me,” she believes. “It’s a blessing and an honor. I’m just passing through trying to be a good steward.”        

The house was originally built in 1826 as a two-story, Federal-style brick home on 1,700 acres owned by Sheriff William Harrison. In 1840, Harrison expanded the house, adding a two-story portico, a living room, parlor, study, two bedrooms and a secret room. The secret room is now Pam’s bedroom. Historically, the room was the headquarters of notorious Confederate spy, Annie Briggs Harrison, who held meetings there. The home was also a field hospital along with 43 other buildings in Franklin.

The home’s latest renovations had been in the 1970s, so it was in fairly good shape when Lewis bought it, but was not period appropriate. Much of its original splendor is now preserved by Lewis. The dining room chandelier is original Fostoria and Czechoslovakian crystal, and the one in the front parlor is metal gilt and Venetian. “I have all but one room filled with period appropriate furnishings,” she said. On the mantle is a girondelle, French candelabra that was a wedding gift from the Carter family to the Harrisons. The original mahogany Empire style piano and petit point bench was moved to Harrison House from the Carter House. The original yellow poplar, cedar, and pine floors are still intact throughout most of the house, as well as the chestnut banister and railings.

The front parlor is where Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood decided to launch an assault against the Federal troops occupying Franklin. After the battle, the house, served as a hospital, as did most other houses in Franklin, for some of the nearly 10,000 wounded soldiers.

Around the time Lewis bought Harrison House, five historic buildings on Music Row were slated to go because they needed renovation. She bought them for “half the asking price, and they have turned out to be good rental properties,” she said. Her PLA Media, of which she is President/CEO, is located on Music Row.

Lewis became a strong advocate for historic and green space preservation, and a board member of the TPT. Her advocacy evolved into activism, and she was elected to the Franklin Board of Aldermen, along with other new, first time ward aldermen – Dennis Phillips, Robert Krieble – as forward thinking, green space preservationists. Historic proponent Ernie Bacon was elected to his second term as alderman, while former alderman Tom Miller defeated longtime Mayor Jerry Sharber to become the new mayor. Though Miller was not initially pro preservation, they all served well together and got a lot done for Franklin historic preservation. Some of their accomplishments include: the Collins Farm, the Eastern Flank battlefield, which is now a city park adjacent to Carnton; Assault on the Cotton Gin on Columbia Pike, where there was Pizza Hut, and the property across the street, which was a Domino’s Pizza, and Harlinsdale Farm. Both pizza placeswere bought, knocked down, and the land reclaimed to become a city park. Lewis also worked with the Heritage Foundation to save Winstead Hill, Roper’s Knob, and the Franklin Theatre; she is currently helping to save the Old Jail.

Saving historic lands and buildings is not all that Lewis is about saving. Lewis has rescued quite a number of animals, including horses,  assorted birds,burros, a goat, three Great Pyrenees, a Saddlebred named “Duke;” two  registered minis – Mini Pearl and her foal Happy, who was born in the farm; a registered  Walking Horse mare named Pepper, named because she is “black and feisty;” Fitzgerald, a Spotted TWH whom she got as a foal and “is the sweetest gentleman;” Buford the mule; Hattie the Sicilian burro; several barn cats “named the panthers because they’re all black;” Clara Barton the house cat; and Robinson, an orange Persian who resides on a suitcase.

Preservation is her cause, whether it comes to land, historic buildings, or critters. “I want to leave things better than I found them,” she said. Lewis regularly opens Harrison House to visitors and on home tours. Encampments of soldiers have occupied her property during Battle of Franklin reenactments. “It's like divine intervention,” she said. “You get out what you put into this world. I feel like I've come home and have such a sense of place.” Lewis is currently organizing Franklin’s “Homes for The Holidays” Christmas tour Dec. 12-13; for info visit: www.plamedia.com.

Augmenting the historic educational efforts in Franklin are the tour guides at Franklin on Foot, originated by Margie Thessin. [visit http://franklinonfoot.com/] After practicing law in West Virginia for several years, Margie and her family moved to Franklin, where she got involved with Franklin's Heritage Foundation. In 2003 she co-founded Franklin on Foot, which offers a variety of tours – from history to cemetery tours to ghost and crime tours. On the history tour, visitors can learn about Allen Williams, a man born into slavery who, after emancipation, opened the first African American business in downtown Franklin – a shoe repair business on the square. He later was able to purchase property and build a house on Fourth Avenue. [read more at: https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry.php?rec=1654]

The Masonic Temple, built in 1828, was the first 3-story building in Tennessee. It served as barracks for Federal troops during the Civil War and as a hospital after the Battle of Franklin. Its “dark” history is that it is the site of the agreement between President Andrew Jackson and the Chickasaw in the 1830s for the “removal” of Indians to Oklahoma – the unofficial start of the Trail of Tears. Hear the story about Sally Carter, a Confederate spy who had some innovative ways of getting information past the Federal troop guards and out of Franklin. [read about it here:

http://www.wsmv.com/story/19970162/some-say-civil-war-spy-keeps-franklin-in-her-sights]. The historic tour culminates at the Episcopal Church with its eight original Tiffany stained glass windows.
While you’re in Franklin, don’t miss a live performance or film at the Franklin Theatre, while you marvel at the well-done restoration and perfect acoustics. Find out what’s happening here: http://www.franklintheatre.com/

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